Like A Rug

02/08/2017 08:40 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2017

No, that's not a Donald Trump hair joke. It is nothing more than the end of a simile on lying. Rugs are the epitome of lying, since nothing lies more obviously than a rug. Of course, I could have gone with a different motif, but Al Franken had already used the title: "Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them," so I had to go with what was available, as it were.

The administration of Donald Trump has, so far, been breathtaking at its dishonesty. Some of this comes from the president himself, but a fair portion comes from his advisors, who are often put in the unenviable position of trying to prove something which is not actually true (so as not to contradict a Trump lie). They pretzel themselves into explaining what Trump really meant, and how in a certain light it bears a passing resemblance to something which is actually quasi-factual. Must be tough, but they all knew what they were signing up for, so it's hard to feel too sorry for them, really.

The Trump administration began this dishonesty on their first day in power. Sean Spicer was sent out to the press podium to state as a fact something which was simply not true. Trump's inauguration had: "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe." This was laughably untrue, and anyone with eyes to see the photos knew it. That was Day One.

Since then the lies have been so constant and unrelenting it's actually hard to keep up with them all. Some of these wouldn't be classified as lies by some, such as Trump tweeting about a "so-called judge" who ruled against him. There's nothing "so-called" about him -- the man is indeed a federal judge, confirmed by the Senate, with a lifetime tenure on the bench. This is precisely why America's judiciary is completely independent, in fact, so they can ignore political pressure from other branches of the government. But some might call this merely an insult, rather than a lie.

Then there are questions of interpretation. When Trump spoke of Frederick Douglass seemingly in the present tense, it was interpreted as Trump not knowing Douglass was not still alive. Perhaps. He's not the most eloquent president we've ever had (by a long shot) so perhaps it was just his clunky speaking style. We're bending over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he could have just misspoken on this one. Then again, he could have just never heard of Frederick Douglass before in his life -- also a plausible explanation.

Other strange statements could likewise be chalked up as opinions, misguided though they may be, such as Kellyanne Conway insisting that there had been "no chaos" at the airports when Trump's Muslim ban was instituted, and everything was going swimmingly. To be as charitable as possible, it depends on her own personal definition of what she considers to be chaos. Looked like chaos to me, but who am I to contradict her opinion?

This all has to be seen through the lens of spin, because top advisors to any president are indeed spin doctors -- it's part of the job, really. But this is normally an exercise in framing the presentation more than disputing obvious facts. A presidential spokesperson might say something like: "We don't see this as a black-and-white incident. We see countless shades of grey, in fact, and while this incident may be seen by some as a darker shade of grey, we instead see the overall picture as lighter grey, like a pre-dawn brightening that promises much more light and sunshine to come." That's standard-issue spin, in other words. But the Trump people can't even manage that, when Trump himself insists in a tweet: "Black is white. Many people agree with me on this, believe me. Any use of the word BLACK is fake news, and sad." There's not a lot a spin doctor can do to fix something like that, in other words.

This is where we get into the astonishing lies erupting from the Trump administration which are just flat-out bald-faced lies, period. Not opinion, not spin, not misinterpretation -- just lies. Most of these are self-inflicted wounds of the most embarrassing type because they are so easy to refute.

Kellyanne Conway provided the most amusing example of this, last week. She castigated Chris Matthews for the media completely ignoring the "Bowling Green massacre" -- a phrase she has used in multiple interviews. The media didn't report on it because it didn't happen, of course. It was nothing short of a whopper of a lie.

This got more amusing when CNN refused to invite Kellyanne Conway on its Sunday morning show this weekend (although she did appear on the channel later in the day), because they considered her an untrustworthy source who had lost all credibility (because of lies like the Bowling Green massacre). Conway tried to lie her way out of this one, insisting that she was the one who turned CNN down. Sean Spicer was asked about this at a press briefing:

Q: CNN reportedly declined to interview Kellyanne Conway on Sunday because of questions about her credibility. Is the White House willing to offer alternative representatives to networks that refuse to work with specific spokespeople?

SPICER: I, I, well, frankly, I think that, that my understanding is they retracted that, they've walked that back or denied it or however you want to put it. I don't care.

This was also a lie. CNN never retracted, walked back, or denied that this was in fact the truth of the matter -- something they reiterated in a tweet. So Kellyanne lies about a massacre that never happened (while incredulously berating the media for not covering it), CNN doesn't invite her because she's a liar, and then Sean Spicer lies about it to the press, using an easily-checkable "fact" that wasn't true.

But I shouldn't pick on the advisors so much, because Donald Trump himself is the emperor of lies. While speaking to a meeting of law enforcement officials, Trump stated: "And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years. I used to use that, I'd say that in a speech and everybody was surprised. Because the press doesn't tell it like it is. It wasn't to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it's been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years." This is not true. In fact, the opposite is true -- the murder rate is at a low point for the past 50 years or so. It was twice as high in the 1980s, in fact. An easily-checkable fact that Trump felt the compulsion to lie about.

This wasn't even Trump's biggest falsehood in the past few days (as I said, it's hard to keep up, due to the sheer volume of lies). Trump went off script in a recent speech to complain that the media was refusing to report on terrorist attacks, for unspecified nefarious reasons: "You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that." This is, in fact, not true. Not even remotely. Unless he was referring to the Bowling Green massacre, of course, which wasn't reported by the media because it didn't happen.

Since then, his advisors have been trying to morph Trump's lie into a statement that he just didn't make -- that terrorism stories were merely underreported. Read Trump's own words -- that's not what he said, but whatever. When the press challenged the White House to name terrorist incidents which weren't covered, they hastily put together a list with laughable misspellings ("attaker," for instance). Almost 80 terrorist incidents were on this list, but it bizarrely contained attacks such as the Pulse shooting in Florida and San Bernardino (misspelled "San Bernadino") which were covered pretty much nonstop by all the news networks for over a week. Hard to call those "underreported" stories.

So Kellyanne Conway was dispatched to explain how the explanation didn't actually mean what they had previously said it meant. She helpfully explained that the list had both attacks which were sufficiently covered by the media, as well as others that weren't. Even though the list was supposed to only consist of underreported attacks (indeed, that was the whole point of the White House writing the list in the first place). Again, an easily-refuted lie. Her biggest whopper during this interview, however, was to insist: "I don't intend to spin." After which, her pants burst into flames on camera, and had to be quickly doused with a nearby fire extinguisher.

Well, no -- that last part didn't actually happen. It is nothing short of a lie, born of overly-wishful thinking. Still, it was astonishing the path these lies took over the past few days. Conway lies about a fictional terror attack, while castigating the media for not reporting it. Trump castigates the media for underreporting terror attacks, because the media somehow has "reasons" for not wanting to report it. Challenged on this statement, the White House comes up with a list of 78 terror attacks, all of which were reported on in the media, and some of which dominated coverage for weeks. The official story then shifted to "underreporting" as opposed to "not reporting" (Trump's original lie), and somehow the list morphed into a list of both adequately-reported and underreported incidents (even though that, too, was a lie -- they were all reported on). To top it all off, Conway returns to the airwaves to Trumpsplain it all to us, insisting that she doesn't intend to spin.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course. Hans Christian Andersen pointed it out almost two centuries ago, which is how I'm going to end this story:

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn't dare admit they had nothing to hold.

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.

"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't anything on. A child says he hasn't anything on."

"But he hasn't got anything on!" the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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