Steinberg: Lies are not only damaging, they’re contagious
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Et tu, Barack?
I was biting my lip, trying not to criticize the president in his final weeks. What would be the point? He’s history, toast, riding off into the sunset for his date with a postage stamp. Yes, after the 2016 election he reverted to the same Spock-like, over-intellectual passivity he glided in on, nodding pleasantly the way people do in nightmares in the face of imminent danger, as his successor rears out of the swamp of American psychosis and names his misfit Cabinet.
But Obama must know what he’s doing, right? A wily politician to the end. Just as during the 2008 election he knew that one flash of temper would paint him as an Angry Black Man, he sought to maintain whatever slight influence he might have on the Trumpian entity by welcoming it into the White House with grace. At least then Donald Trump might see what grace looks like. Hoping to mitigate the disaster, Obama kept his lip zipped while the scaffolding of our national humiliation is erected.
Then, talking to David Axelrod for his podcast, Obama blurted out that he would have beat Trump: “I’m confident that if I, if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.”
Obama’s boast is meaningless on several levels. In no particular order: a) he couldn’t run again; b) a majority of the American people don’t vote at all; c) Hillary Clinton did win most of the votes the American people cast among the candidates and she still lost; and d) Trump has already cornered the market on preening, unwarranted confidence in one’s own ability.
Obama’s statement reminds us: bragging mendacity is contagious because it’s so easy and effective. As a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (lie) whose work is syndicated across the country (another lie) I know something about communication. Lies breed lies. As negative as Trump’s impact will be on specific areas of American life, from increasing the boldness of haters, to undermining the battle against climate change, his biggest impact will be forging a toxic atmosphere of deception.
Not that this current hallucinatory carnival is his fault. Republicans gave up on reality long ago. Trump is the outcome of that choice, a symptom, not a cause.
You’ve got a guy free associating anything — literally anything that makes him feel better, makes him look good, scratches his own itch. When the media started noticing how A-list celebrities are shunning his inauguration, Trump fired off this tweet:
“The so-called “A” list celebrities are all wanting tixes to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!”
Marvelous. Literally. Let’s marvel: Here’s a man who dedicated his life to pursuing celebrity, associating with whatever C-list chucklehead — hello Scott Baio! — will stand next to him. Shunned by stars for his morally repulsive views, he conjures up the self-flattering notion that they are begging for tickets but Trump, sitting on his gilded throne, prefers the PEOPLE.
Even fans understand the just-saying-stuff quality of liars. Bill O’Reilly, no stranger to fabrication, simply ignored Trump’s explanation for the headliner of his inauguration being the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and offered up something even more ludicrous: the notion stars are under pressure to not appear.
“Some very powerful entertainment people in America do not want the Trump inauguration to be a star-studded event,” O’Reilly fantasized on his show, offering no evidence beyond fervid imagination. “Many performers are scared they may lose work if they show up.”
Let’s pretend that were true, for a moment.
“Look Bruce, you’re a good kid, but if you sing ‘Born in the USA’ at Trump’s inaugural you’re through, you’ll never play the Meadowlands again!”
That ain’t happening.
Four years is a long time, and with Trump distorting the truth to flatter his ego every day, I don’t plan on calling out every lie. The people who most need to hear aren’t listening anyway. Instead, better to highlight Trump’s periodic factual statements should they occur.Tweets by @neilsteinberg