It’s a shame we have to keep dwelling on Donald Trump, so long after trouncing him in the election. But his legacy continues to evolve, even in his supposed absence.
It’s a legacy not just of lies, but of lying itself. The entire Republican party — everyone with a public profile — seems to have actively embraced lying as a viable political strategy. They all want to be Trump. Which doesn’t mean they can be.
Trump has always been the perfect liar, and he takes con artistry to a new level. He’s a virtuoso, not just at telling outrageous whoppers, but at convincing his marks that those whoppers are gospel truth. He gets a lie in his head and through sheer force of will he makes it true. Whether he believes it himself is still a mystery.
Most people can’t sustain a lie for any length of time. Even if their moral qualms don’t kick in — and Trump’s never do — it’s hard to maintain a fiction once actual facts come into play, as they tend to do.
But Trump lies as effortlessly as he breathes. To him, the truth isn’t even worth considering. He overwhelms us with so many lies we can’t keep up. We get passed from one lie to the next, and each one is more outrageous than the one before. So we never go back to the one before. Or the dozens or the hundreds before that. He wears us out.
And he never backs down. When he’s caught in a lie, he doesn’t even deny it. He deflects it, calls it fake news, tosses out five more lies, and leaves us to sort it out. It doesn’t matter what you say, how thoroughly you call it out or debunk it, he’ll ignore the debunking and attack you — or your authority, or your publication, or your lawsuit — and he assumes he’ll win.
Most of the lies are throwaways, but when he gets a keeper, he knows how to play it out. And he plays it out indefinitely — through subtle variations and unsubtle repetitions. “The election was stolen” is surely his masterpiece.
You would think he couldn’t possibly keep track of all the lies. And as it happens, his cult followers can’t either. They don’t seem to know what they’re supposed to believe from one day to the next. They’re often asked to hold two opposite ideas in their heads at once. “Trump told us vaccines are bad” and “Trump deserves credit for the vaccines” are a rhetorical push-me-pull-you that would be funny if people weren’t dying from it.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that just yesterday, Trump got booed at one of his own lovefest rallies. He tried to tell his Alabama cultists that they really should get the vaccine. Of course, he walked that back at the first jeer, then he backpedaled to something like “I respect your freedom.” But it happened — he told the truth and they smacked him down. You can’t make this up.
But here’s the thing. While it’s remarkable that he’s gotten away with it this long, there is a reckoning coming. The indictments of people connected to him — and who are presumably providing evidence against him — are proliferating. And the evidence is surely massive.
That Trump remains a free man even now owes more to the Justice Department’s refusal to indict a sitting president, than to any cleverness on his part. Without that protection, which was always legally dubious, the Mueller investigation would have looked much different, and Trump could easily have been led out of the White House in handcuffs, mid-term.
Which is why it boggles the mind to watch so many Trump wannabes falling all over themselves to see who can best exploit the “Trump playbook.” Who can do the most over-the-top lying and brazen corruption? Who can be the Trumpiest politician out there?
We all know who they are. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Bohbert are the most visible, the most publicly obnoxious, and the most likely to face indictments at some point. But there are dozens, maybe hundreds of others, on both the federal and state level.
None of them have the gift for lying that Trump has, though they all aspire to it. But more important, none of them have a rogue Justice Department running interference for their crimes. Nor, they might notice, does Trump anymore.
Yet they seem to think they can engage in the same kinds of lie-fueled crimes with the same impunity as Trump. They think they can bend both the truth and the law the way Trump did. This is either utter madness or utter stupidity on their part.
But while those three are surely the most loony, they’re not the most dangerous. That honor goes to the governors, the ones who are playing fast and loose with the lives of their constituents.
The two standouts — the ones truly pushing the envelope — are Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas. Both are betting their political lives, not just on laugh-out-loud lies, but also on legally questionable activities.
And they’re doing it without apparent regard to possible challenges from the courts, from their electorates, or from both. They’re flirting with the limits of the law and assuming they’ll pay no price for it. They think they can lie their way out of anything. Just like Trump.
And they assume they’ll be re-elected. Just like Trump assumed.
DeSantis and Abbott have gone on real benders, taking untenable positions that defy all logical purpose. Apparently, both are positioning themselves for a presidential run in 2024, even as they both need to face the voters again as governors before then. And their crack strategists have determined that nonstop lies are the way to go.
Each wants to be known as the Trumpiest non-Trump out there. Each thinks that Trump’s dwindling base will come through for them, if only they can convince that base that they’re crazy enough.
And they might be right. Especially if they succeed in subverting the election process. Which they’re also lying their way deeper and deeper into.
Meanwhile, they both wage war against mask mandates and vaccines, overwhelming their health systems, defying their courts, and putting school children at risk. They cynically tout quack cures like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, even with outstanding vaccines freely available. And they willfully do the opposite of whatever scientists and public health officials think might help save lives.
Why would they think nonstop lying is an effective campaign strategy? How cynical do you have to be to lie to your constituents when you know that lie can kill them? Because of those lies, we are suddenly in the middle of the pandemic, just when we all thought we were at the end.
Do they not see that Trump is the world’s worst role model? Do they not understand that the Trump playbook is not replicable? That it’s not even working for Trump? Trump is a singularity — a black hole into which all truth, loyalty, responsibility, and virtue gets sucked into the void. His gifts are rare, especially his gift for lying.
It's the gift that can't be re-gifted, and none of these wannabes have it. They’ll never lie like Trump. And maybe the worst thing about Trump is that he conned them into thinking they can.