We are by now all too familiar with the fact that President Donald Trump and his spokespeople consistently make statements that are inaccurate (to be polite) or in direct contravention of established fact (to be more realistic). Depending on one’s opinion of the President and his coterie, such statements are categorized as anything from outright lies to “alternate facts.” One thing is certain based on myriad videotapes of the president himself: Trump regularly contradicts his own pronouncements, including many astounding claims that he never made statements which have been clearly and unambiguously documented.
We seem to continually wonder how and why anyone can lie as often, as obviously and as brazenly as Trump. Doesn’t he know he is lying? Doesn’t he care that we know he’s lying? I suggest that when it comes to his own comments and actions, he simply doesn’t incorporate within his psyche the concept of lying the way most of us do (although he certainly doesn’t hesitate to attack those against him as “liars” and purveyors of “fake news”).
If you define a liar as someone who intentionally and with calculation distorts, denies and/or denigrates factual truth, Donald Trump certainly qualifies by any reasonable standards when it comes to his business operations and personal finances. But for Trump, in these matters where the objective is success measured by profitability and wealth, lying or any other issue relating to legality, much less morality, is basically irrelevant. For Trump, there are no lies — only winning tactics. You inflate the value of your assets to look wealthier than others and/or to secure loans on more favorable terms. You deflate those same values to avoid paying taxes. You default on loan agreements knowing that lenders will give you better terms rather than write off your failure to repay. You sue vendors who cannot afford to litigate rather than pay them what you owe. You promise more than you can deliver and deliver less than your customers pay for. For Trump, what we call “lying” is instead an expedient in executing in his business plans. Truth, to the CEO of the Trump Organization is, if anything, a self-defeating strategy for losing.
However, for the preponderance of Trump’s political lies, particularly those unscripted ad libs intended to increase the decibel level of adoration from his followers and his less raucous but also extemporaneous answers to questions from the media, I suggest a different dynamic. As with his business dealings, I believe that Trump has never had any concern with the actual distinction between truth and lies. But because he is a pathological narcissist, he responds with only one reflex when speaking off the cuff about himself — to say whatever he spontaneously thinks makes him look best at that moment, on whatever subject, at whatever time, and with no concern whatsoever about factual reality or indeed what he may have actually said about the same issue in the past. For Trump talking about Trump, there is never a concern or consideration of what is true or false. There is only the incessant, instinctive and irrepressible need to say anything and everything that enhances his egomaniacal self-image.
The best I can think to say about Trump is that in such instances, he practically cannot help himself. When asked if Vladimir Putin directed Russian interference to benefit his campaign for president, and whether his campaign in fact encouraged it, Trump denies it vociferously and dismisses as “fake news” the well-established facts proving that this is precisely what happened. He just cannot answer otherwise without upending his own belief that his victory was America’s unequivocal endorsement of him. (The fact that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes becomes for Trump the fairy tale of voter fraud.) His visceral hatred of Barack Obama and the lies he constantly tells about anything related to him from his birthplace to his bugging of Trump Towers, I suggest stem from nothing but the personal humiliation of Obama’s comedic ridicule of Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. As a result, I believe he can barely hear or see Obama’s name without experiencing some form of internal rage and desire for revenge, which manifests itself in his irrational and absurd attacks on Obama personally, and through the incompetent charlatans who populate his administration, the specific undoing of Obama’s initiatives. Further, he cannot resist making the blatantly absurd claim that “no one knows more than me” about subject after subject, from military strategy to global economics to dealing with foreign leaders. (The laughter about that last one sounds distinctly Russian, North Korean and Saudi Arabian.)
These are but a few examples of Trump’s manic behavior that will continue to fill shelves of books, not to mention transcripts of investigations and legal proceedings. And I believe that short of medication or psychoanalysis (for which he hasn’t enough years of life remaining despite all the lies about his physical condition), Trump is essentially powerless to change. The often-stated and ridiculous hope that he might one day become “presidential” would be laughable were it not so frighteningly implausible.
I think it’s fair to say that Trump’s persona may in large part result from how and by whom he was raised — as an heir to Fred Trump’s corrupt and criminal enterprise, imbuing the developing Donald with a total sense of entitlement and not a shred of humility or humanity. Trump’s is the ethic of a thug and a mobster, fostered by the mentality and milieu of his upbringing, later enhanced by Roy Cohn’s tutoring in legal and moral degeneracy. (Nevertheless, in spite of all this experiential mentoring and the hundreds of millions of dollars given him, his innate incompetence overcame his environmental influences, bringing him to multiple bankruptcies and the brink of many more.)
In any event, at the end of the day, we cannot excuse Trump’s pathology any more than we can condone the murderous malignancy of the other national leaders he seems to admire most. Trump personifies a complete contempt for the rule of law much less common decency — the ethos with which he has run his business, led his life and which now infects our nation. It is to the everlasting shame of most of us — the disaffected or dishonorable who support him, the cynical or craven who enable him, and those who know better but say and do little or nothing — that he continues to impose his willful malevolence and psychotic dysfunction. I fear that unless Trump is driven to resign or is impeached and convicted or is ultimately defeated for re-election, we are looking forward to an America that — as an ironic result of his presidency — may never be great again.