It’s become almost standard practice to accuse the White House of lying in one form or another—a hell of a problem considering how much the President seems to change his mind. Some of his lies—the bigger, meatier ones—start with the truth. For example, his recent over-statements on his electoral win begins with the truth: he won the electoral college vote. Embellishment can be dismissed as gossip.1 Other lies are just blatantly false from the get-go.2 Like any other shithead salesman, everything is a negotiation. This negotiation just happens to take place over information, and what of it is accurate.
The press will cry about all of this for way too long, but I think the real story—and why Trump was untouchable by the media during the election—has been missed multiple times over. The cascading avalanche of lies is, at this point, better served as a distraction.3 What nobody seems to be talking about are the few times Donald Trump told the truth.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
The moment that really shot the Trump campaign into a serious threat was when he made himself the only honest voice in the room by proclaiming he could ‘buy’ any of his on-stage rivals. The way he starts his larger lies with a sliver of the truth, he began a campaign of dishonesty with a moment of clearing the air: money owns everyone, especially politicians.4
It really didn’t matter what anyone said after that, because Trump had, in that moment, reset the playing field of what it takes to ‘be real’ with the people. That the rest of the stage just sort of looked on was enough to admit complicity without saying a word. Trump was now the guy in the room who spoke in the real world where everybody knows politics is a rigged game. I don’t even think he meant to, but in that debate he secured himself above politics, and thus, immune to its institutional mechanisms.
There have been other instances of President Trump accidentally-on-purpose saying something that isn’t wrong, such as his awkward, Putin-endorsing answer to Bill O’Reilly regarding America’s checkered past (“You think we’re so innocent?”). But his best lie is his most recent: that the media is “The Opposition Party.” It, too, begins with a slice of truth: that the media treats President Trump poorly. Buying in to that fact, and then viewing the landscape, it’s easy to see how the lies build into an echo chamber of delusion.
The faults of American institutions that Donald Trump has been factual about in his—as far as we know and can tell—honest public statements should be the real story because they are the underlying disconnects in our society that resulted in his being elected President of the United States. The story is the political institution that admitted to corruption on national television. The story is America’s moneyed motivations behind the bloody past we call democracy. The story is the press, hampered by corporate ownership and worried advertisers, not being truly free to tell the stories that matter.
The story is capitalism, and whether or not as a people we will be able to survive much longer under it.
The age of information exposes corruption but gaslights paranoia; meanwhile, capitalism has rooted itself so thoroughly in our institutions that financial success has now—in the most celebrated of possible fashions—shown itself to the world as the guaranteed way to survive.5 Donald Trump, the ultimate capitalist, is here now to make us all experience the psychological equivalent of a snake eating itself.