Stevenson: The politics of lying

Here’s part of the official Trump campaign statement dated Sept. 15, 2016:

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President. This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook…

In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised.

Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.”

This type of lying really takes your breath away.

Donald Trump now blames Hillary Clinton for the whole birther scandal, which we all remember was Trump’s obsession . How can he lie in the face of evidence to the contrary, in the face of our own memories? How can we forget the White House correspondents’ dinner roast in 2011 when President Obama, with his impeccable timing, told the audience, with Trump present, “And now to show you some home movies of my birth.” On the screen behind him played the opening scene from Disney’s The Lion King, with Simba the lion cub being presented to the genuflecting wild animals of the savanna. The camera shoots to a chagrined Donald Trump, looking down and shaking his head while the audience laughs. Well, that’s the end of him, I thought. I have never been so wrong. And to think I was afraid of Sarah Palin.

But politicians lie all the time, you say.

True, but let’s examine the type of lying they do. There’s the Clinton type of lying: Bill Clinton stating emphatically, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and Hillary, landing on the tarmac in Bosnia under sniper fire. Footage instead showed her greeted by schoolgirls carrying flowers. There are the “weapons of mass destruction” that never were, cited by President Bush that led us to invade Iraq. Then there’s President Johnson’s lie that a U.S. ship was fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin. True, he initially received this report, but even after he was later corrected, he went ahead and used it as a defense to greatly increase our troop involvement in the Vietnam War, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of 55,000 Americans.

But we’re used to these kinds of lies. They’re lies to cover up other motives, to get out of trouble, or to exaggerate. Sometimes they are misinformation. (I don’t believe George W. Bush intentionally lied about the weapons of mass destruction but was going on faulty intelligence).

What Donald Trump has done is not only taken lying on as the new norm, but he’s raised it to a higher level. He lies and continues to lie even though we all know he’s lying. Another example: he persists in lying that Obama is the founder of ISIS, even when a journalist kindly guides him to restate his meaning, as in: by failing to act in Syria, Obama helped to create a power vacuum from which ISIS arose. “No,” persists Lyin’ Donald. He insists on the literal meaning, repeating, “Obama is the founder of ISIS.”

Each day we are left incredulous. Why does truth no longer matter? When Trump proclaims that crime has gone up under the Obama administration, when all the figures and evidence prove it has actually gone down, Trump persists in the lie. He’s hoping that if he repeats it long enough, we’ll actually believe him. Maybe we’ll forget what really happened and who really said what. Maybe we’ll start to believe his alternative history. Maybe we’ll start to believe that what feels like the truth is the truth. God help us.

Stevenson is an Austin educator.

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