While distracted by Trump, tweets, and shiny objects, the real danger lies in the shadows.
|June 21, 2018 Day 8.
Elephant in the room is an English-language metaphorical idiom for an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea/thought that something as conspicuous as an elephant can appear to be overlooked in codified social interactions, and that the sociology/psychology of repression also operates on the macro scale.
So, what is this obvious issue? Trump lies. He doesn’t just bend, twist, or overlook the truth; he creates fiction and then repeats and repeats and repeats it until large segments of the American people believe it. All presidents lie. Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, yet he orchestrated the most shamelessly crooked act in the modern presidency. Ronald Reagan said he wasn’t aware of the Iran-Contra deal; there’s evidence he was. Bill Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman; he did, or close enough.
But Trump has taken lying to a whole new level. The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent.
The What: Even the harshest critics of Donald Trump have to concede that the President excels at one thing -- lying. And he does so far more than any predecessor ever dared to. As the Washington Post recently quantified, Trump has served up over 3,000 lies or misleading statements since taking office, which comes out to a dizzying rate of 6.5 every single day.
What brought this to mind today is the recent border crisis – taking innocent children from their parents. I watched the President say:
• It’s the law (passed by the Democrats). No – it was a policy he enacted.
• The Democrats won’t let him fix it. No – the Republicans control the House and Senate.
• Only Congress can fix it. No. The Congress has no control over his policies.
• It’s required by the Bible. No. Not according to most religious scholars.
• Isn’t he wonderful for fixing it? No, he reversed himself because of bad press.
The Impact: What does this mean for the country—and for the Americans on the receiving end of Trump’s constantly twisting version of reality? For decades, researchers have been wrestling with the nature of falsehood: How does it arise? How does it affect our brains? Can we choose to combat it? The answers aren’t encouraging for those who worry about the national impact of a reign of untruth over the next four, or eight, years. Lies are exhausting to fight, pernicious in their effects and, perhaps worst of all, almost impossible to correct if their content resonates strongly enough with people’s sense of themselves, which Trump’s clearly do.
The distressing reality is that our sense of truth is far more fragile than we would like to think it is—especially in the political arena, and especially when that sense of truth is twisted by a figure in power. As the 19th-century Scottish philosopher, Alexander Bain put it, “The great master fallacy of the human mind is believing too much.” False beliefs, once established, are incredibly tricky to correct.
There is a reason the president lies so frequently and outrageously: It works! A leader who lies constantly creates a new landscape, and a citizenry whose sense of reality may end up swaying far more than they think possible.
I’ll leave you with a final thought: “A liar begins with making falsehood appear like truth, and ends with making truth itself appear like falsehood.” ~ William Shenstone