Liar and losers: The president deceives, and Americans take the hit
"Once a country is habituated to liars," Gore Vidal once observed, "it takes generations to bring back the truth." Many of us don't have generations left. After four years during which President Donald Trump has waged thermonuclear war on the truth, we face the depressing reality of living out our days in a country in which, thanks to Trump and the cultlike embrace of him by far too many of our countrymen, corruption has not been merely normalized but legitimized. It is hard to imagine that the Good Lord ever created a less honest human being than The Donald, and even harder to imagine that anyone not seriously on the sauce believes a word he utters. But even 20,000 or so documented falsehoods into the Trump administration later, millions of Americans still do, which makes the grim reality of the America of 2020 that much grimmer.
The release of Bob Woodward's taped interviews with the president illustrates that the lying has left not only a heretofore-accepted American value system shattered but also tens of thousands of Americans needlessly dead. To no one's surprise, the tapes disclose a president who was quite deliberately lying to the American people over and over about the deadly virus he was trying to gull us into believing was a hoax. In refusing to take the steps to procure ventilators desperately needed to save lives and equipment badly needed to protect health care workers and others, and in staging rallies that eased his ego while endangering the lives of all those present and undermining health officials' frantic efforts to promote life-saving social distancing and mask wearing, the president mocked the very idea that any public health issue even existed. The virus was, he said, ever the used-car salesman, "going to disappear." It was "low-risk." It was "very much under control." He had "pretty much shut it down." It was no more than 15 cases, and "within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero."
The virtuoso con artist was conning America, as all but the stoutly fact-resistant now know. Excerpts of Trump's taped admissions that his public pronouncements were hogwash, and that he knew it, were released, while more than 6.7 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus; the number of new cases has increased by 10% in the last week in 31 states; and 200,000 Americans have been killed by the disease. As Trump was belittling the notion that the disease was even worth mentioning, he was confiding in Woodward, saying: "It's a horrible thing. It's unbelievable," and "It's so easily transmissible you wouldn't even believe it," and "This is deadly stuff." While demanding that states open schools and universities, and claiming that young people were "almost immune" to the virus, here was what our president was telling Woodward about those contracting COVID-19: "Now it's turning out that it's not just old people. Young people, too. Plenty of young people."
We have become so sufficiently used to having a pathological liar as president that neither the lying nor the lying about the lying much registers any longer. Despite a recording of Trump telling Woodward that he had downplayed the virus to the American people, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, valedictorian at the Joseph Goebbels Institute of Public Relations, simply denied that he had said it. "To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward on March 19. "I still like playing it down." Princess Pinocchio, however, could not have cared less that the entire world heard him say it on tape. "The president never downplayed the virus," she told the White House press corps with a straight face on Sept. 9.
Donald Trump's legacy will be his unprecedented mendacity and the dissolution of faith that our leaders will feel a baseline obligation to speak truthfully. But it will also be the loss that has upended millions of American families, loss that would have been avoided had we only had a president with a modicum of moral character.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate Inc.