I hear people say “all politicians lie” but, as I explained in Mind, Media and Madness, not all lies are the same when it comes to politics. There are two common ones that we have seen historically and a new one — Trump lies.
These lies are:
- The Lie: When a politician makes a statement like “no new taxes” or “you can keep your doctor”, these statements reflect a directional commitment or a reflection of their intent — their initial position from a negotiating standpoint. They may not be able to follow through on the commitment completely and projecting to voters that they can still qualifies it is a lie.
- The Damn Lie: This is the lie that conceals a truth that a person doesn’t want want to acknowledge or believe but, when it is clear the truth will become public, the person finally acknowledges that which can no longer be denied — reality. Clinton’s moment came when the blue dress appeared and was tested. He acknowledged his lie publicly when the truth was going to be revealed. Reagan did the same thing when he said “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.” In these cases, the politicians acknowledged the facts when they became known. The facts drove the narratives surrounding the events.
- The Trump Lie: This is a lie that has no basis in fact or reality. It is simply a statement that he makes up to support a narrative that he is putting forward. Narratives — stories that tie together different ideas, experiences, and facts — are how we understand the world. Trump is very effective in creating them to motivate (and manipulate) people. One of those narratives is a projection of his strength. He has a strong need to be the best and to have the most — this projection of strength is important to him and to his believers. It is so important that he made up a narrative and facts about his inauguration being the biggest ever. Conway famously referred to these sorts of lies as alt facts. He also uses immigrants and others as the boogeyman so he will make up statements about them without care or concern for reality. Another example involves Soros. They have worked on a narrative in which Soros is the evil mastermind behind many “sinister” things. As a result, Trump and others will accuse Soros of doing horrible, specific things even though there is no evidence and, even more disturbingly, no care or concern about provable facts before these statements are made. Trump and others who support him have become very comfortable in allowing their preferred narratives to dominate — completely unhinged and disconnected from reality. Even worse, they will use these fictitious examples to strengthen the narrative so more and more people will become more and more convinced that the narrative is correct and accurate. They will become so convinced that they consider the narratives facts.
And this is where the danger comes in. Trump lies are distinctly different from the lies and damn lies that we have seen previously. Previously there was still a fundamental truth — narratives were connected to facts and reality. (Different people may line those facts up differently — we called that spin — but they were still fact based.) Now literally narratives can be based on nothing but a fiction created in someones mind. The statements used to support them (Trump lies or alt facts) are bogus and based on nothing. They exist only in the person’s mind to support the narrative that they want people to believe.
While it is not my purpose or expertise to diagnosis this, it seems that when people’s understanding of what is going on (the narratives they use to explain the world) become disconnected from the actual world, they are living in a different reality.
When this separation becomes so great and it is disruptive, we call this a mental illness or even insanity. The guy who is yelling at his invisible friend on the corner believes that the person is there. That “person” is as real to him as anyone else. The reality is different, however.
When Trump makes ridiculous statements about his inauguration crowd, about the threat that immigrants pose to citizens, or about Soros (and the list can go on and on), it is important that we hold him accountable. That we check his mental state. If he believes it, we need to question his fitness for the job. If he is lying, he is literally making his believers (and the country) insane because they believe him and he is disconnecting them (and us) from reality. If we can not agree on reality, we can not agree on anything.
And to be clear, the Trump lie is not a liberal or conservative thing. It is what Trump is doing and what someone of either political party could do.
Additionally, not all people who support Trump are “believers”. Some people supported him and have maintained a healthy distance and skepticism. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be many of the traditional supporters. The believers have gotten sucked into Trump’s powerful narratives. You can tell some amazing stories if you are not constrained by facts or reality — and he has.
So when people try to minimize and trivialize what he is doing, when people want to say “they all do it”, understand that this is incorrect. They all don’t do it. What he is doing is fundamentally and substantially different.
(If you want to read more, I wrote Mind, Media and Madness by Lisa Snow. It is easy to read and brief. It is available on Amazon.)