December 10, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Stop Dismissing Donald Trump’s Malicious Lies as Conspiracy Theory
The intent isn't just to deceive. It's to harm.
Michael Horowitz is the inspector general for the United States Department of Justice. He released on Monday a widely anticipated assessment of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. I’ll leave legal and police procedural analysis to the experts. What matters to me is that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president and the Republicans Party have been peddling a fictional narrative.
Donald Trump and his allies have been telling a story of a “deep state” in league with the Democratic Party, especially the Obama administration, that infiltrated and spied on the Trump campaign to bring down the future president. He triumphed in the end and against all odds, and now the true representative of the people has exposed “the truth.” America’s enemies within were conspiring to destroy a hero of the republic.
As CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said, “Not true. Never happened.”
The press corps really can’t handle mass viral lying.
The Horowitz report does indeed call out the FBI for making serious mistakes in law enforcement. But as Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution wrote Monday, “the problems were not political in character. There was no effort to ‘get’ candidate Trump. There was no ‘insurance policy.’ There was no coup. There was no treason. … There was, rather, a properly predicated investigation that began when the FBI has always said it began and because of the information the FBI has always said triggered it.”
If you read the political press, you know that Trump and the Republicans are “challenging” the report’s findings. But as Jonathan Bernstein wrote this morning, “challenging” seriously understates what’s happening. The Bloomberg columnist said: “a lot of Republicans from the president on down are … flat-out lying about a report that debunked conspiracy theories that they’ve been running with for a long time.”
Bernstein said it’s up to the press corps to explain to the public what’s true and what’s false. He has more faith than I do. Political reporters continue to explain Trump’s lies as if they were delusions of grandeur or conspiracy theories easily dismissed. They are neither. They should not be dismissed no matter how crazy they make us feel. It’s one thing for normal people to believe lies. It’s another for the president, the Republican Party, and a massive right-wing media apparatus to promote lies knowingly. This isn’t only a fictional narrative, as Fiona Hill put it. It’s much worse. It’s a malicious narrative.
The president said Monday the IG report is proof positive of an “overthrow of the government, an attempted overthrow—and a lot of people were in on it.” Steve Scalise, who’s in the House Republican leadership, wrote on Twitter yesterday: “The IG report proves Obama officials abused their FISA power to trigger an investigation into @realDonaldTrump’s campaign. Just more evidence Dems will break any rule or law to rig an election against Trump. These crooked bureaucrats must be held accountable!”
That, my friend, isn’t just lying. It’s knowing and, thus, full of malice. The point is not only to deceive. It’s to injure. Injuring our faith in the truth benefits the president. It establishes a political pretext for justifying anything, including even more shameless lying without a shred of concern for one’s reputation. Or worse: political violence.
But it’s worse than that. Lies can have material consequences.
The Trump administration is right now trying to turn the president’s lies into policy, which will in turn bend political reality to his will. The US Attorney General, William Barr, said yesterday after the release of the IG’s report that he disagrees with its conclusions. He did not present evidence as to why, only that the investigation of the investigation is ongoing. His hand-picked investigator, attorney John Dunham, said he found evidence contravening Horowitz, but didn’t say what the evidence was. Barr and Durham are in effect giving cover to the right-wing media to continue peddling a fictional narrative that is really a malicious narrative that is fundamentally fascist.
The press corps is not equipped to handle such mass viral lying. It can fact-check, sure, but the lies pile up faster than battalions of reporters can debunk them. The press corps should be asking: At what point do we stop wondering whether Trump’s statements are true and start presuming, given our experience, that his statements are false? At what point do we stop giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt and start addressing his statements skeptically and demanding proof before repeating them?
From what I can tell, we are nowhere near that point.
We should be.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
I find it difficult to tell between these 3 motivations for Trump’s lies over the last 3+ years:
1) He knows the truth, and chooses to lie to advance his agenda.
2) He just doesn’t know, so goes with what feels true to him. And, he is not interested in finding what is true or not.
3) Delusional. Despite mountains of evidence that has been presented to him by credible sources, he prefers to believe in “alternative facts” (e.g. false conspiracy theories) that fit his unshakable, irrational, core beliefs.
Before reading the July 25th transcript, I thought that 95+% of Trump’s lies fit into category 1 or 2. I have now come to realize that a lot more of Trump’s lies fit into category 3. And, that’s far more scary to me.
The July 25th call and all the subsequent testimony indicate that Trump believes that all the various intelligence and diplomatic agencies (of the US and our allies) are out to get him. Why else would he employ Giuliani and Barr to go around them?
Thus, to Trump’s considerable mental challenges, we now have to add paranoia.
A few months ago, I read the GOP strategy wasn’t simply to lie but to delegitimatize the major institutions (the press, FBI, the intelligence community, etc.) that could stymie the oval office occupant’s hold on power. That strategy has the goal of weakening the trust by major portions of the electorate in the rule of law and other institutional guardrails while simultaneously creating so much uncertainty and fear that more people will increasingly cling to Dear Leader.
If you want to understand how authoritarian regimes overwhelm ostensibly democratic political systems, we’re seeing the playbook unfold here in real time. My biggest fear is that far too many people are complacently becoming the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot and are failing to realize that their power and rights as free people are steadily disappearing. I hear first hand people saying “Well he just lies, what can you do”, “he’s just lying as usual”, “I’m just tired of it all”, etc. and failing to see the big picture of how easily we could fall into a fascistic tyranny.
We are living in parlous times. God help us all…..
What are you saying people should do though? I don’t see any action items in your post.
I didn’t propose any specific actions people could take, but since you asked, here are a few ideas off the top of my head:
1. Vote as if your life and country depend on it because they do. I’ve been an eligible voter for more than 35 years, and I’ve missed one election in that time. My parents who were old enough to have voted when they were younger but couldn’t because of laws preventing black people from voting instilled in me the necessity of voting in every election and for candidates who would defend our rights. They recognized how precious and fragile our rights were and made sure I understood that too. Too many people today still haven’t learned that lesson but today’s climate has hopefully opened their eyes.
2. Tell (don’t ask) other people to vote and explain the necessity of voting for candidates who are going to fight for their rights and do right by our country. If someone says that voting doesn’t matter, all politicians are the same, etc., be factual, polite yet blunt in explaining why they must vote and vote for certain candidates. Tell them their lives and their families’ lives truly depend on them voting for the right people.
3. Do what you can to support candidates, voter registration drives, and voter/election engagement programs. Remember, GOPers don’t win elections but Democrats lose them. Why? Because too many Democrats are lackadaisical about the necessity of voting and voting for the right people. If you can donate money, time, logistical support, etc., any of those would be worthwhile.
4. If you encounter someone who is spewing nonsensical right-wing garbage, politely but firmly counter their lies and misinformation. If they demonstrate the willingness to listen to what you say, continue the conversation and educate them further. If they are resistant or become verbally aggressive, remain calm, then politely and firmly maintain your dialog. If this type of person tries to abuse or intimidate you, you can choose to leave the conversation or to continue your attempts to converse. It’s been my experience that when you demonstrate your conviction and resolve for your principles and beliefs no matter how much they yell and scream, even the most aggressive people (short of threatening violence or becoming violent) will back down.
I hope all of this helps. We’re in the fight of our lives and for our country, and I will never tire from the fight. I trust that you won’t either. Good luck.
Thank you sir. I greatly appreciate the response.