Donald Trump just makes stuff up. He’s a liar. Indeed, he’s the biggest, most shameless liar I’ve ever seen.
He is not a “pathological liar.” A pathological liar, according to the definition, lies compulsively in more or less random ways, i.e. in ways that are not at all relevant to accomplishing any of the liar’s goals. But Trump’s lies are always purposeful. He says whatever will best make the case for himself in the moment in which he is speaking.
His lying may offer an important line of attack in the struggle against Trump. It may offer a way to peel away from him the support of the people who elected him.
Over the years, we have seen it confirmed many times: a president’s approval ratings go a long way to determine that president’s power. And it is possible, but not certain, that exposing Trump’s utter dishonesty will drain away his public support.
But there is a question about those supporters to which I don’t know the answer: Do these supporters believe his lies? Or do they recognize that he’s just making things up, but they’re fine with his non-stop lying so long as it helps him in the struggle for power?
The following thoughts are premised on the notion that they believe his lies, that they look to him to tell them how things are. If they already know that he lies continually, but don’t mind, then what I’m about to propose is irrelevant. But if Trump’s followers do believe him, then a successful — long-term — campaign to expose the utter untrustworthiness of his utterances could help drain Trump of his power and authority.
(One piece of evidence suggesting strongly that Trump’s supporters fail to recognize what an Olympic-level liar he is was in polling data reported last week, according to which Republicans — by quite lopsided margins — believed Trump to be more honest and trustworthy than Hillary Clinton.)
Even if there are true-believer Trump-acolytes, who will never recognize him for what he is, there are other less attached supporters, as well as independents, who might be swayed by the likes of these two ways of going after Trump’s vulnerability on his lying.
First, an idea for what the media should do, and what we might press the media to do.
Last night, Trump sent his first post-election tweet. In this tweet, he claimed that these peaceful demonstrations against his election, in various American cities, have been “incited by the media.”
What I would propose is that the media should immediately press Trump, or in his absence his spokespeople, with the question, “On the basis of what evidence does Mr. Trump make that claim?” Press it again and again until it is established, publicly, that he made that claim without any evidence at all.
There will be many such occasions, unless Trump somehow breaks the habit of just making things up.
(He claimed the election was “rigged,” though he offered not a bit of evidence. The lack of evidence should have been hammered home continually, until he either admitted that he just made it up or stood fully exposed for his dangerously irresponsible behavior.)
The media have failed in various ways, over the past many years. And it remains to be seen how they will deal with a Trump presidency. But this is a direction in which people like us should push them.
In the meanwhile, a second idea, for some kind of grassroots organization/movement. It’s title might be something like, “Can We Trust President Trump to Tell Us the Truth?” And its job would be to monitor his every utterance, and call attention to his lying every time he just makes stuff up. And, of course, like other public interest groups, this group’s efforts will also have to include a major effort to get publicity for what it is doing and saying.
I am planning in the coming days to make a move toward this same general goal: I’ll be writing, for newspapers out here in Trumpistan in the Shenandoah Valley, an op/ed column with the title, “So, Was the Election Rigged?”