Comrade Donald J. Trump is a liar.
Every president has told lies. Every person on earth has told lies. We all lie. Most of our lies are social lies — lies told to lubricate social interactions. “No, the pie crust wasn’t overbaked.” “I’d love to visit, but I’m running a bit late.” “Yes, of course, I’d be happy to help.” “Please, stay as long as you’d like.”
But Trump isn’t just a social liar. He will lie about anything to anybody for any reason without any compunction and without any concern for consequences. He’s an unrepentant liar. A serial liar. An inveterate liar. Worst of all, he’s a dangerous liar. I mean that quite seriously. Trump’s repeated barrage of lies are damaging the stability of our democracy.
Back in 1978 the French writer Roger Errera interviewed Hannah Arendt for the New York Review of Books. Among the things they discussed was the role played by lying in totalitarian governments.
If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.
We are still sometimes shocked by the viciousness and cruelty of some of Comrade Trump’s lies. We’re sometimes amused by the absurdity of his lies. We’re occasionally baffled by the pointlessness of some of his lies. But it’s been a long time since we were shocked by the fact that he lies. He’s normalized lying. And increasingly, the result is exactly what Arendt said: it’s not that anybody believes most of Trump’s lies; it’s that a lot of people no longer believe anything.
In the last election we elected a Democratic House of Representatives because they told us they would act to hold Comrade Trump accountable. They haven’t. And because they haven’t, we’re less likely to believe them when they promise they will. It’s getting harder and harder to believe anything.
As Arendt said, it’s getting harder and harder to act. I’d intended to join the protest at a local detention facility last Friday. But I had company coming for a few days. Instead of inviting them to the protest, I stayed home. We cooked a meal, drank some locally brewed beer, talked, laughed, enjoyed ourselves. We did this while families seeking asylum are being separated and detained in appalling conditions.
This is how the fatigue caused by Comrade Trump’s constant lying and hate damages the nation. This is how a weary population surrenders. This is how democracy dies.
One last comment by Hannah Arendt.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.
Most of still make those distinctions. Most of us aren’t ‘ideal subjects’ for totalitarian rule. But many of us — I hope it’s not most of us — are just tired. We’re just so goddamn tired. But I truly believe we’d find our energy again IF the Democrats in the House would begin impeachment proceedings.
So today I’ll struggle to find the energy to call my member of Congress and, once again, encourage them to pressure Nancy Pelosi to do her fucking job. Democracy depends on it.