I've studied the musings of Donald Trump, at least since he embarked on a crazy and clearly doomed attempt to become President, and one theme has emerged. He's not a liar.
Obviously much (most/all) of what Trump says isn't actually true, God no. But a good liar does it with skill, guile and subtlety. Trump shows none of these traits. He's not a liar, he's something far scarier - he's a bullshitter.
In an excellent article, Professor Kevin Morrel from Durham University lists four conditions by which a lie can be defined: -
- a Knowingly
- Intended to deceive.
In many of Trump's outpourings, "False" is far more obvious than "Statement". But it's the other two that are tricky. Does he knowingly intend to deceive, or does he simply say whatever advances his own world view and boosts his ego?
To credit Don with lying is to suggest he understands the facts, and knows it's to his advantage to lie. But in many cases he doesn't know if what he's saying is true or false, much less care.
This is demonstrated by the huge number of times he's spun 180⁰ from a statement he made the previous day, not because his lie has been discovered, but simply because today's take works better for him, today. Briefings to the President have to be more like cartoon slideshows than detailed papers - He doesn't *want* facts because they get in the way of his narrative.
The Trumpian penchant for bullshit began long before his Presidential ambitions. In 2009 Donald built one of his favourite self-monuments, the modestly named "Trump National Golf Club, Washington DC" (it's in Virginia, 27 miles Washington DC, but that's a small matter).
The Potomac River runs through the course, and alongside the 15th tee he erected a monument to "The River of Blood": -
(Full article here)
Except... historians said nothing like that ever happened there. There is no evidence that any battle took place in that spot, or anywhere near it. When challenged in an interview, he had two responses - first he said "if people are crossing a river in a civil war a lot of them will get shot" (true of course, but irrelevant). And when challenged further, he doubled down with this masterstroke:
"How would they know that? Were they there?"
Brilliant. Argue with that (you could reply "WERE YOU??" but you'd sound silly).
Then came the 2016 Election, immediately followed by the Great Inauguration Audience debate. Photographic evidence of crowd sizes dismissed as nothing (which they nearly were). And shortly afterwards at a press conference he said had the "Biggest Electoral College Victory since Regan". A reporter took issue with this, armed with facts (watch, it's great): -
Reporter: "You said you had the biggest Electoral College victory since Regan"
Trump's replies were, in order:-
"Yes, I did"
"I meant the biggest Republican one"
"I was given that information"
"I've seen that information around" (because people reported him saying it previously).
Y'see? It's like Jay from The Inbetweeners became President of the United States. If someone tells a knowing lie and they're found out, they react with embarrassment and maybe end up having to apologise. Trump just moves seamlessly from one bullshit statement to another without breaking stride.
And that's without even touching on Twitter. There is now an actual Trump's Law - "For every Trump Tweet there will be an equal and opposite earlier tweet".
The real problem comes with statements of intent. With a bullshitter it's impossible to tell if they'll follow through.
When Trump says "We'll withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord" the world gasps in horror for a day or two then remembers it's probably bullshit and he doesn't know what the Paris Accord is (but he may still do it).
When he says the UK will get a great trade deal with the US after Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May* appears to believe it. But she said "Brexit means Brexit and we're going to make a success of it", so she's nearly as good at this game as he is.
*(correct at time of going to press).
But there's another bullshit merchant in North Korea, making for a very volatile mixture. We have "Fire and Fury" speeches aimed at Kim, even as Kim is aiming significantly more solid things at others. Donald called Kim "Rocket Man", Kim called Donald a "Dotard" (a better insult because we had to google it) and both have threatened to destroy each other. This continues to escalate today, to the point where one of them could launch an actual nuclear missile simply to save face. We could very soon have nuclear conflict because Bullshitters won't back down.
Bring back good old-fashioned liars, we knew where we stood with them.