In this week’s installment of Trump v. New York Times, the Times called Trump a “liar,” as well as a “pathological liar,” depending on whether you are the entire NYT editorial staff, or Charles Blow (usually a fine columnist) in particular.
This is a mistake. Not because it isn’t true – it might very well be – but because it is very difficult to prove. I read the same Oxford English Dictionary as the next person, and to “lie” implies a knowing intent to deceive. Let’s face it: it is very difficult to know what happens in someone else’s head, much less what happens in Donald Trump’s head. Perhaps worse, to call someone a liar without certain knowledge that they intend to deceive is, well, you know: a lie. Welcome to the case of Liar v. Liar. (OK, OK: Potential Liar v. Potential Liar.) And who will win? No one. The Times should know better.
The best weapon against the Trumps of the world is ridicule, or what Trump will perceive as ridicule. To insult Trump is merely to play the ever-escalating game of hurled insults and at-will threats. To ridicule him is far better, not to mention more enjoyable reading (thank you, Gail Collins).
With Trump, ridicule is easily achieved, as demonstrated by the Times itself. Whether it was an intentional set up or not, the Times’ brilliant stories on the size of of Trump’s inauguration crowd – which Trump perceived as a penile insult – are still producing tailor-made stories, the stuff to fuel editorial dreams and fill newpaper pages for weeks to come. When you want to sell papers, it doesn’t get any more perfect than this.
As for Trump’s “lies,” we should, in the name of veracity, examine the full range of potential causes for his famously-flatulent utterances. Please select from the following options:
- Trump is saying something he knows to be untrue, and simply attempting to bludgeon others into believing it. That would be a lie.
- Trump is saying something that is obviously untrue, but actually believes it. From here, I see these all-too-real possibilities
- Trump is a neurotic, possibly with paronoic tendencies, and his emotional flare-ups subsume his facilities for rational thought.
- Trump just isn’t very bright, and cannot process complex problems or elaborate interpersonal relations. I must admit, when it comes to the Art of the Pithy Insult, Trump is excellent, seemingly unfettered by 140-character limits. Regrettably, his current job requirements are more involved, and lie (ahem) outside this admittedly intriguing skill.
- Some combination of the above. You be the judge…
None of these paint a lovely picture of Trumpian inner workings, but are there other realistic options? Many believe not – indeed a number of fine publications, including The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, seem to be openly wondering if the President just might be that quintiessential “few fries short of a Happy Meal.” But are his statements lies? Not necessarily.