Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Most Troubling Lie

Sure, we know that Trump has a tendency to tell whoppers, stretch the facts, and just make shit up. But his insistence yesterday that his inauguration crowd was not smaller than Obama's 2009 inauguration crowd-- well, this one I find extra troubling. Here's why.

It's so transparent. It's not like you can look at the photos, squint, and say, yeah, I can see how if you're really a fan of Trump, you would interpret his crowd as larger. This lie is literally "Who are you going to believe. Me, or your own eyes?" The "they were slowed down by the security" lasted five minutes until the Secret Service said, "No, we weren't doing that."

It's unnecessary. Trump's crew could have spun this any number of ways. They could have said that of course, 2009 was a large crowd, because it was an historic occasion with the installation of the first black President ever. They could have plead weather-- on Friday, it sucked. They could have used any number of spins to explain away the difference in crowd sizes-- but, no. They could have just pulled out a picture from Obama's second inauguration, or either Bush. But no-- they had to just deny reality.

It's pointless. Sure, our leaders often lie to us, but generally it's in the service of some policy goal, because politicians often succumb to "the end justifies the means" logic. So they do things like tell us lies to get us to go to war. It sucks, it's reprehensible, and it's indefensible-- but it's at least comprehensible from the standpoint of politicians trying to achieve their policy goals. This lie accomplishes absolutely nothing. It doesn't sell us a policy idea. It doesn't achieve a larger goal. It just preserves the delicate ego of our new president. Well, a takes a blunt swing at press credibility.

It enlisted the powers of the federal government. It wasn't enough for Trump to just, say, tweet his claim at 3 am. The White House Press Secretary, in his official capacity at an official press conference, was sent out to tell this lie to the press. The National Parks Service had their twitter accounts taken away for contradicting the lie.

[Update: It's an assault on reality. As stories have trickled out and responses have trickled in this morning, it becomes clear there is another troubling aspect here. We should not trust the photos or the news accounts or, well, anything-- we should simply trust the words of our Beloved Leader and forsake all other methods of perceiving reality. Everything is, at a minimum, open to debate and discussion and there is no objective reality except that presented to us by the Beloved Leader.]

As a teacher, I am left wondering exactly how I handle this with students. In a journalism class, how do we interpret the new role of journalists, who must now be attacked and criticized by the President of the United States for daring to print facts. Do we have to re-write the old rules of research, which generally told students that a .gov domain name was trustworthy and fair game for a research source.

What are we to make of a President who tells pointless bald-faced lies and uses the federal government to spread them, and then to attack and further damage the conduit of free press through which we are supposed to get our information? How do we navigate a world like this, and how do we teach our students to do so?


  1. actually, it does achieve a goal. It lets him pretend that he's the best ever at everything. He's the most popular, the most accomplished, the most ... whatever.
    He's a classic narcissist. He knows more about military than the generals, everyone else is a loser, remember? Sadly, this is entirely in character for him, and now it seems he's forcing his staff to enable him.

    1. Yes. Narcissism seems to explain a lot about his behavior. I totally agree.

  2. It achieved a goal. Trump, once again was able to deflect the media's attention from the historic Woman's March back unto himself.

  3. On the bright side. It will make for great comical skits on TV and in movies. At least until the censors put a stop to it🤔

  4. You tell students the truth. If telling them the truth causes your community to demand you change your ways or get fired, then get fired. Do not trade your integrity for convenience. You will survive.

  5. Here is what I learned from Professor Howard Zinn: “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.” As Gandhi said: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." Let's get to work. Stand up. Speak out. Resist!


    This link is to a memo written by a former white house staffer. It's's also terrifying

  7. Everyone talks about what a liar Trump is, but I think it's just because he does it so badly. It's like when your toddler swears he didn't eat that chocolate ice cream, which just happens to be smeared around his face. Most politicians are like junior high kids who have learned to lie with such a flair that it can be nigh impossible to tell what the truth even is. Frankly, I find it refreshing.

    Anyway, I think we can just assume from here on out that it's all lies, so let's stop getting distracted by every one of them and let's focus on the issues. As you said a column or two ago, what do we want? Let's work toward that.

  8. You and your sudents won't need to worry about whether .gov sites are reliable. They're taking them all down.

  9. I don't care about Trump lying. That's hilarious. I care about the White House press secretary and a host of flacks and flunkies fanning out to spread and bolster the lies. That's not hilarious. That's Goebbels.

  10. Trump is a master at misdirection. Getting you to focus upon the trivial instead of substance. The media, desperate for clicks and eyeballs, falls for it every time. Kellyanne Conway was on Meet The Press yesterday and the entire discussion was about crowd size. Chuck Todd could have grilled her on any number of substantial issues - TPP, DeVos, Obamacare changes - but instead he used that valuable time on trivia. Chuck just couldn't help himself.

    This is how Donald Trump controls the narrative.