Politics & Policy

When Liars Lie, the Honest Face Ridicule

Trump discusses Michelle Fields at a rally in Janesville, Wisc. (Scott Olson/Getty)

It is a sad reality of life that vice often leaves virtue with few good options. I was reminded of this fact by the Donald Trump campaign’s furious and transparently dishonest defense of its campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. By now there is abundant evidence that shortly after a Trump press conference, Lewandowski grabbed former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and yanked her back from Trump hard enough to bruise her and to shock her to tears. Eyewitness testimony, photographic evidence, an audio recording, and now video support these allegations.

The original incident was wrong — and likely constituted battery under Florida law — but it was also minor enough that Fields herself said that a simple apology would have ended the entire affair. Indeed, an honorable person would have apologized.

But neither Lewandowski nor Trump are honorable, so they responded with an avalanche of lies. Lewandowksi said he “never touched” Fields. Trump said the Secret Service told him “nothing happened.” Then, when the combination of eyewitness testimony, photographs, and audio and video recordings obliterated the first story, the lies shifted. Now Trump claims that Lewandowski was justified in grabbing Fields because her pen could have been a small bomb. In other words, that thing they said never happened only happened because Lewandowski was worried about a potential assassination plot.

The lies alone were bad enough, but they were accompanied by a wave of mockery and ridicule. Fields faced personal attacks as a fabulist. Writers who investigated the story were mocked for spending so much time exposing Trump’s deception. It was just a grab. That happens all the time on the subway or at ballgames. Why ruin Lewandowksi’s reputation or charge him with a misdemeanor over such a small thing? In other words, the incident that was important enough to lie about wasn’t important enough to investigate.

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We’ve seen this movie before. The Clintons perfected the art of the lie, paired it with ridicule of the honest, and learned how to win with dishonor. Recall the horror show that ensued after Clinton said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” A decent man wouldn’t have had an affair with an intern. An honorable man would have confessed. But Clinton was neither decent nor honorable, so for months his apologists repeated his lies and mocked those who sought the truth.

#share#It was the same game Trump plays. For Clinton’s defenders, the matter was important enough to lie about but not important enough to investigate. It was important enough that accusers and investigators had to be destroyed but not important enough that the actual liars should be held to account. And they won. As evidenced by Hillary’s Clinton’s ascendancy in the Democratic primary, they’re still winning today.

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Now the GOP has a Clinton of its very own — complete with millions of Clintonistas, people willing to say anything and even believe anything in the quest to “just win.” The Clinton/Trump ethic doesn’t just reflect a post-truth culture but one that’s positively anti-truth. Post-truth implies that the truth doesn’t really matter. Anti-truth means that the truth is your enemy — and so are its advocates.

In an anti-truth world, honesty is a threat. Scrutiny is dangerous. And a candidate and his supporters can say literally anything they want so long as it gets them past the news cycle and moves the ball down the political field. In the meantime, those who care about reality are mocked as suckers — as losers.

#related#But to give up on investigating the truth because the lie is “minor” or because one feels vaguely silly reviewing a Florida surveillance tape like it’s the Zapruder Film is to give up on honesty itself. And that’s exactly Trump’s hope. That was Clinton’s hope. If you can make virtue look bad enough, vice can prevail.

As the primaries continue to unfold, the GOP will learn important lessons about millions of their own voters and elected officials. All those years when they were fighting the Clinton machine, were they really recoiling in disgust? Or were they mostly green with envy? Did they oppose Clinton because he was wrong, or did they hate him because he won?

Donald Trump looks in the mirror, Bill Clinton stares back at him, and millions of voters finally get the “winning” they longed for. But don’t be alarmed. Truth is the only casualty.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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