The lies have always had victims. And the liar has never much seemed to care.
If Muslim Americans had to live in fear because Donald Trump wanted to rile up his rally crowds with fictional stories about Muslim disloyalty, so be it.
If Americans had to get sick and die because Trump thought his campaign would benefit from deceiving them about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, so be it.
And if, because Trump wouldn’t admit he lost a fair election, police officers had to face an angry mob, elected officials had to take cover in gas masks, the international reputation of the United States had to be damaged, blue-collar workers had to pick up the pieces of a damaged Capitol, and four people had to die – well, to borrow a phrase from one of Trump’s Wednesday tweets, “these are the things and events that happen.”
Trump did not create the broken information ecosystem that led the country toward the Wednesday calamity. It was clear prior to his presidency that years of baloney from radio talkers, Fox News hosts, chain emailers, message board posters and social media personalities had poisoned the political brains of millions of Republican voters.
But in the four years I’ve been debunking his lies, the man who launched his Republican career on a racist lie about President Barack Obama has made the problem so much worse. He has lied with astonishing frequency in office, making presidential dishonesty such a normal occurrence that it has usually not been treated as news. He has done so while steering his supporters away from truth-telling information sources and toward the least trustworthy outlets, actively fostering a climate in which his lies get rewarded and reinforced.
And, critically, he has made the endorsement of his lies a central requirement for belonging in his coalition. Before Trump, you could be a Republican in good standing if you did not accept bonkers claims that the Clintons had dozens of their opponents murdered. To Trump, you are a “RINO,” Republican In Name Only, if you question his bonkers claims about election fraud.
Trump repeated those claims in the Wednesday rally speech that preceded the mayhem at the Capitol. Media outlets fairly reported that he had incited the mob.
I’m not the President’s psychiatrist, but I’ve read every word he has uttered since his inauguration, so I feel qualified to say this: Trump generally does not lie out of a desire to wreck things. He lies out of a need to make himself look and feel successful, superior and beloved. The possibility of wreckage is a consequence he can’t be bothered to contemplate.
When the lying is about his wealth, his golf game or how much Oprah used to like him, the subjects are so trivial that the palpable desperation behind the deception can border on amusing.
But the subject of his current desperate lying is democracy itself, and his thirst for the affirmation he couldn’t earn at the ballot box is in irreconcilable conflict with the interests of the country. Whether or not he eases off in the wake of the Capitol crisis – and don’t bet on it – all Americans are his victims today.