Lie To Me!

It’s hardly news that former President Donald Trump was the lyingest President ever.  A column a few months back by Thomas Edsall shared research confirming that on this one dubious metric, TFG was indeed head and shoulders above the rest.

Donald Trump can lay claim to the title of most prodigious liar in the history of the presidency. This challenges commonplace beliefs about the American political system. How could such a deceitful and duplicitous figure win the White House in the first place and then retain the loyalty of so many voters after his endless lies were exposed?

George Edwards, a political scientist at Texas A&M and a retired editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly, stated the case bluntly: “Donald Trump tells more untruths than any previous president.” What’s more, “There is no one that is a close second.”

After establishing Trump’s position as Liar-in-Chief, Edsell got to the question that fascinates me: How do we understand the willingness of Republican voters to not simply tolerate Trump’s lies, but enthusiastically welcome them–and continue to vote for him?

Edsell quotes one researcher who attributes the acceptance of obvious untruths to our polarization:

We are intensely social creatures, but we are prone to divide ourselves into competitive groups, largely for the purpose of allocating resources. People can be prosocial — compassionate, empathetic, generous, honest — in their group and aggressively antisocial toward out-groups. When we divide people into groups, we open the door to competition, dehumanization, violence — and socially sanctioned deceit.

If we see Trump’s lies, Smith continued, “not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might view him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.”

Other scholars attribute acceptance of untruths to “orthodox mind-sets.”  People with such mind-sets desperately need to protect cherished narratives; insights and facts that undermine those narratives threaten beliefs that are central to their worldviews.

Another theory is closely aligned to the tribal explanation– it posits that Trump’s ability to persuade “millions of voters to go along with his prevarications is his ability to tap into the deep-seated anger and resentment among his supporters. Anger, it turns out, encourages deception.”

Almost all of the research confirms the centrality of those tribal identities (giving the term “identity politics” a somewhat different meaning than its common usage).

Identity leadership refers to leaders’ capacity to influence and mobilize others by virtue of leaders’ abilities to represent, advance, create and embed a sense of social identity that is shared with potential followers.

In the process, Trump’s supporters lose their connection to real-world rules and morality.

Esdall quotes one scholar who finds Americans’ political identities becoming “increasingly salient, and potentially more destructive.” Intense partisan hostilities and polarization lead people to demonize the opposition and create a climate of “us against them.” Polarization thus invites lies that create a “moral framework” within which otherwise wrongful behavior serves a moral cause. (An obvious example is January 6th.)

It’s depressing enough when “Lie X”is accepted by large numbers of people, but the speed of its distribution is even more troubling. An article by BBC Science Focus examined that phenomenon:

Mark Twain said that a lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on. Actually, that itself is a lie – Twain probably said no such thing and the true origins of the quote remain murky. Nonetheless, thanks to recent research into the spread of (mis)information on Twitter, we now know that lies spread more rapidly than facts – and it seems mostly to do with our appetite for novelty.

In a study published in early 2018 in the journal Science, three researchers at MIT analysed around 126,000 stories tweeted by around three million people between 2006 and 2017. Crucially, these stories had all been verified as true or false by six fact-checking websites, including and By comparing the tweets, the researchers found that the lies travelled faster and farther than the truth. For instance, true tweets rarely reached more than 1,000 people, whereas the most widely shared false tweets reached as many as 100,000 people. Falsehoods were 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than the truth, and it took true tweets six times as long as lies, on average, to reach 1,500 people.

MIT’s research team attributed the speed of dissemination to the fact that lies tended to be more novel and exciting than the truth. They were also better at triggering an emotional response.

Lies that travel fastest are those that support our pre-existing prejudices and are easy to understand. it helps if they’re popular with the people in your “tribe.”

Evidently, a lot of Americans actually want to be lied to.


It’s Worse When They Know Better

I tend to attribute a significant percentage of America’s governance problems to either stupidity or ignorance. Those aren’t the same thing; ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge, and it can be remedied by providing individuals with the relevant information. Stupidity, on the other hand, is an inability to understand or learn–lack of intellectual capacity.

When we view the antics of the loony-tune members of the misnamed “Freedom Caucus,” we are mostly looking at people who either lack intellectual capacity or who are too emotionally disabled to grasp complexity, nuance or the difference between fact and fiction. Or both. (Which raises significant questions about the people who voted for them, but that’s a separate issue….)

Policymakers who simply don’t “get it” can do a lot of harm, but generally, that isn’t their intent. They just don’t know what they don’t know.

The people who make my skin crawl, however, are those like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, elected officials who dishonestly pander to the MAGA cult despite clearly knowing better.

Hawley recently raised eyebrows with a phony Patrick Henry quote.It was actually a quote from 1950’s white supremacist paper that Hawley attributed—surely knowingly—to Patrick Henry.

When people responded by pointing out the falsity of the attribution, Hawley tweeted that he’d “owned the libs” and appended a quote supportive of Christian Nationalism, this time attributed to a speech by John Quincy Adams, “The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth.”

Now, Hawley attended Stanford as an undergraduate. He went to Yale Law School, where he was on the law review. It is highly unlikely that he is unaware of the wide variety of religious beliefs held by the nation’s founders. As the linked article notes, they ranged from guys like

Patrick Henry, who went around handing out Bible tracts and whose theology seems to have been something that would still be recognized as “evangelical Christian” today. There were guys like George Washington, who belonged to the Anglican Church but attended services at a variety of churches and was deliberately vague about endorsing any particular form of religious belief. There were a large number—including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Ethan Allen, and James Monroe—who styled themselves as Deist. To get a couple of Founding Mothers into the mix, Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison were also Deists….

The truth is that a diligent search by anyone seeking to find a founder who agrees with their own view can almost certainly find it, because those guys had a lot of very different views on religion. That includes Franklin, who just didn’t seem to think about it much, and who when religious friends told him he should study up and get himself “saved” near the end of his life, informed them that he didn’t think it was worth the bother as he would know the truth soon enough.

Just about the only thing this diverse group really agreed on when it came to religion was that they wanted to keep it out of their government. Their own experience with state religions of all types showed that religion was harmful to the state, and the state was harmful to religion.

While the linked article does a good–and factually correct–job of correcting the record, what it doesn’t do is speculate about the motives for Hawley’s particular form of dishonesty. Those motives confound me.

It is one thing for an intelligent man to be conservative (although in all fairness, today’s right-wingers are radicals, not conservatives). It’s another thing entirely to knowingly and intentionally lie–and worse, to choose a lie that is blatantly obvious and easily challenged–in the service of Christian Nationalism.

An article in Vanity Fair pointed out that Hawley–who also fancies himself an expert on “masculinity”– helped spread Trump’s election lies. In fact, Hawley’s lies have kept Politifact busy. But being routinely called out on those lies hasn’t deterred him.

One study of habitual liars found that the more a person lies, the easier it becomes for them to prevaricate, which in turn makes them more likely to lie. Clearly, Hawley–and Cruz and others like them–believe that pandering to a MAGA base composed primarily of people who lack the knowledge to recognize the falsehoods will serve them politically.

People who know better probably aren’t their voters anyway.

If this behavior is, as it appears, the result of cold calculation, it’s chilling. Unlike the Congressional dingbats, politicians like Hawley and Cruz are by definition very bad people, and the evil they do is anything but inadvertent.

Evidently, power really is an aphrodisiac.


Rush Limbaugh Wasn’t The Only Big Fat Liar

Several years ago, before he joined the US Senate, Al Franken wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar.” Its accusations were accurate, and–because it was Al Franken (who should never have been run out of the Senate for a dumb joke)–it was also pretty funny.

Today, Rightwing liars aren’t funny. We live in a time of rampant lying, politely called “misinformation,” and thanks to a deficit of critical skills and a surfeit of confirmation bias, those lies do enormous damage.

Case in point: a while back, The American Prospect ran a story about “misinformation” feeding the Right’s current anti-Trans frenzy.

Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss recently founded a publication called The Free Press, and several weeks ago it published an account from a woman named Jamie Reed. Reed, who worked as a case manager at a Washington University gender clinic in St. Louis, made inflammatory accusations (with more in a sworn affidavit) that numerous children at the clinic were being carelessly shoved into irreversible gender treatment en masse.

Reed’s article went viral on social media, and was cited by numerous conservatives and transphobes as conclusive proof that too many kids are getting transition care. A couple of prominent liberals joined in as well. Matthew Yglesias cited it as credible on Twitter and Substack. “The picture she paints of the clinic’s treatment of children is ghastly. The affidavit she signed is even worse,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. (It’s of a piece with an ongoing trend in liberal and centrist publications of writing anxious articles raising questions about youth transition care.)

There is just one problem. Reed’s account is a pile of garbage.

As the article pointed out, any sensible person would have noticed a number of obvious red flags when the article first was published. Reed’s  lawyer had founded an openly transphobic organization, and Reed made several wildly mistaken claims about the side effects of some gender treatments.

In her affidavit, Reed claimed that children came into the clinic identifying as “mushroom,” “rock,” or “helicopter,” only to be quickly given puberty blockers or hormones. This is not only facially preposterous, but in the last case suspiciously lines up with a common right-wing transphobic “joke.”

Subsequent reporting demolished Reed’s story, but a great deal of harm had been done–and people who harbor animus against the LGBTQ+ community  still cite it. For that matter, as the article accurately notes, the United States is currently in the grip of a full-blown transphobic moral panic, and “dubious, unrepresentative, or entirely made-up anecdotes are trumpeted across right-wing media.”

That “misinformation” has buttressed the GOP’s legislative attacks on trans youth and overwhelmed credible academic studies, which have overwhelmingly confirmed that “transition is quite rare, de-transition relatively unlikely, the regret rate of gender affirmation surgery low, and treatment difficult and expensive to access.”

Trans children aren’t the only targets of the Right’s intentional lying, a/k/a “misinformation campaigns.” Talking Points Memo has documented one of the many efforts to portray Black Lives Matter as some sort of criminal organization.

When Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failed, the Right immediately condemned that failure as an example of how“woke culture” had made the bank inefficient. As Josh Marshall wrote,

Ground zero for this is the allegation that SVB had donated over $73 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes.” That struck me as quite a lot of money for a single company, even a large and profitable one, to give to any cause or even all causes. So I tried to find out where this factoid came from and rapidly found my way to a Trumpist think tank….

The claims come from a database posted earlier this week by the Center for the American Way of Life, a project of the Claremont Institute. As Claremont put it in a Newsweek article introducing the database, “Americans deserve to know who funded the BLM riots.”

Marshall found no evidence of the purported donation; it appeared that the Center counted any giving by any major corporation to anything tied to civil rights or diversity or just Black people generally as a gift to BLM.

Campbell’s Soup, for example:

Those were grants to Black Girls Code, National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Campbell Canada’s Black History Month Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Boris L. Henson Foundation. Again, tied to Black people, so it’s all “BLM.”

Marshall goes through the database’s “reports” on several other corporations and found  any donation in any way connected to Black people listed as  support for “BLM riots, mayhem and violence.”

These sorts of assaults aren’t innocent “mistakes.” They’re deliberate lies, in service of hateful ends.

The tactic didn’t die with Limbaugh.


Speaking Of America’s Decline…

As long as we’re talking about the decline of America’s political life, let’s talk about Herschel Walker– a human representation of that decline.

Walker–for those unfamiliar with him, as I happily was until recently–is the Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia. His nomination owes much to America’s obsessions with both sports and celebrity; he was evidently once a good football player.

At least he was good at something…

I can’t describe Walker any better than The New Republic.which headlined the linked story with a question: Is Herschel Walker Running to be the Senate’s Dumbest Liar?

Last month, the two-time All-Pro running back from the University of Georgia won the Peach State’s Republican Senate primary. A rabid right-winger, Walker has fully backed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen, going as far as to say that Joe Biden didn’t get “50 million votes.” (Biden received more than 80 million.) He has urged revotes in a number of close states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and his home state. In chilling fashion, he called on Trump to conduct a “cleansing” of the country in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration.

Walker is, even by recent GOP standards, an absolute firehose of lies. He’s also, to put it bluntly, absolutely godawful at lying. His deceptions seem to arrive in the news pre-collapsed—they are easily uncovered and incredibly numerous; his falsehoods have been repeatedly revealed over the last several months. At this point the “False Statements” section of his Wikipedia page is longer than the one recounting his ongoing campaign to be Georgia’s next senator.

The article enumerates a number of the lies Walker has peddled. For example, he has boasted that he was proprietor of a food service business that was a “mini–Tyson Foods,” claiming that it employed more than 100 people and generated nearly $100 million in sales. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the company’s profits were less than $2 million; that Walker didn’t own or run it, but had simply licensed his name to the business; and it had only eight employees.

In February, meanwhile, Walker boasted that “I still have about 250 people that sew drapery and bedspreads for me.” That sounds impressive! There’s just one problem: It isn’t. While Walker has claimed on his website that “[Herschel Walker Enterprises] and Renaissance Hospitality provides major hotels, restaurants and hospitals with custom fabric bedding, drapery and window treatments,” the truth is that Renaissance Hospitality doesn’t exist anymore—it dissolved a year ago. Moreover, Walker didn’t even own the business—a friend did.

There’s lots more. On several occasions, Walker claimed to have worked in law enforcement, although he never did. He has repeatedly railed against single-parent families, especially absent Black fathers.  Small  problem: The Daily Beast initially revealed that Walker has a son, now 10 years old, whom he never sees, and subsequently found others–there are (at least) three children for whom Walker is an absentee father

The portrait that emerges is a pretty simple one: The guy is a liar and a dummy. Walker spouts off in interviews and the campaign trail, inflates his successes, and makes bold claims that are comically easy to disprove. His campaign occasionally acknowledges them or tries to walk them back—it acknowledged the parentage of his son, for instance—but Walker has managed, either by wit or by accident, to keep following the Trump North Star, charging forward, headlong into the next incident. This candidacy is ultimately a test of how much Trump broke our politics—and how much a lesser facsimile of the former president can lie again and again and still succeed in American politics. Perhaps our politics are sturdy enough to survive it. It’s still no fun watching voters have to stomach this sort of stupidity and deceit.

If Walker was just a one-off, that would be dispiriting enough; he is, after all, the nominee of a major party for the Senate of the United States. But he has lots of company. (And let’s be clear, virtually all of the bumbling, moronic, ego-driven narcissists who embarrass America daily come from the once-Grand Old Party. Marjorie Taylor Green, Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert…In the Senate, you have Tommy Tuberville (who didn’t know there were three branches of government), James Inhofe…and those are just the ones who come immediately to mind.)

Dick Lugar is spinning in his grave.

How did American politics descend from debates over the common good and sound policy–from issues of governance–to today’s version of “let’s make a deal.”? When did celebrity come to be more important than competence, anger and bile more important than intellect, self-aggrandizing bluster more important than verifiable truth?

For those of us who are worried that the country is in decline, the rise of the idiocracy is compelling–albeit depressing– evidence.


He’ll Lie About ANYTHING

According to a number of news reports, in addition to bragging about his administration’s “excellent” performance during the pandemic (and who are you going to believe, Mr. Perfect or your lying eyes?), Trump plans to accuse hospitals and health officials of lying about the number of Covid-19 deaths. His campaign will insist that the numbers are exaggerated.

His base will probably believe him. (Google “motivated reasoning.”)

Over the past, horrific three plus years, those of us who do believe our own lying eyes have come to realize that there is absolutely nothing Trump won’t lie about, no matter how inconsequential or even counter-productive. He is so intellectually and emotionally defective, it is entirely possible he believes whatever comes out of his mouth. (In a recent op-ed, George Conway of the Lincoln Project suggested that Trump’s frantic lies are an effort to hide his inadequacies from himself; be that as it may, he clearly lacks the capacity to realize how stupid those lies–and his ungrammatical, misspelled angry tweets– make him look to sane people.)

I have recently come across two examples that illustrate the truly majestic sweep of Trump’s dishonesty, and how it manifests in absolutely anything and everything he mentions. The first was from Juanita Jean. 

Well, come to find out, even though Trump constantly says he was great at high school baseball and could have gone pro … no.  Not even close.

She then reproduced a tweet in which Trump bragged that, in high school, his baseball coach had called him one of the best players he’d ever coached.

Yeah, sure. As Juanita Jean notes, the reality was that he was pretty much the kid they picked last for the team.

Slate has managed to unearth nine box scores from Trump’s time at New York Military Academy, which showed a four-for-29 batting record in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, with three runs batted in and a single run scored. Trump’s batting average in the nine games Slate found box scores for stood at a disappointing .138.

Rational people would say “who cares?” Why would you bother to lie about something that–in the scheme of things–is so trivial? And so easily debunked?

Far more significant is the emerging evidence that Trump is nowhere near as wealthy as he has always claimed to be. His desperate efforts to keep his tax returns secret have led many observers to that conclusion, but up until now, it has all been speculative. With the Supreme Court preparing to rule on whether Trump’s accounting firm must comply with subpoenas for those tax records, Pro Publica has issued a very interesting report about that accounting firm.

The story is titled “Meet the Shadowy Accountants Who Do Trump’s Taxes and Help Him Seem Richer than He is,” a headline that gives a pretty good clue to what the investigation turned up. There was a lot to turn up, too–the investigative team found that in “various episodes” over a period of 30 years, partners of the firm — including its CEO — have been in legal trouble as a result of fraud, misconduct or malpractice.

(And that’s not even counting the New York partner who stabbed his wife to death back in 2016….)

According to Pro Publica, the firm helped Trump pay the least amount of taxes possible, which is what accountants generally do, but it also helped him appear “to be rich beyond imagining”–something that required creating “precisely the opposite impression of what’s in his tax filings.”

This lie is more understandable than the one about baseball. Creepy Steve Bannon is on record opining that, if Trump’s base were to discover that he’s not really a billionaire, the disillusion would trigger mass defections. (In America, there are evidently large numbers of people who believe those lines in “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof: “And it wouldn’t matter if I answered right or wrong; when you’re rich, they think you really know.”)

The legal issue before the Court should be a slam-dunk; as the lower courts properly concluded, no one is above the law, and ordering an accounting firm to hand over documents in its possession doesn’t require a President’s time or attention.But who knows?

I hope I’m wrong, but given Mitch McConnell’s appalling success in politicizing the Supreme Court, I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll see Trump’s taxes before November.

But even without the disclosures that lurk in his tax forms, the polls tell us that most Americans trust medical experts and state health officials far more than a President who only tells the truth accidentally.

Let’s just hope we don’t get invaded by aliens from outer space. If Trump warned us, we’d never believe him.