The Pathological Liar in Chief

"That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain." Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

“That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

We have a President who lies. Who lies all the time. There are mental illnesses that involve compulsive lying. Perhaps that’s what’s going on. If so, WC isn’t qualified to offer a diagnosis.

But WC isn’t sure it’s so simple. Sure, most of the lies are calculated to make Trump look better. In his speech to the graduate of the naval academy,1 the Associated Press has documented and the New York Times reported at least three massive whoppers that serve no purpose except a kind of pitiful attempt to make Trump look better.

Trump said, “Going to have new equipment and well-deserved pay raises. We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.” Not even close. U.S. military members have gotten a pay raise every year for the past 10 years and several have been larger than this year’s 2.6 percent increase. Pay increases in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4 percent or more.

Trump said, “We have now the lowest number of ships that we’ve had since World War I, and very soon you’re going to get to 355 beautiful ships. 355. That’s almost a couple of hundred more ships.” No. The Navy now has 283 ships. And a 355-vessel battle fleet is not going to be achieved “very soon.” The Navy plans to reach 355 in the 2050s.

Trump said, “We have ended the disastrous defense sequester. No money for the military, those days are over.” There has always been money for the military. In fact, Congress blew through the sequester with increased spending caps of $32 billion in 2013 and $40 billion in 2015. In February, the cap was blown off entirely, when Mr. Trump signed a budget deal that raised it by $165 billion over two years.

That’s just one speech, where he fibbed just to make himself look better.

A little more recently, his Memorial Day tweet managed to take a national day of remembrance and make it all about Trump:

Have no shame, sir?

Have no shame, sir?

The claims are all largely untrue, have little to do with anything Trump has done – the better argument may be that they happened despite Trump’s efforts to prevent them – and had absolutely no place in a Memorial Day message. Trump cannot stand it, simply cannot tolerate it, if it isn’t all about him, all about Donald, all the time.

But not all Trump’s lies are self-aggrandizing. Some are considerably more sinister. CBS senior correspondent reported recently that off the record she asked Trump why he accused the mainstream media of “fake news” all the time.

“I said, ‘You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over. It’s boring and it’s time to end that,'” Stahl said on stage alongside “PBS Newshour anchor Judy Woodruff.

“He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.’ He said that,” Stahl told the audience, adding, “So, put that in your head for a minute.”

That kind of purposeful lie – claiming something is untrue when he knows for a fact it is true – for the purpose of discrediting the source is far beyond mere self-aggrandizement. It’s undermining national institutions and creating a fog of lies for sinister purposes. The only other place WC has seen it stated quite so baldly is in Mein Kamp, where Hitler is discussing the uses of the Big Lie. Trump is lying to achieve an end: defeating those who oppose him.

A third reason Trump lies is to distract the public from his misconduct. As Washington Monthly reported,

The president’s blatant lies about an FBI informant used to counter Russian meddling and protect the Trump campaign from Putin’s incursions led to no less than two meetings between the Justice Department and various officials yesterday, only for it to be confirmed that nothing untoward took place. Even GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell admitted as much.

And WC will note that in the face of the surge of indictments and guilty pleas from Trump staffers and advisors, and his own attorneys very serious crimes, if the FBI didn’t have an informant in the Trump campaign it’s an oversight on the FBI’s part. There surely should have been one, for the same reason informants are useful inside other kinds of organized crime.

And then there’s a fourth reason Trump lies: to create a fog of confusion. For Trump, the truth is the enemy, it’s out to get him, so he shrouds the truth in a fog of lies and inconsistencies. For example, the Times wrote about a senior White House official, off the record, who spoke to dozens of reporters Thursday at the White House and on a conference call to brief them on Trump’s decision cancel much ballyhooed meeting with  North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump responded with a tweet, “The Failing @nytimes quotes ‘a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist, as saying ‘even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed,’” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.” The story was inconsequential. The events reported were seen by dozens of reporters. Trump’s tweet was a lie, and served no purpose but to create a fog of confusion.

Trump lies for a purpose, sometimes a much more sinister purpose than self-aggrandizement. Just watch.

  1. Imagine, for a moment, being a midshipman sitting the audience, listening to this stuff spew out of your commander-in-chief. Probably more than one graduate asked themselves, “Is it too late to change my mind?” 

One thought on “The Pathological Liar in Chief

  1. Trump has certainly told falsehoods, though that may not make him a liar, at least not in the sense of always. To be a liar, one has to to be aware of the truth, then purposely lie, which Trump has done. But to be a bona fide liar (how’s that for an oxymoron?) one has to know that he is lying because he knows what the truth is. Too often, Trump may not know what’s true because he’s so used to creating his own reality, thus his own truth. He’s made, in effect, truth relative. Or that it simply doesn’t matter. This doesn’t excuse him. It makes him, as you say, pathological. Also dangerous.

    He’s the ad hoc president, and makes it up as he goes along. He’s engaged in improvisational performance. One thing said or done one day can be easily contradicted the next, seemingly without, in his mind, any repercussions whatsoever. He can always say something different tomorrow, or simply call truthful reporting fake. His supporters call this benign unpredictability, which keeps opponents off balance, but it’s also why his attorneys don’t want him to be questioned by Mueller. They know Mueller and his team have set a minefield of dung piles, and that Trump thinks too highly of his own intelligence to avoid stepping into them. Then Mueller will have him for perjury.

    Mendacity, a mixture of falsehood and lies, leads at this level to a world of uncertainty and chaos. That may define Trump to a T, but the mendacity may also, finally, convict him–if it doesn’t destroy us first.

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