Sustained lying presents a problem for the listener. Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, more than 20 years ago, says that people see the world in two steps. First, briefly, they hold a lie as true, but then the second step kicks in, and in order to accept something, information must be gathered and assessed. Then, one completes the mental certification process and accepts the statement as true, or one rejects what was said as being untrue.
The first step happens automatically, it is a natural part of thinking, according to Maria Konnikova, a contributing writer at the New Yorker and a best selling author. She says the second step unfortunately can become disrupted. The second step takes work. People must actively choose to accept or reject each statement heard.
Gilbert says that it is often too hard for human minds, faced with shortages of time, energy or conclusive evidence, to reject the ideas that they initially involuntarily accepted.
Konnikova says that when we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false statements, our brains pretty quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything.
So President Trump, recognizing (but probably not) this phenomenon, will continue to lie to the American public and any others willing to listen.
Everyone lies, despite consequences and concepts such as Thou shall not bear false witness against they neighbor. It begins at infancy where children recognize crying is a way to get attention, or by telling mommy little brother broke the vase. Corporate executives lie.
Lying has consequences for most people and can harm others. In a legal arena, a courtroom, lying is called perjury. Perjury is the offense of willingly telling an untruth after having taken an oath or affirmation to tell the truth.
I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We all know this mantra thanks to the dozens of television court programs. It is so common we often overlook its significance.
Perjury can derail the basic goal of the justice system – discovering the truth. Other forms of lies can cause the worst of all consequences: death. “We found weapons of mass destruction.”
Perjury has taken many to task: Barry Bonds prosecution; Marion Jones imprisoned; Bill Clinton impeachment.
Every newly elected President of the United States also takes an oath:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
In commenting upon the recent fraud and perjury conviction of Norfolk, Virginia City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot, Martin Culbreth, a FBI Special Agent who had worked the case said “public officials are entrusted with authority by their constituents and are expected to serve with integrity and honor. Greed and self-interest are a fundamental betrayal to the community and have no place in public service.”
Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly lied to the American public that his one goal was to keep America out of World War II. His extensive actions proved otherwise.
Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War: “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”.
Richard Nixon on the Watergate break-in: “I am not a crook,” and, “I can say categorically that… no one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in any way…”
Ronald Reagan on hundreds of occasions – one example, saying explicitly “the pope supports my policy of aiding the contras.”
William Clinton on Monica Lewinsky – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
George W. Bush on weapons of mass destruction: “We found the weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq). We found biological laboratories.”
Barack Obama on health insurance plans: “If you like the health care plan you have, you can keep it.”
Hillary Clinton (obviously not a President), but on Benghazi: “I turned over all my work related emails on my private email server to the State Department.”
Ms. Konnikova says that lying in politics transcends political party and era. She says it is, in some ways, an inherent part of the profession of politicking.
Donald Trump, says Konnikova, is in a different category:
The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it.
The non-partisan fact check site PolitiFact checked Trump’s statements during the election: seventy percent (70%) were false, 4% were true and 11% were mostly true.
Hillary’s statements: 26% were deemed false.
Trump’s third day in office: “our intention is never to lie to you.” On the same day he intentionally lied: “the reason I lost the national popular vote was because 3 million to 5 million illegals cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.”
John Nicols, of The Nation: “Trump has no mandate. That fact has so unhinged him that he is shaming himself and his office by promulgating obvious lies.”
History has shown that Ronald Reagan may well have been the most prolific liar to have ever held the office of President (Trump will easily, and soon eclipse him). Reagan pioneered a method of using the media to disseminate things without regard to their truth. The “error” would appear on the front page, and if called out by the media, a “correction” would appear in a less prominent place the next day. The result was of course that most people heard the deceptive claim and a much smaller number heard the correction.
Mark Green, a Mother Jones journalist, and Gail MacColl, published There He Goes Again: Ronald Reagan’s Reign of Error in 1983. The book was a compilation of 300 documented misstatements. Green says the book showed Reagan’s “standard operating procedure to be a blend of ignorance, amnesia and dissembling. Like a panicky passenger lunging for a life preserver, under stress he would concoct almost any fact, anecdote, or analysis to advance his ideological beliefs.”
Donald Trump has taken Ronald Reagan’s playbook and placed it on steroids.
Trump has shattered the rules. It appears there is no longer a political price to be paid for lying. There was a time, not so long ago, when lying to the American public would be devastating, particularly in the middle of a political campaign.
Past political rules are unrecognizable.
Trump: “Don’t pay any intention to what I just said or did. Let’s talk about crooked Hillary.”
President Trump’s most recent lie is his denial about what his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said. Trump has repeatedly criticized federal judges. Gorsuch said Trump’s comments about judges were “disheartening and demoralizing.” Despite corroboration from multiple sources that Gorsuch indeed made that statement, including from Judge Gorsuch’s communications director and former N.H. Senator Kelly Ayotte, Trump lied and said Gorsuch never made the statements.
Trump will not stop lying, despite any consequence. It has thus far worked for him over his lifetime. He became a public figure in New York by promoting himself as a high-achieving real estate mogul – before he’d built a single project. During this period in his career he was quoted as saying he owned the Empire State Building.
Another of Trump’s most recent lies: he’s revived unproven voter fraud allegations, telling a group of senators in a private meeting last Thursday that he lost New Hampshire last November because thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused to the neighboring state to cast ballots against him. He offered no evidence to support the claim.
Law Professor and author James Douglas offers that Trump “may implode, being brought down by the damage done by perverse cabinet choices (an education secretary who disparages public education and who badly botched her own effort at creating an alternative, men charged with responding to climate change who deny its existence, and a national security adviser who purveys paranoid fantasies), or by words and actions so intemperate and ill-advised that Congress and the courts will call him to a terminal account.”
Crossing your fingers behind your back doesn’t count.