By D. Allan Kerr
Back in the early 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy used anti-Communist rhetoric to spread fear and paranoia across America.
Thankfully, TV news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow had the cajones to speak out at the very height of the McCarthy era. In a legendary 1954 segment slamming McCarthy’s terror tactics, Murrow reminded viewers that “we are not descended from fearful men.”
He then proceeded to quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
“The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies,” Murrow said. “And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear – he merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right – ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’”
Right now Donald Trump has ridden a similar wave of fear to the Republican nomination for president of the United States. And you know, it’s within his right to do that – as with McCarthy, he didn’t create this current climate; he’s just exploiting it.
But I have a problem with someone so utterly contemptuous of the truth, and nearly as much scorn for those who ignore their mission to safeguard the truth – in this case, the mainstream media.
I can’t think of many public figures in my lifetime who have lied more unabashedly than Trump. He is what I can only describe as a chronological liar – if it’s a new day, it’s another opportunity to spread a lie.
Unfortunately, we seem to have no modern-day Murrow to call him out. I had thought Megyn Kelly might fill the role, but then she engaged in that prime-time puff piece with Trump in May.
It’s gotten to the point where a schlub like me, writing occasional lines for a hometown paper tucked in the corner of a tiny state, feels compelled to help fill the void.
The extent of Trump’s capacity for truth-twisting really struck home over the weekend before February’s New Hampshire primary.
First there was his claim that he had to cancel a campaign appearance because a snowstorm had shut down the local airports. The problem was they weren’t shut down. In fact, by New England standards it wasn’t all that bad of a storm. As Jeb Bush famously pointed out, even his 90-year-old mother, Barbara, braved the weather while Trump opted to attend a rally in Arkansas.
I remember thinking it seemed a pretty odd thing to lie about, especially considering how easy it would be to unveil the truth. Then he topped it that Monday by calling Bush a liar for reminding New Hampshire voters that Trump had called Sen. John McCain a loser.
“Well, it just shows you how they lie,” Trump lied when asked about it. “Number one, I never called John McCain a loser, as you know. I like John McCain.”
But of course he did call McCain a loser last July, during a family leadership summit, which you’ll recall because his fellow GOP candidates blasted his comments. He was referencing the 2008 presidential election, saying he had supported McCain but then the GOP nominee was defeated by Barack Obama.
“I don’t like losers,” Trump said at the time.
In Trump’s mind he had to disrespect the former POW then because McCain was one of the first public officials to call out Trump’s buffoonery. However, he realized such a comment wouldn’t go over so well in New Hampshire, where folks genuinely revere veterans and where McCain twice won the GOP primary.
So he resorted to his usual battle tactic – he retreated, and he lied.
I remember channel-surfing on the morning of this year’s New Hampshire primary as Trump and the other candidates went from one network crew to the next. I waited for someone to body-slam him for these curiously obvious lies.
No one did. Not a single seasoned newsperson.
On another occasion, I saw “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos ask Trump about his numerous business failures. Trump, of course, boasted about the amazing company he’d built up, and added that he’d “started with very little.”
OK now – Marco Rubio, the son of a housekeeper and a bartender, started with “very little.” Abraham Lincoln, who famously grew up in a log cabin, started with “very little.” The most brilliant business decision of Donald Trump’s life was to be born the son of a millionaire – back in 1946, when a million bucks was actually a lot of money.
Again, I leaned forward in anticipation of Stephanopoulos challenging this lie. Again, it didn’t happen.
Part of the problem may be that Trump lies so much the media – perhaps as weak as it’s ever been – simply can’t keep up. Consider the following, which is of course just a partial list:
He lied – repeatedly – about seeing “thousands and thousands” of people dancing on rooftops in New Jersey to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. As everyone knows by now, this simply NEVER HAPPENED.
He lied about seeing people jump to their deaths during 9/11 from his apartment – four miles away from the Twin Towers.
When he needed cover for chickening out of a January debate hosted by Megyn Kelly, he concocted an event to raise money for veterans instead. Then he lied about how much money he raised (claiming $6 million) and he lied about all the funds being dispersed. He eventually held a press conference to lay out the details of these payments – but then it turned out many of the checks had only been issued after the media questioned what had happened to the funds that had supposedly been paid out. He also kicked in $1 million of his own money to get the total even close to what he claimed he had raised.
He lied last month when he called Hillary Clinton a liar for saying he had suggested nuclear weapons for Japan. He did indeed make that statement, in an April interview with Chris Wallace. And when he denied he’d said it, CNN actually had to resort to the extraordinary step of running a banner across the bottom of the TV screen saying, “He did.”
He lied back in 1991 when he called People magazine pretending to be his own publicist, in order to lie about famous women who wanted to sleep with him. Then he either lied when he later apologized to the People reporter who took the call, saying it was a joke gone awry, or he lied this past May when he denied ever making the call at all.
He lied after the Orlando nightclub massacre when he said shooter Omar Mateen was born in “Afghan.” In the first place there’s no such country, and in the second place Mateen was actually born in Queens, the same New York City borough where Trump was born.
(In fact, if one were to generalize the way Trump does about Muslims and other groups, one could argue that Mateen’s act might represent “New York values.”)
He lied about receiving “tens of thousands” of congratulatory tweets and messages immediately after that massacre; NBC News afterward unearthed only four such tweets.
He lied recently about “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees spilling over our borders, which is simply not happening. (Does he just randomly throw that term out for every situation?) Less than 6,000 Syrian refugees have been brought to the U.S. since 2011, according to the Associated Press.
He lied just this week about golf legend Jack Nicklaus appearing at the upcoming Republican National Convention – even though a Nicklaus spokesman said Trump’s campaign has “known for quite some time of his travels and prior commitments” which will prevent the golfer’s presence.
Apparently Trump’s trouble with the truth has trickled throughout the rest of his campaign as well. Back in March, his political manager Corey Lewandowski actually tweeted “I never touched you” to Briebart reporter Michelle Fields and called her “totally delusional” after Fields accused him of manhandling her at a Trump event.
Trump, typically, accused Fields of being the liar (you see a trend here?) and publicly questioned her credibility. Then the security video came out proving it was Lewandowski who had flat-out lied – he’s clearly shown grabbing Fields and jerking her backwards.
But it wasn’t until just last month that Lewandowski got fired, and that appears more connected to Trump’s plummeting poll numbers.
It also shouldn’t surprise to see this trend of deceit reflected in Trump’s business practices. One of his multiple entrepreneurial failures, Trump University, is now subject to two class-action lawsuits in California filed by dissatisfied former students. A separate suit was filed by the New York state attorney general, who called the operation a “classic bait-and-switch scheme” and “a scam – starting with the fact that it wasn’t a university.”
Trump has claimed that the suits are politically motivated, but one dates back to 2010 and the other two – including the attorney general’s – were filed in 2013, all before Trump starting running for president. He’s accused of, among other things, lying when he said his instructors were hand-picked – in a sworn deposition, he could not identify any of the names listed.
The Orange Professor also lied during the campaign about this being a “minor civil case” – some 5,000 people are involved in the lawsuits, including some who claim they shelled out $35,000 and got little in return. The New York suit alone is seeking $40 million, according to CNN.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s lawyers are fighting desperately to prevent the video release of his testimony.
And perhaps even sleazier, after those 9/11 attacks Trump loves to bring up, the alleged billionaire actually received $150,000 in taxpayer money intended for small businesses adversely affected by the tragedy. This was for a building he owned at 40 Wall Street, which was not damaged during the attack and according to the New York Times was valued by his company at $400 million in 2005.
His lies even extend to the golf course, where Trump – never the greatest athlete – has a long history of alleged cheating. Movie star Samuel L. Jackson, rocker Alice Cooper, boxer Oscar de la Hoya, and former Sports Illustrated managing editor Mark Mulvoy have all accused Trump of cheating on the links.
His response, of course, is to deny that he ever played with any of these people. Not just that he didn’t cheat, but that they never even played together. And seriously, how could one forget a round of golf with Samuel L Jackson?
The man’s entire life is pretty much a lie, right down to his appearance – unless orange is his natural complexion and hair color.
There’s clearly something wrong with the guy. And not in a flippant, joking kind of way – I really think he’s mentally and emotionally unstable. Why else would someone lie so unnecessarily?
He’s just as clearly in way over his head right now and growing more desperate by the day, which means we can look forward to more lies in the days ahead.
What I don’t understand is why these folks who have him on TV all the time refuse to confront Trump with his own words. It would appear that he’s given them more than enough ammunition.
D. Allan Kerr misses the “60 Minutes” heyday of Wallace, Rather and company.