What happens when you discover you have been lied to, especially when the lie is not a little white lie but a major deception? In a relationship, the words you speak become part of what weaves you together into a couple or a friendship, or a story that you live. You have to feel some trust in what the other person tells you in order for a relationship to exist at all.
Of course, words aren’t everything. If someone says they love you or care for you and their actions say otherwise, and they abuse you, wouldn’t you doubt the words? It might depend on how you think about love, or truth.
The same happens in a society. A society is held together by relationships of all kinds and types, not only between friends and families, but also between politicians and constituents. When someone lies, consistently, a break occurs and the whole relationship can shatter, or it can be reshaped in distorted ways, which I think is happening today with Mr. Trump.
Lies are not new to politics, nor is it unusual to claim Mr. Trump lies. His lies and misleading statements are frequently pointed out in the mainstream news media (although not usually in the conservative media). But the volume and obviousness of his deceptions might be new⎼ and getting worse. Several fact check and news sources, like the Washington Post, found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.) According to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, in an interview with the New York Times on December 28, 2017, Mr. Trump said something false, misleading, or dubious every 75 seconds.
For example, on May 1st, after the list of questions that the Mueller investigation might want Trump to answer was released by the New York Times, the President said none of the questions on the list were about collusion. Certainly, as far as I can tell, the word collusion was not used. But 13 of the questions were about Trump’s “campaign coordination with Russia,” which is the meaning of collusion. Or his lies about the 2017 tax cut bill, which he called a “giant tax cut” for the middle class, promising a $4,000 pay raise to each household. He called it the largest tax cut in history (ignoring, for example, the John F. Kennedy tax cut and Reagan’s) and claimed the bill “…is going to cost me a fortune.” According to a New York Times fact check, “the proposals [in the bill] seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him.” According to USA Today, this bill only advances the agenda begun 40 years ago (in the Reagan administration) of taking a trillion dollars a year that used to go to worker wages and giving it to corporations and the superrich.
Is it that he doesn’t realize he is lying? To lie implies some knowledge that what is being said is not truthful. If you say something and think it is accurate, and it turns out it is not, that is not a lie. It is not a truth, either. It is an inaccurate statement. Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is to say the truth?
What is the truth? Although there are different types and meanings of truth, in most cases, when you say something is true, you mean this is what actually exists or this is real. It is not simply an opinion or an assertion of what you like. Instead, a truth is what corresponds with the preponderance of reliable evidence.
Is he using the “big lie” to hide the truth, lying so openly no one can believe he is doing it? Or is he claiming there is no truth? Maybe he is simply not in touch with reality? Or is he merely saying one thing one moment and denying it the next?
When a person lies openly to you, you might no longer trust them and you end the relationship. But something else can occur. You might feel afraid of losing the sense of security provided by the relationship, or fear a variety of other possibilities. You might so deeply fear your relationship ending that you try to tell yourself the speaker is the truth, instead of what is spoken; or what is important is not so much the content of what is said, but the fact that a specific someone is saying it. Or the content becomes a secondary or lower truth. The higher truth is the person.
And this is what I think is happening today. Society is being pushed to the edge of breaking apart. And one segment of society is tying itself feverishly not to the reality of what is being said, but to the person saying it.
Mr. Trump and his followers are creating a mirror effect. By lying so openly, Trump asserts that he is the truth. This is another way to describe a narcissist, as someone who thinks his viewpoint is the (only valid) viewpoint, or that whatever thought enters his head is true because he thinks it. And apparently, about a third of the American people agree with him and mirror back to him his view of himself. They do not question or check the veracity of what he says, even when what he says is obviously untrue, and videos of his interviews or speeches clearly show he lied or misrepresented the facts.
Certainly, you could argue that his followers do check his statements. But they check only with right-wing, highly biased news sources, and are only able to confirm (mirror back to them) what they already believe. For example, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of political information. Fox is so distorted a media that in 2015, 52% of its viewers still believed weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion of Iraq.
And Sinclair Media, nicknamed Trump media, is even worse. During the 2016 election, from July to November, the Sinclair conglomerate of stations gave Trump and his surrogates often extensive interviews 31 times. Many were declared “must run” stories by management. The Clinton campaign got seven interviews. According to former Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, the conservative news media have convinced the white working class to focus blame for their woes “downward⎼at the racial other⎼rather than up.” So, maybe you should forgive his supporters, when they hear him say one thing one minute and a different thing the next, and for holding on not to his divergence from the facts but the fact he spoke?
Everyone does this to some degree (it’s called a confirmation bias), but the extent to which this is happening today with Trump is astounding. The media that Trump supporters rely on for information have conditioned them to believe Trump more than any other source of information. And when people close their eyes and minds so deeply, they are always fighting themselves and reality, and are often angry, but unable to find a cause anywhere but where Trump points them.
This is what happens in some religions. It is what happens in dictatorships. It is what happens in some relationships. To understand how to change this reality, you have to better understand how people leave such relationships. You have to better understand what is happening to our political system, economy, and media. You have to better understand your mind.
When you base your political sense of reality and security on a person who believes he is the only reality, the world will always feel threatening to you, and will always feel that it’s constantly shifting beneath you. If Trump believes he is the only reality, you and your needs are indecipherable to him, or nothing more than an illusion.