Donald Trump has a particular skill, one rooted in his weaknesses: Because he eschews intellectualism for intuition, because he prefers to watch rather than to read, he has honed his talent for reflexive reductionism.
Nuance and complexity are founts of confusion in Trump’s basest mind. So he gravitates to the most emotionally charged parts of any issue and amplifies them.
This is an essential function of branding: to capture a feeling in its purest form, to connect on a visceral level with a viewer, to compel an action.
Trumpism in a way is about emotion over information. It is about heat over light. It is about hostility over comity.
And it is divorced from the rigors of truth and honesty. It exists as a near ecclesiastical devotion in a space where passionate faith surmounts accuracy and science.
In this space, everything must exist at the extremes, or not at all. Everything is love or hate, big or little, best or worst. And, everything is very, very, very.
Look at Trump’s early life, his political ascendancy and now his presidency, and it becomes abundantly clear that his branding and messaging playbook could actually fit on an index card: Exploit people’s covetousness, ambition, lust, greed, fear, racial tribalism and gullibility.
Everything Trump does employs one or more of these exploitations. When deployed in combination, these exploitations become his Seven Deadly Synergies.
And one of his most fundamental means is lying.
He is a pathological, irredeemable liar. Somehow, we have adjusted ourselves to this reality, not by accepting it as a new normalcy, but by diagnosing it as an enduring feature. Trump’s lying is so incessant and predictable that his own lawyers are reportedly warning him against talking with the special counsel Robert Mueller for fear that the lying could expose Trump to even more legal jeopardy.
According to The New York Times: “His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”
Trump lies so much that people keep inventing new euphemisms to describe it. Former Vice President Joe Biden told CNN this week that if he were one of Trump’s lawyers, he too would advise him not to talk to Mueller, because as Biden put it, “The president has some difficulty with precision.” In other words, he’s a liar.
This lying may feel minor to some. It may feel inconsequential, an inconvenience around which we can maneuver. But I say that the lying is everything — the root thing, the foundational thing.
It may well be that Trump’s lifelong assumption that he could simply lie with impunity, as a tactic to sell his brand or save his skin, will be the crux of the Mueller investigation and any finding of Trump’s own wrongdoing.
Trump has set a tone in his campaign and in his administration that lying is simply part of the communications strategy. They all do it. But you can’t lie to the F.B.I., and you can’t lie to impede an investigation, thereby obstructing justice.
Even aside from the investigation and any talk of collusion or obstruction, Trump is a danger to the nation in a multitude of other ways.
We have a manipulative liar with autocratic tendencies as the American president. He has enormous power and an enormous ego. He prioritizes his personal feelings and fortunes over the country’s health and stability.
Indeed, he apparently conflates praise of him with actual patriotism.
This week Trump said during a speech near Cincinnati that Democratic lawmakers who refused to applaud him during his State of the Union address were “un-American” and “treasonous.”
The irony of course is that Mueller is looking into whether there were ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russians that could well rise to the level of treason.
Trump has already turned televised appearances with his sycophantic cabinet and his congressional cronies into Dear Leader praise-fests. Now he demands that praise from everyone. But demanding praise is often a compensatory act, one meant to assuage a nagging sense of incompetence and failure.
I view lying as a gateway offense that makes permissible any manner of other offense. Lies beget lies and another is always needed to cover the one that came before.
There comes a time when the house of cards tumbles, though, and in that moment the liar is vulnerable and the reckoning becomes real. The question that nags me is, “What will Trump do to distract from the collapse or to prevent it?”
The American presidency is a position unparalleled in its power. What will Trump be willing to do with that power to stir the passions of his supporters to spring to his defense? What will he be willing to do to avert the gaze of scrutiny? What will he be willing to do to protect his family?
My sense is that absolutely nothing will be beyond the pale for Trump. He will lie, exploit and destroy. If you think he’s dangerous now, you haven’t seen anything yet.