[I]t’s always possible that Trump himself is simply unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, or can’t be bothered to try. But the darker possibility is that the conflation is deliberate, not with the intention of deceiving, of substituting false for true, but of disrupting our ability to tell the two apart, or indeed, by advertising how vast is his own unconcern for the distinction, to lead us in time to be as indifferent, if only out of fatigue. —Andrew Coyne
lie: intransitive verb: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
There are few greater tests to one’s resilience than to be in the presence of sustained lying.
A steady drip of lies, like water on rock, can gradually shape the contours of reality and even our sanity.
Here are three contemporary forms of lying that are shaping our political reality and sanity:
1. gas·lighting/verb, gerund, or present participle: manipulate someone by lying or other psychological means into questioning their own sanity
The repetition of a lie in the face of contrary evidence, including what we can see with our own eyes, can cause recipients of the lie to question their sense of reality.
I remember a story from decades ago, which may or may not be true, about a professional baseball player who asked his manager what he should have done when his wife caught him in bed with another woman. “Say you weren’t with the woman,” the manager said. “But she saw me,” the player repeated. “Tell her you don’t know what she’s talking about,” the manager replied. “And keep saying it.”
Big lie: noun: a false statement of outrageous magnitude employed in the belief that a lesser falsehood would not be credible, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician or official body
A leading contemporary example is the “birther” big lie employed by our current president in an effort to discredit and undermine the presidency of his predecessor, which also served the purpose of attracting to him many of his core followers.
“Alternative facts”: a form of mind control and dominance used by demagogues in which information unsupported by objective reality is declared to be true (you can learn more about the history of this term here)
Examples: “You say 2 + 2 = 4. I say 2 + 2 = 5. Who’s to say which is right. Certainly not the lying media.”
You say “Climate change has widespread support in the scientific community. I say that it’s just a theory and that China thought it up. My theory is just as good as your theory.”
Taken together, the unrelenting landscape of falsehoods makes it understandable that Americans may be feeling a bit crazy these days and why 1984 has become a bestseller in recent weeks.
Why do leaders lie?
• because lies can be used to manipulate public policy, intimidate enemies, and exaggerate accomplishments
• because lies can be used as loyalty tests to see who repeats them, which is especially important for authoritarian leaders who value loyalty beyond all other things.
What can we do in the face of such lying and manipulation?
1. First, call lying what it is. Don’t minimize it by calling it “fake news” or “fabrication” or “falsehoods” or “alternative facts.”
2. Recognize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.
3. If in doubt, do a reality check. Talk with others you respect to maintain your confidence in “reality.”
Stay in those conversations as long as necessary to restore your sanity and to give yourself courage to label the lying for what it is and to confront it at every opportunity.
Given that such leaders prevail when we become overwhelmed by and resigned to their lying, what are you doing to maintain your sanity and motivation for challenging it?