by Roxanne Tellier
When we’re kids, we’re terrible at telling lies. You can spot a kid that’s telling a tall tale a mile away, because they’re just not great at deceiving others.
Deception and lying are all part of a cognitive understanding called a Theory of Mind. That’s the realization that we all have our own knowledge, beliefs and opinions … that development informs us that we all have different minds.
Over time, we learn to tell ‘social’ lies, the fibs that get us through our days. “How are you today?” the cashier asks us, and we cheerily inform her that we’re just fine, despite the screaming headache we’re trying to ignore. Or someone asks if they look good in their new coat, and we tell them they look amazing.
Salespeople lie a dozen times a day, or if not lie, at least they’ll minimize the defects of an item, and maximize it’s benefits. We lie on our resumes, and on our dating profiles .. at least a titch … and we lie when we want to look smarter or more informed than we really are.
Peer pressure and our need to fit the perceptions and expectations of others drives a lot of the lying. We want to look good to others, and to do so, we often have to ‘enhance’ our reality.
We lie to avoid the consequences of mistakes, we lie to buy time, we lie to spare other people’s feelings. We may be lying for all the right reasons, but we’re still lying.
All of that lying comes at a cost. What we really crave is honesty, or at least the belief that someone is being honest; complete honesty is the access to ultimate power. When we feel that a person is telling us the truth, we hand over our power to their keeping. We believe that they have our best interests at heart, and, in effect, must be better people than we assume ourselves to be.
But trust is a fragile thing. And even if the person who broke that trust tells us with sweet words and warm embraces that our trust was broken for a very good reason … once we no longer trust, we can no longer cling to a faith in the person that has broken the code of truth.
And when you pile lie upon lie upon lie … the very foundations of a relationship proves to be built upon quicksand. Not a great thing if it’s in a romance, but if that relationship is between a nation, and it’s leader, there’s an enormous price to pay, and it’s a dangerous place for a nation – or a planet. Especially a planet where Pinocchio demands absolute fealty, constant attention, and has the codes to a nuclear football.
“On January 20, Trump’s truthful hyperboles will no longer be relegated to the world of deal making or campaigning. Donald Trump will become the chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world, the man charged with representing that nation globally—and, most importantly, telling the story of America back to Americans. He has the megaphone of the White House press office, his popular Twitter account and a loyal new right-wing media army that will not just parrot his version of the truth but actively argue against attempts to knock it down with verifiable facts. Unless Trump dramatically transforms himself, Americans are going to start living in a new reality, one in which their leader is a manifestly unreliable source.” Politico, January 1, 2017.
There’s a crushing irony in Trump, who promised to be the ‘law and order’ president, who has racked up a blinding total of over 6000 lies since taking office, telling Americans and the world that he believes the words of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who denies having been involved in the murder of U.S.-based, Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Believes MbS, may I add, over the findings of his own CIA, the actual tape of the screams of the man being murdered, and the fact based reality that nothing happens in the Kingdom of the Saud’s without the leader having full knowledge of all actions taken in his kingdom, and in his name.
I’m sure it’s not only those of us who are parents or grandparents that smelled the aroma of defensive lies well before they were fully baked in Trump’s oven of hypocrisy. He did, after all, begin cooking them up even before the Saudi’s had had a chance to properly season those lies with the blood of their tortured and murdered victim.
Kids lie because they have no power. They lie to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. But leaders have ALL of the power; if what they are doing or proposing is in the best interest of those they lead, there’s no need to hide their words or deeds. Trump’s deep dish lying is only necessary when there’s double dealing, corruption, and personal greed afoot.
But then again, Trump has a lot of practice in both the telling of, and the swallowing of, lies. He’s essentially based his entire presidency and legacy on a roiling sea of tall tales, myths, innuendo, misrepresentations, denigrations of truths, and lie after lie after lie. And his claims are usually at the expense of those whose sole mission in life is to present truths – be it the CIA, the FBI, or the free press.
He’s denied that Russia had any interest in putting him into office, even as witnesses, texts, and chains of emails come to light proving his collusion. No matter what proof is laid on the table, Trump, that sly dog, manages to twist and turn the truth, until his base can be convinced that there’s no smoking gun of evidence, just a ‘light’ claim of wrong doing that he denied at the time, but that if you look at it from his point of view, was never wrong doing, and even if it was, it wasn’t a crime and certainly not illegal .. and hey presto! There’s your new normal … a candy coated lie that everyone wants under the tree at Christmas.
The Teflon coating of Trump’s America is nothing but a veneer of protective lies. Just ask special counsel Mueller, who’s spent the better part of a year and a half exposing the lies of 45’s cronies, lies that come to them as easily as breathing. Or ask those he’s caught in those lies, those that once swore utter loyalty to the Father of Lies, in exchange for a sniff of power … Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, to name but a few.
Whether it was lying about the paying off of sex scandals, the fiddling of campaign finances, or Russia’s involvement and meddling into the 2016 election, and whether it was for power, loyalty, or reasons we may never understand, Trump’s ex besties will be paying a steep price for lying to federal authorities.
Yes .. I’m aware that all presidents lie. The difference here, though, is the frequency, and the intent .. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton... no question that they were caught lying, in attempts to protect their reputations.
But Trump seems to lie because he just can’t help himself. There’s no matter so small that he can’t find a lie inside it; during the campaign, PolitiFact found that he lied 70 percent of the time. It’s knee-jerk, it’s just what he does … George Washington could not tell a lie, Trump cannot tell a truth.
(anecdotally, Trump once told his butler, Anthony Senecal, that the tiles in a nursery at MarALago‘s West Palm Beach club had been made by Walt Disney himself. Knowing that was false, Senecal protested. Trump’s response was: “Who cares?”)
He is the Boy that Cried Wolf. Many of us can no longer believe anything he says, ever.
Even the most brilliant human brain can only cope with so much misinformation. For the majority of us, we’re easily overwhelmed with a flood of false statements. Our coping mechanism soon becomes overburdened, and ultimately, we begin to absorb the disinformation as a new reality, no matter how implausible those statements may be.
And Trump is also the master of another form of lying, so insidious that most people don’t even see it coming …he practices ‘illusory truth,‘ … the sheer repetition of the same lie until it begins to register as truth in our minds, and even causes the actual reality and truth to be erased from our memories.
Keep repeating a lie and it begins to seep into our minds as truth. Say it enough, and we’ll no longer be able to recognize truth at all.
Worse still, our efforts to refute those lies only serves to solidify the lies as truths. The brain can’t parse out a phrase like, “it’s not true that all migrants are gangsters.” Instead, it filters out the first part, and seizes upon the second as what is important. Refutations and retractions will do nothing to change judgments and decisions we make based upon false information.
I wish that I could tell you that there is an easy way to change the minds of those who have absorbed this administration’s lies and misinformation and made those deceptions into core beliefs. But I cannot. In point of fact, the processing of all of this false information has physically altered the minds of the ‘true believers’ as surely as those of religious cultists. They literally cannot hear any information that does not correlate to what they have accepted as truth.
The base of Trump’s followers will not willingly drop their acquired values; they are far more likely to double down on their emotional connection to the lies than to hear statements that belie what they have come to consider gospel. Trump’s base will have to be ‘deprogrammed’ by someone able to reshape their minds. We can only hope that whomever comes along to do so, has honorable intentions, and the good of their country top of mind.
Addendum: When I first started writing this column, I came from a very different perspective. By the time I was winding up the piece, I was shaken to my core.
“Lying” sounds like something we have to teach kids not to do; kid stuff, not all that important, a mere peccadillo, as they used to say. But it’s so much more than that. When the people we are meant to trust … our elected leaders, civic leaders, religious leaders … lie to us to further their own agendas, their words can warp the teachings and beliefs of a lifetime. And that is some scary stuff. Manchurian Candidate stuff.
If you have an interest in the science of lies, please read this article – especially the second half – and be prepared to look at America with an entirely different and more educated eye by the end of the read.
“ The distressing reality is that our sense of truth is far more fragile than we would like to think it is—especially in the political arena, and especially when that sense of truth is twisted by a figure in power. As the 19th-century Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain put it, “The great master fallacy of the human mind is believing too much.” False beliefs, once established, are incredibly tricky to correct. A leader who lies constantly creates a new landscape, and a citizenry whose sense of reality may end up swaying far more than they think possible. It’s little wonder that authoritarian regimes with sophisticated propaganda operations can warp the worldviews of entire populations. “You are annihilated, exhausted, you can’t control yourself or remember what you said two minutes before. You feel that all is lost,” as one man who had been subject to Mao Zedong’s “reeducation” campaign in China put it to the psychiatrist Robert Lifton. “You accept anything he says.””