On CNN, the other day, one of the hosts suggested that a good sequel for President Donald Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, should be entitled, The Art of the Lie.
Trump’s lies have been so frequent that the US media have actually been counting and fact-checking them.
One scorecard compiled by PolitiFact placed Trump’s “true” statements at only 5%, with 27% rated “mostly true” and “half-true” and 68% rated as “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire” (echoing the kiddie taunt, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!).
The Washington Post once ran the headline, “In 466 days, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims.” That count was made one year and three months into his presidency. Trump has since been in office nearly a year and a half and his lies keep piling up.
Of course, we may have resigned ourselves to the harsh fact that all politicians lie — thus, not surprisingly, Trump lies, too.
Trump’s lies have become more serious in terms of their consequences as president of the most powerful and, conceivably, the most influential country in the world.
Imagine global leaders dealing with a habitual liar on economic, military and sociopolitical issues. How can they tell which statements Trump makes are true, which are exaggerations (or truthful hyperboles) and which are outright lies?
To be safe, they could regard Trump like the boy who cried wolf and disbelieve anything he says. But what happens if there really is a wolf at bay?
Whether we like it or not, the world has to live with the reality of a Trump presidency, along with the lies that he has tainted it with. The question is: how does one deal with a person like him?
I think one should first try to fathom the motivations behind Trump’s statements. Simply attributing Trump’s frequent distortion of the truth to “an ingrained habit” — something that he habitually or even subconsciously does — would be to grossly underestimate him.
Would we regard Adolf Hitler or his propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, or Vladimir Lenin in the same way? That, too, would be to grossly underestimate their evil intent.
The axiom, “A lie repeated often enough is taken for the truth,” has been variously attributed to Hitler, Goebbels and Lenin — but I think it can be aptly attributed to Trump.
As recent events have shown, when Trump decides to lie, he does so with remarkable single-mindedness and consistency. And he converts it into a mantra, saying it over and over and over again.
Frankly, this is a trait that an advertising man like me can appreciate. Single-mindedness, consistency and repetitiveness are, after all, essential qualities of effective advertising.
Even when Trump is confronted with facts that expose his lies, he persists in repeating and pressing his blatant falsehood, apparently believing that if he outshouts and out-repeats the other side, his falsehood will be the one taken for the truth.
Sadly, Trump has proven this to be true, at least with his voter base and Republican party mates. They have either repeated his lies or reinforced them with their own distortions or they have abetted the falsehoods by their silence.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that there are those in media, like the hosts of Fox News, who echo his lies until they begin to have the ring of truth.
Why does Trump lie?
According to a New York Times report, as a young man, at the height of the Vietnam war, Trump dodged the draft five times, once ostensibly because of bone spurs in his heels and four other times, ostensibly, because of schooling.
In other words, he lied for reasons of self-preservation. He didn’t want to get killed in Vietnam — forget about patriotism and service to the flag.
As a businessman, he lied to grow his enterprises. In 1984, he also lied his way into the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest, but this was part of growing his business.
As a presidential candidate, he lied to enhance his credentials and beat his opponents. He also refused to release his income tax returns and he paid off potential sources of bad news like porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep his credentials clean.
As president, Trump has been lying for survival. He has demonstrated every intention to destroy with lies anyone who appears to threaten his hold on the presidency, most of all Bob Mueller, the Special Counsel currently investigating allegations of collusion with the Russians.
Trump’s mantra? No collusion. No collusion. No collusion.
Those who sniff at Trump’s intellect, should realize that he is very sharp in the things that count. He has demonstrated considerable skill in exploiting the self-interest of his base and the instinct for self-preservation of his party mates.
In the case of his voter base, Trump is the quintessential snake oil salesman, appealing to their concerns and anxieties and telling them the things they want to hear.
In the case of the GOP, it’s a choice between abandoning Trump and risk losing his voter base, or tolerating his shyster ways for political survival.
The coming mid-term elections, where control of the Senate and the House hangs in the balance, may prove to the GOP the wisdom or folly of hanging on to Trump.
If the Democrats succeed in retaking both houses of Congress, Trump will be abandoned the way rats desert a sinking ship.
But if the Republicans remain in power, the US and the world can look forward to two more years — maybe more — of Trump’s “alternative facts,” to use the words of Trump counselor Kelly Ann Conway.
Trump, in commenting on his on-again, off-again summit with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, may have given a glimpse into the way his mind works.
“Everybody plays games,” he quipped.
For Trump the Art of Lying is a game, one that he will cheat and lie to win.
Years from now, when Donald Trump is finally sent for by our Maker, the inscription on his tombstone could read: “Here lies Donald J. Trump.”
And that may be the one thing true said about him — unless grave diggers get there first.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.