According to Vox “over 25 days (starting on September 15 and ending on October 24, with some days off for Dale in between), Trump lied on at least 378 occasions.”. The lies vary between big whoppers like the birther lie and that Ted Cruz’s father was in on the JFK assassination and relatively trivial ones that usually lies about his opponents such as that Clinton wanted to "an open border with the Middle East." Most are easily disproven but since he started his presidential campaign he has never had to pay any price for his lies. He has never apologized for his lies and in fact the more he has lied the more successful he has become. In this scenario the story there are only two possible conclusions to draw and both are somewhat disturbing--first that Trump is a pathological liar and that the media and everyone else has discounted this and is ready to accept a President whose word cannot be trusted, or second that lying is not a serious offense any more and it is an irrelevant criteria as the color of their hair or their accent. In either case the we are all in for a rough ride over the next four years.
The dyed in the wool Trump supporters are ready to believe when pressed that he sometimes tells lies but they don’t think they are important because the great man does not always believe in everything he says. Their famous line about him is that we should not take everything he says literally and that it is only his opponents who do that. They seem to believe that he gets a free pass on lies since he is “on their side” against all the others you can lump conveniently together with (Muslims, Mexicans and other un-American types). The trouble with this argument is that these lies, the bold faced untruths, the ugly smears and the whole mess of them in between are set to do lasting damage to the democracy and to the world’s stability.
Whether or not Trump ever read a word of Machiavelli he is a master practitioner of his sleazy politics. It was after all the great Italian political advisor who said,
“Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known how to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.”
Machiavelli wrote The Prince 500 years ago to guide rulers, in the brutal facts of politics that it needs to be based on realism--on keeping the people off balance and in awe of the ruler's’ power. He wrote deliberately against the view that politics was some kind of idealistic realm and it was at all useful to describe as Plato and Thomas Moore had done imaginary utopias, “There is such a gap between how one lives and how one should live that he who neglects what is being done for what should be done will learn his destruction rather than his preservation.” Yet Machiavelli left no school of followers--his great case study, Cesar Borgia never succeeded in taking over all of Italy using his brutal realist tactics that included terror. As Harrison points out “Borgia’s life ended ignominiously and prematurely, in poverty, with scurvy. He died a few years after his father’s death, at the age of 32, in a street brawl in Spain” The ones who followed Machiavelli have however be legion and Shakespeare understood more than most the power of the Italian’s amoral message. As Harrison further points out “Shakespeare’s plays are filled with famous Machiavellian villain.. who have an explicitly Machiavellian cynicism about politics, who believe that politics is nothing but efficacy, the will to power, naked ambition, pragmatism devoid of ethical considerations.” Whether it is Coriolanus, Iago, Lady Macbeth, Edmund in King Lear and most classically of all Richard III they are adept at creating false fears, slandering their opponents and lying when it suits them. For Trump the casual and the big lies are the ways he uses to soften us up to entertaining the belief in his world where every societal ill whether it be unemployment or bad schools is the failure of some corrupt or incompetent politician, administrator, or the result of a one sided trade deal negotiated by someone less worthy and savvy than the Donald himself. The lies are the Kool Aid you have to drink to inhabit this fantasy universe and since big lies, conspiracy theories and all the self serving untruths in between are coming at everyone with such frequency, often as fast as he can tweet them out, they all mix in and are made equally important and equally irrelevant. Where is all this bad behavior leading?
Unfortunately there is only one answer--to war. As Rowan Williams so eloquently wrote in The Guardian about George Orwell and Thomas Merton,
“If we talk and write badly, dishonestly, unanswerably, what we are actually doing is getting ready for war. The habits of mind that make war inevitable are the habits of bad language – that is to say, the habits that grow from uncritical attitudes to power and privilege: contempt towards the powerless, towards minorities, towards the stranger, the longing for an end to human complexity and difference.”
How to resist? It is getting increasingly difficult with each passing day. Words do matter as does truth and the connection between them withers with each new Trump cabinet appointment and each new lie that emerges from the Trump transition team, the latest one of course is that climate change is somehow debatable and that Trump won the popular vote because of illegal voting. War will be the only outcome for this kind of pathology because once the lies and truth take such divergent paths--and the false promises and narratives wrapped up in the lies are exposed , the only alternative is (apart from resigning and risking infamy and humiliation) is to declare war and distract everyone from the mess you created. It will be the last self justifying act of the demagogue the last battle to win and create that sought after place in the history books that this damaged ego needs. We have to resist every day that the man is in office through constantly pointing out the lies, not allowing Trump’s fictional universe to prevail and to demonstrate by word and deed the precious nature of truth and reason and not allow them to be the demagogues’ first victim.