Trump and the Post-Truth Election
Trump's supporters say they like him because he 'tells it like it is.' But when he's caught in lie after lie, their response is, 'who cares?'
On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a lengthy profile of America’s GOP presidential front-runner, a man who is many things, but certainly never boring. Titled “A King in His Castle: How Donald Trump Lives, From His Longtime Butler,” the article provided an intimate look inside Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s “Versailles, a 118-room snowbird’s paradise that will become a winter White House if he is elected president.” The piece also offered the inside scoop on life with Trump from said longtime butler, Anthony Senecal.
If you can get past the scarring mental image of “Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey lounging on a couch under the living room’s 21-foot gold-leafed ceiling,” the profile reveals some telling tidbits, tossed like stray diamonds amid the various Bentleys, the faded Flemish tapestries, and the library “filled with rare first-edition books that no one in the family ever read.” That library has since been replaced by a bar, appropriately, and crowned with a portrait of Trump, majestic, posing in tennis whites.
In the piece, Mr. Senecal, now “a kind of unofficial historian at Mar-a-Lago,” recalls how Trump, among other various fibs and exaggerations, “liked to tell guests that the nursery rhyme-themed tiles” in the children’s suite “were made by a young Walt Disney.” Senecal, a seemingly normal person, would often correctly protest that this was not true. Trump, in return, would simply laugh and offer a simple reply: “Who cares?”
Who cares, indeed? A significant swath of voters apparently doesn’t. As the 2016 presidential race has unfolded, we’ve seen lies flying around like stray car parts at a low-budget demolition derby — with Donald Trump as the fast-and-loose king of blatant untruths, and people so inured to it all that they don’t even bother to flinch or duck.
In just the past few weeks, Trump has told so many lies it’s hard to know which ones to cite. He famously lied about serving Trump steaks at a press conference on national television — they were “Bush Brothers” steaks, hilariously, from a butcher in West Palm Beach. On March 7 and 11, Trump claimed he was “not taking money” for his “self-funded” campaign, which might come as a surprise to the individuals from across the country who have donated a reported $7.5 million to his campaign.
Meanwhile, last Friday, Trump said at a press conference, “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps” literally moments after saying, “There are two Donald Trumps.” America, fairly used to this by now, simply shrugged and went on with its day.
Trump supporters tend to get irritated when confronted with things like the blatantly fake Trump steaks served up in front of a national audience: “Who cares?” — unsurprisingly — is a common reply. This is somewhat puzzling, given that many Trump fans claim to like him because he “tells it like it is.” It’s also puzzling because if you know anything about life, you likely know this: When someone consistently lies about little, inconsequential things, they tend to lie about big, consequential things too.
And so it is that we have Donald Trump telling his Iowa supporters, “I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees” if someone decides to “knock the crap” out of a protester. More recently, on Meet the Press, Trump told Chuck Todd he had “instructed my people to look into” paying legal fees for a man who, apparently taking Trump’s advice, sucker-punched a protester at a rally in North Carolina, then told the press he’d be happy to kill someone for Donald Trump. But wait! What’s that? Why, it’s Donald Trump on Good Morning America, claiming he “never said” he was going to pay legal fees, even though the video of Donald Trump saying just that is captured all over the Internet and easily accessible with a few effortless clicks.
Then there’s the Donald Trump who, after months and months of claiming that Mexico would pay for his wall, recently told Sean Hannity, “Politically, that’s not feasible.” Oh, and there’s the Donald Trump who linked to a hoax video that claimed one of his protesters had ties to ISIS: “All I know,” he said when asked about the inaccuracy, “is what’s on the Internet.” Unfortunately, the various dancing cats and escaped Area 51 aliens and Nigerian princes who reside on the Internet were unavailable to comment for this story.
Politicians have lied for centuries, of course; it’s practically part of the job description. In this, Trump is certainly not alone. Hillary Clinton, for her part, can tell a heck of an untruth; her husband wasn’t so shabby either. What’s new is the rapid-fire, constant nature of the lies, paired with the fact that they’re so easily debunked. Traditionally, politicians have at least tried to hide their dishonesty, due to the assumption that voters would care.
With the rise of Trump’s post-truth campaign, that assumption has been obliterated. Trump’s bet is that enough voters won’t care, or, alternatively, that he can simply tire everyone out. So far, he’s been proved right. On Tuesday, Trump warned of riots if he were to be denied the GOP nomination at the convention. Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told the press that Trump was speaking “figuratively.” Man, oh man. For the GOP, the truth is probably going to hurt.
This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on March 17, 2016, and is reprinted with permission.