I’ve known a handful of pathological liars in my life and I expect so have most of you. A prominent feature of the pathological liar is that they sometimes lie when the truth would serve just as well — or even better. For them lying must be its own reward.
I cannot identify with someone who prefers a lie to the truth. That makes no sense to me. But then I don’t associate lying with pleasure either, so I suppose if someone is wired that way it’s possible they associate lying with pleasure. Perhaps they experience pleasure when lying in the same way normal people feel pleasure when they are being kind or decent or honorable. If I were wired that way I would hope I would make the moral choice to actively resist the impulse to lie, but since I’m not wired that way I can’t say for sure what I would do.
In any case, I do not think Donald Trump is wired that way either. I think Trump is a special case, perhaps even a unique case. I think he lies because he doesn’t care and he lies because he has never experienced any real consequence for lying and is too lazy-minded and amoral to even wonder if it matters. It is a habituation so deep with Trump that he’s probably not even aware when he does it. In short, Trump lies to himself, and it would never occur to him that even that is a bad thing.
This is a consequence of Trump’s lacking self reflection. Self reflection is a quality most normal people have. It’s identifiable in our ability to question our own motives, our own truthfulness, our own accuracy. It’s why we change our minds, why we admit we’re wrong, why we apologize. As far as I can recall, Trump has never done any of those things.
Such a quality missing in the president of the United States could be fatal. Unfortunately, that quality is inadvertently encouraged. We are often intolerant of politicians who change their minds. We too often require our politicians to have the exact same opinions they had when they were three years old. If they don’t we call them out for it. That creates enormous pressure on them to never change their minds about anything. So when Trump never admits wrongdoing, blames others for his failures and takes credit from others for his successes, he’s perceived as strong by some for those reasons.
Trump lies for self-glorification, self-protection and self-enrichment. That’s the point of everything he ever does. We’ve all known people who are full of stories about themselves in which they are the star and the hero of every tale they tell. Donald Trump is that — writ large.
CNN’s Jim Acosta understands all this and sees through Trump. Acosta asks Trump tough questions. Trump doesn’t like that. For example, in a recent press conference Acosta asked Trump, “Can you pledge to the American people that you will not accept any foreign assistance in the upcoming election?” To which Trump replied, “First of all I want no help from any country and I haven’t been given any help from any country. And if you see what CNN, your wonderful network, said, I guess they apologized in a way. Didn’t they apologize for the fact that they said certain things that weren’t true?”
I hesitate to make sense of the mess that is Donald Trump’s brain, but I think he may be referring to something that he’s been banging on about for years. On December 8, 2017, CNN ran a story that claimed two sources told the network that the Trump campaign received an email that gave Trump and his son Don Jr. early access to WikiLeaks documents. CNN subsequently retracted that story and apologized for it. It’s characteristic of Trump’s hypocrisy that he sees this as a weakness and “proof” that CNN is a network full of liars, when in fact it shows the exact opposite.
It’s exasperating that Trump, who has told over 16,000 lies while in office (that we know about), would attack a network for both making a mistake and recognizing it as a mistake and retracting it and apologizing for it, and it’s also pure hypocrisy. That Trump told Acosta he wants no help from other countries to get re-elected and he hasn’t “been given any help from any country,” is really the crowning lie. It’s a lie of many layers and is immediately demonstrable as a lie.
We know this because in June of 2019 Trump told George Stephanopolous “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” Then one month later he tried to extort Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter and was impeached for it. And of course we all know that Russia has been actively engaged in subverting every American election since Trump took office because every single American intelligence agency says it has. In short, Donald Trump brazenly lied to Acosta. He has accepted foreign aid to win an election and he would do it again — and he plans to do it in 2020.
Another way Donald Trump lies is he attacks people with adjectives instead of facts. This way he can publicly excoriate someone without having to work too hard or think too much. The people he attacks are almost always innocent of any wrongdoing. When Trump tweets something ugly about people he also puts their lives in danger. Many stupid and violent people love Trump. It’s only a matter of time before one of them kills someone Trump has attacked.
Donald Trump recently proclaimed that the coronavirus crisis is “very well under control in our country.” That is a lie. Coronavirus is a clear and present danger to the health of the world, and may infect, by some estimates, as much as 70% of the world’s population before it finally dies out. That the man who said the solution to forest fires is raking leaves, or category 5 hurricanes can be subdued with atom bombs, is even still believed when speaking about coronavirus is a tribute to human stupidity. It’s also an artifact of the power of the presidency, because no one would listen to Donald Trump at all if he weren’t president of the United States. That is yet another reason why we must get rid of him.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.