EDITOR’S NOTE: Part two of a five-part series examining the ease with which all that we hold dear can be hijacked and turned against us in the blink of an eye. Today, we look at the president’s, shall we say, “casual” relationship with the truth and how he weaponized his storytelling to catapult himself into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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Act Two: If You Tell Them A Lie,
Tell Them a Big One!
Since the election of President Donald Trump, there have been so many lies and half-truths that it would be virtually impossible to count them all. In fact, Trump’s commitment to lying was similar to the relationship with relentless personal fouls that the Broadway Bully New York Knicks had in the ’90s. It appeared Trump expected that if you tell one every few minutes, not only can you not stop them all, but a few might actually stick.
To that point, the fibs came fast and furious during those early days of Citizen Trump’s administration.
Sure it was a bit off-setting to have a U.S. president openly lie about everything from the size of his inauguration crowd; to how he won the popular vote; to his ability to control the weather during his swearing-in, but such ticky-tacky fibs were just hors d’oeuvres for a Trumpian main course that we’ll call “The Big Fish Tale.”
During the campaign, Trump did something made famous by another guy with an interesting fashion sense and a proclivity for holding rallies. Telling lies over and over essentially made them true for those listening to the fable, and it’s impossible to avoid making the case that Trump studied the Adolf Hitler playbook for this one.
The funny thing about lying is that when you do it all the time, your followers tend to believe you more than if you tell the truth. Hitler first put this dynamic to the test during his rise to power in the 1930s.
Although he was just a lowly corporal in the German army during World War I and knew the German economy was ruined by the 1919 Treaty at Versailles, the rising politician also knew it would be easier to blame a tangible group that he hated — the Jews.
Because Germany had a large Jewish population and many of those Germans had successful shops, the combination of poverty and hate gave the future Fuhrer all of the power he needed, and support from those willing to make his lie a reality.
Soon, Jewish-owned shop windows were being smashed to the joy of onlookers; no one would stop the riots. Legislation was later created to outlaw Jewish citizens, and we know how it all ended — another World War and the systematic death of those he encouraged the public to hate.
“In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie,” the then-imprisoned Hitler wrote. “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.”
Honestly, during Trump’s rise, he lied about anything and everything, so tracking one important untruth proved to be tricky.
- Trump said he knew more than American military generals about the military, an obvious lie.
- He lied about healthcare, when he said he could provide healthcare for everyone at a lower rate than the current Affordable Care Act, which despite its more than 20 million insured members was termed as a “total disaster.”
- He lied when he said he was the only one who could “fix” the American economy, which he also said was a mess. In fact the American economy has slowly progressed since the Great Recession, which officially began in 2008. By the time of the Presidential Election in November of 2016, the unemployment rate was at 4.6, the lowest it had been since 2007.
But the whopper that propelled him to the presidency was the building of his “big, beautiful wall” on the country’s southwest border.
During his campaign for president, Trump not only told supporters over and over that it would keep immigrants from entering the country, but also got them to believe he would do so by building a wall that would forever divide America from Mexico more effectively than the Rio Grande.
The size of the lie grew to enormous proportions when he vowed to not only build the wall, but to make Mexico finance its construction.
Never mind that illegal immigration was down during the years he ran for office, or that the joke during the Obama years was that the American economy was so bad that no one even would want to immigrate to the United States.
For his fish tale, Trump married good old-fashioned American xenophobia and hate with the chant of “build the wall” to a group of downtrodden and incorrigible folks. And with it, he struck gold.
Soon the lie would grow into a rallying cry at every campaign stop, and despite the concept being rejected by most of his opponents, and certainly by Mexican presidents past and present, Trump rode that lie and continued to feed “red meat” to his base.
As horrified opponents of this orange racist were soon to see, the scary people at the Trump rallies didn’t care about the truthfulness or feasibility of building a wall, or how detrimental taking away their healthcare could be. They found someone who seemed to say what they wanted to hear, and that was good enough to elect him president.
In February and March, while his supporters were still delirious over his victory, not much was done to construct the alleged huge, free, 2,000-mile wall.
In those early days, Trump supporters must have giggled at the thought of Mexico finally being made to pay for allowing its citizens to allegedly stream across the border during the Obama era. Trump would do his Trump-thing and presto — Mexico would be begging us to let them pay. But as spring turned to summer, Trump only sporadically mentioned the edifice that had launched his presidency.
His most recent, um, pipe dream, mused that the wall could be built by affixing solar panels to it, which would cost Mexico much less in the long run. Just last month, he mentioned his divisive dreams to a frothing group of supporters in Iowa.
“The higher it goes, the more valuable it is,” Trump joked. “This way Mexico will have to pay much less money.”
The latest version of the lie was met with more cheers and must have delighted Trump supporters who marveled at keeping all of those imaginary thieves from Mexico from taking all of those American jobs they’d been hoarding.
Although not one shovel has been turned to build his biggest hoax, the carnival barker was successful in destroying another pillar of our democracy while erecting another piece of his plan to Make America Great. He may not have constructed any part of the wall, but he built something more powerful, a place to direct all the hateful energy from his supporters while maintaining a big lie that he can repeat as a diversion from the sticky scandals of the day.
Sure, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and past President Vicente Fox have never agreed to place one thin peso towards the project, but now, more than a year in on his big lie, facts no longer matter among Trump’s faithful. Facts are no longer needed when democracy is being gutted and replaced by fascism right before your eyes.
In the end, even if things somehow don’t work out and the wall is never built, Trump supporters can always remember the spring, when everything was right and all things were possible for The Donald, and that’s no lie.