How Can We Dam This Flood of Lying?

How Can We Dam This Flood of Lying? June 20, 2018

Donald Trump is a big fat liar.

That’s a true statement in toto.

Trump lies
Caricature of Donald Trump as a self-promoting buffoon. (DonkeyHotey, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

First the fat thing. He can fairly be described as “big” and “fat” at roughly 6’3” and 236 pounds (his public estimates). He once admitted to TV flim-flam guy Dr. Oz that he’s a bit “overweight,” but it’s a slitheringly disingenuous understatement.

His 29.5 body mass index (BMI), which is a standard bulk-to-frame ratio, is actually teetering dangerously on the edge of obesity, which is 30. And that’s using his own height-weight numbers, when others have said he told them he is only 6’2” and actually tips the scales at 267 pounds. That would put his BMI at 33, which is formally “obese” and more than halfway to “severely obese.”

I’m at 27 BMI and look like a Treblinka survivor next to him. You do the math.

He is certainly entitled to say whatever he wants, of course, but to imply he’s only a little heavy is a fib. That matters because most people are a bit heavier than they’d like, which carries no shame in American culture, but the obese and severely obese are viewed as either hormonally challenged, which is forgivable, or pathetic slaves to their raging appetites, which is not.

Mr. Trump surely knows this, opting for the better political optics: trying to appear charmingly honest and transparent by admitting to being slightly chunky. Suddenly, he appears thinner to those who already adore him, and, speaking of transparent, those are the only people he actually cares about.

So, he’s a big fat guy. That’s confirmed. If he says anything different he’s either dissembling or lying.

About the lying.

Well, that’s a far broader topic, considering the completeness of The Donald’s yawning disassociation with the truth and the laws of material reality. Thomas Murray, president emeritus of the Hastings Center, the seminal institution in the field of bioethics, said it best in today’s Washington Post:

“It’s extraordinary how [Donald Trump] is completely indifferent to truth. There’s just no relationship between his statements — anything he utters — and the actual truth of the matter. As far as I can tell, the best way to understand anything he says is what will best serve his interests in the moment. It’s irrespective to any version of the truth.”

It’s not hyperbole. In his 497 days in office through the end of May, Trump made 3,251 patently false or misleading claims, averaging 6.5 such falsehoods per day, according to an analysis by the Post’s Fact Checker.

That’s a dysentery attack of lying.

That the president is a gratuitous liar, for either pathological or dishonestly strategic reasons, is not in question. It’s so well documented by now it’s boring. Of more concern is why supposedly level-headed and reasonable Americans continue to allow him to do it without consequence, and, thus, put the nation and our essential system and institutions of government at grave risk. Indeed, more than a third of the electorate not only still support him but lionize him. It’s a staggering abdication of civic responsibility to our democracy, for which basic truth is absolutely essential to survival.

Meanwhile, the president ordered children ripped from the arms of their immigrant parents at our southern border (whether or not they’re legal immigrants is morally irrelevant in this context), claiming (falsely) that his “hands are tied” due to laws Democrats put in place. In fact, he himself signed the new “zero tolerance” policy against immigrants as a bargaining chip to force funding for his unnecessary “wall.”

And he could unsign it and end these children’s suffering with the stroke of a pen. (Today he rescinded he policy due to the hugely negative public backlash against it, after personally creating the atrocity in the first place.)

So, the question should not be, “Why does Trump lie?” anymore. It’s “What can we do to stop it?”

The vaunted “free speech” protections for Americans enshrined in the Constitution are not absolute. Famously, you cannot legally yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater because you feel like it. You are also not legally allowed to utter malicious slanders aimed at damaging innocent others’ reputations and prospects. You cannot lie to the FBI, as we’ve discovered anew with the Mueller investigation.

Legal parameters corral our “free speech,” no matter how unfettered the phrase sounds.

Still, America is possibly the freest speaking place on the planet.

And that’s a problem that needs fixing, in my view.

Our own supreme Court has contributed to our recent paroxysm of public duplicity. This opening paragraph in a June 16, 2014, Time magazine story summarizes the perpetual problem:

“Lying is the pillar of politics, as intrinsic a piece of the American electoral system as money and fear. We lament the false attack ads, the twisted narratives, the distortions of campaigns. But a Supreme Court decision Monday raises questions about whether states’ attempt to police campaign falsehoods may be more detrimental than the lies themselves.”

It should only be seen as a rhetorical question. And the rhetorical answer should be “no.”

In fact, our culture of flagrant political dishonesty is not an unalterable reality. It exists only because we allow it.

In the court case in question, the justices ruled 9-0 that the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group, had the legal right to challenge an Ohio law that then criminalized false political speech. Ohio was then one of 16 states with laws against falsity in political campaigns.

The List filed suit when it came under legal scrutiny for using political ads in Ohio to falsely accuse Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus of supporting “taxpayer-funded abortions.”

That the anti-abortion group lied in the ad wasn’t a concern of the court. Writing for the court majority, Justice Clarence Thomas held that the group had the right to challenge the laws constitutionality in a lower court that had previously rejected the List’s suit.

Thomas wrote that “the burdens” such laws “impose on electoral speech are of particular concern here.”

The Court has also previously ruled that “reasonable” laws restricting gun use are compatible with the purported constitutionally protected right for Americans to “bear arms.” So should reasonable laws in political discourse — such as a prohibition of provable falsehoods — also be allowable. When such speech is absolutely unfettered, dishonest and destructive opportunists rule. And predictable results ensue.

As is the case with our president and his supporters now.

Is this, as the Supreme Court ruled, actually better for the body politic, especially as we’re learning how lies are far more virally infectious than we thought, especially from the mouths of monied charlatans? They infest reality and distort the perception of truth. How dangerous is that? I’ve posted previously about people’s vulnerability to deceptions here and here.

What would be wrong with a law that outlawed purposeful, routine and unprovable lying in any political speech, pertaining especially to the president of the United States? I would even support a constitutional amendment that added these two words (italicized below) to the presidential oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully and truthfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Meanwhile, let’s hope the republic doesn’t implode under the deluge of mendacity that continues to flood American public life.

There’s not a levy in sight.

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