The news last week that the president of the United States lied repeatedly about the $130,000 hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels was greeted less with outrage than a practiced yawn, and with every passing lie — which come at the rate of four or five a day and a mind-boggling 3,000-plus since Donald Trump took office — that attitude becomes increasingly dangerous. This is because the pandemic of lies is so blatant and so vast that we risk becoming numb, and when we become numb the lies are so much background noise.
Not to give Trump too much credit, but that is exactly what he wants to happen.
Trump is a career liar whose rearrangement of reality about anything and everything to serve his narcissistic cravings and keep at bay his secret phobias (such as the true state of his health being revealed), is taken for granted by his family, his associates and Vichy congressional Republicans. And plays neatly into his exploitation of mob emotions and the kind of propaganda ploys used by Joseph Goebbels to cement Hitler’s power.
The president’s lies even have an officially-athorized name — “alternative facts.”
That Machiavellian phrase entered the popular lexicon courtesy of Trump senior abetter Kellyanne Conway, who two days after Trump took office defended Sean Spicer’s lie about the size of the crowds at the inauguration at his first press conference to widespread amazement. What was a “provable falsehood,” in the words of Chuck Todd, became an “alternative fact” in Conway’s unapologetic recasting for the benefit of the gobsmackedNBC News correspondent.
Fortunately, the Goebbels comparisons fall apart quickly.
As Hitler’s Reichsminister for Propaganda and National Enlightenment, Goebbels controlled radio, press, cinema and eventually all German culture. Conway should be so lucky, but the foundation stones of American democracy like a free press remain relatively robust. This although Trump has “upset presidential norms,” in the prim view of establishment pundits, who in the service of helping the rest of us become numb to the torrent of lies have managed to make Trump’s assault on the very things we value about our once-great country seem like a matter of using the wrong fork at a state dinner.
Nor should the view that lying in politics transcends party and era get any traction.
Nixon said he was not a crook. He was. Reagan said he was not aware of the Iran-Contra deal. He was. Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman. He did. Bush said he had evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He did not. But the Founding Fathers did not foresee a president who lies with the regularity of bowel movements, let alone America’s greatest foreign enemy interfering in an election to elevate a man profoundly unfit for any public office into the highest office.
Goebbels, like Hitler, also was an hypnotic orator, which Trump is not even on his best days. In fact, Trump is a fool and his disregard for the truth will have consequences. It’s just that they’re taking an awfully long time to catch up to him.
As democratic foundation stones go, the constitutionally mandated responsibility of Congress to check Trump’s excesses is in ruins and will remain so at least until the November election, after which the Democrats may have an opportunity to screw up things. Or not. But Trump’s very lies about the Russia scandal have opportunely if inadvertently led to his own Justice Department erecting a firewall against them.
This is the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia’s cybersabotage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign with the assistance of Trump’s campaign, the interference having been proven without a shadow of a doubt while the collusion is quickly exiting the realm of the possible and entering the realm of the probable.
Mueller’s mandate is broad, his tool kit extensive and all four of the guilty pleas he has obtained stemming from his 19 indictments are based on charges of perjury — lying.
Yet the special counsel may yet not confront Trump and his lies.
Everyone except the president, including his own defense lawyers, know that Mueller will eat him alive in a face-to-face interview where he will have only one alternative to lying, pleading the Fifth Amendment against self incrimination. The alternative to an interview — a subpoena for Trump to appear before a federal grand jury — would be tied up endlessly in appeals and counter appeals, which brings us back to that election thing.
If the Democrats retake the House, which it appears they may do for the same reason they lost it in 2010 (it’s called Obamacare), impeachment proceedings against Trump — a political process as opposed to Mueller’s criminal process — would be initiated by the House Judiciary Committee.
Getting the full House to approve articles of impeachment is less likely. Even less likely is that the Senate, which would be judge and jury in an impeachment trial, would muster the two-thirds vote to convict no matter how compelling the evidence in a Mueller impeachment referral would be.
But none of this takes into account that while the election is six months away and possible Democratic House control more distant still, Trump will continue lying and Mueller will continue indicting.
As Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page, of all places, pointed out in the wake of the Stormy Daniels lieapalooza:
Mr. Trump is compiling a record [of incessant lying] that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis — say, a dispute over speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller or a nuclear showdown with Kim Jong Un. Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says.”
Which was followed by Neil Cavuto, a commentator for Murdoch’s right-wing Fox News:
Your base probably might not care [about the incessant lying]. But you should. I guess you’re too busy “draining the swamp” to stop and smell the stink you are creating. That’s your doing. That’s your stink. Mr. President, that’s your swamp.”
A lot can happen before when and if Democrats wake Congress from its slumber. This includes a certain porn star taking down the president, an Ivanka Trump indictment driving the president over the edge, or fixer Michael Cohen turning state’s evidence and precipitating a bone spur flair-up or other ailment that hastens the president’s exit.
Any of these would work for me. In the meantime, please try not to become numb. Even if Trump is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 6, 2018 on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.