Sometimes I like to think back to the olden days, when it was easier for politicians to tell a good old-fashioned fib. Think of the age of the majestic woolly mammoth, for instance. Trudging along on a typical Ice Age morning, a caveman named Og could blithely tell his rivals Garglon and Thag that he had just run an ultra-marathon, clubbed the neighborhood’s fiercest saber-tooth tiger, and invented the Internet, all in one morning. Garglon and Thag would nod, jaws slightly agape, and then Og would promptly be elected president of the neighborhood cave coalition.
After all, who could prove him wrong? Cameras weren’t dangling off of the trees. No e-mail trails could bubble up. Forensic saber-tooth scar analysis had not yet been invented. Writing was not even a twinkle in the ancient Sumerians’ eyes.
This is unlike today, of course, when almost every major human interaction of every major public figure is recorded and posted and commented upon in the wilds of electronic media. It is an enlightened time of transparency and accountability. It is an age where the truth, if not immediately apparent, will almost immediately come out.
Ha! I kid, I kid. In 2016’s not-so-grand race for the White House, lying is more popular than ever, duplicity is all the rage, and the Internet, bless its poor, bedraggled heart, isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job of helping us sort things out. Witness the past few weeks, which have seen more lies and contradictions and absurdities and mishaps than perhaps all seven seasons of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills combined.
We’ll start with Rush Limbaugh, a longtime Donald Trump booster who has called himself, among other things, “The King of Realville.” On his August 29 show, after a week or two of various trial balloons from the Trump campaign indicating he might “soften” on immigration, Limbaugh insisted that he “never took” Trump “seriously” on the candidate’s long-celebrated policy of mass deportations. One could forgive him for this, if true: After all, Trump has flip-flopped like a loopy former gymnastics champion on a multitude of issues over the past year. Rush’s transcripts, however, tell a different story.
As Conor Friedersdorf has noted at The Atlantic, Limbaugh had nothing but praise for Trump’s whole-family-deportation proposal the day after the candidate detailed it on Meet the Press. Trump had a “serious immigration plan,” Limbaugh said, lauding his brave television performance. “It’s obvious that that issue is the foundational issue for Trump, and I think for Trump to blow this he would have to change immigration. He’d have to backtrack, which he’s not going to do.”
Ah, well. That was a long time ago, and it’s tough to dig up transcripts. Who has the energy? Months float by, and with enough time, it’s easy to spin your way out of comments that were otherwise black and white. It’s not as if Limbaugh contradicted himself on the same day, acting like two completely different people with two different personalities and divergent policy ideas during two widely televised events only six hours apart!
No, that was Donald Trump. In Mexico, visiting with President Enrique Nieto, Trump spoke in quiet, somnolent, and dulcet tones. He paid compliments to the Mexican people, making gentle suggestions about NAFTA and protecting jobs, oddly, in “our hemisphere,” rather than America. The only classic Trump moment, in fact, came on delay: When asked who would pay for his signature wall, Trump claimed it wasn’t discussed. Hours later, Peña Nieto announced that he had “made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.” Oh.
Six hours later, safely out of Mexico, Trump landed in Phoenix and let it all hang out. Mexico, we were told, would indeed pay for the wall. (“They just don’t know it yet!”) In a Trump administration, the audience was assured, there will be mass deportations on day one, ideological tests, and, if the Phoenix speech was any indication, a whole lot of cathartic hollering. Trump’s quiet time in Mexico, it seems, had cracked him. Now he had to let off steam. (On the plus side, this process apparently involved forcing Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions to wear hats that said “Make Mexico Great Again Also,” which you just can’t make up.)
Lying is more popular than ever, and duplicity is all the rage.
This would all be fine, perhaps, if we lived in caveman times. But here’s the thing: This was all on tape. Both meetings are available on the Internet, for anyone to see, and if you watch them both, it is slightly alarming. Yet no one, at least on the campaign end of things, seems to think voters will care.
Ah, well. Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who will happily fib about her e-mails, servers, and foundation — and pretty much anything else she needs to — with ease. This week, news broke that 30 new deleted Clinton e-mails had been discovered by the FBI — and no, they did not deal with things like yoga, as Clinton has long liked to claim. In late July, Clinton told Fox News Sunday that FBI director James Comey had described her answers about her e-mail woes as “truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people.” Except that’s not what he said, as any person with an Internet connection can easily look up and see.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? In the midst of the great information age, we’ve wandered into an equally great age of obfuscation. Here’s to the truth working its way out.
— Heather Wilhelm is a National Review columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.