(From former Senator Al Franken, 3/19)
Well, it finally isn’t funny anymore – the grandiosity, the ignorance, the cruelty, the bullying, the racism, the petty insults and incessant stupidity. But especially the non-stop lying.
The greatest asset that a president can bring to a crisis is credibility.
On Day One of his presidency, Donald Trump chose to pick a fight with the media about the size of his inaugural crowd. On the morning of January 21, 2017, after fewer than 24 hours in office, Trump sent out Sean Spicer to tell the press corps a laughable and easily disprovable lie – that Trump’s crowd was the largest in history ever to attend a presidential inaugural.
The very next day, Kellyanne Conway let Americans know of the existence of something called “alternative facts.” Oh. So, that’s how it’s going to be, huh?
Since then, the lies have come so fast and furious that keeping track has been impossible. How do you remember the last one when three or four equally ridiculous lies are almost certain to follow that day?
“Don’t take him literally,” his supporters insisted. “Take him seriously.” Really?
Well, no. What they really were saying was how happy they were that he would be appointing pro-life, pro-corporate Federalist Society judges, cutting taxes to benefit the wealthy, undoing regulations to help corporations exploit their employees and destroy our environment, and pulling us out of the Paris Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal.
That the President of the United States is a malignant narcissist who could allow no fact to stand that contradicted his insatiable need for self-aggrandizement has been of little concern to establishment Republicans. The stock market was climbing. They were getting richer. And they had cover from the right-wing media to fool enough of his base into believing his limitless dishonesty.
At this year’s State of the Union, the First Lady bestowed upon Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor he now shares with Mother Teresa, Cesar Chavez, and the crew of Apollo 13. In 1995, I wrote a book entitled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations for a reason – the same reason that I wrote Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them – A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right a few years later. Without Rush, without O’Reilly, without Hannity, without Newsmax, Breitbart, and InfoWars there would be no Trump.
Until this crisis, Trump has paid no real price for his constant, pathological mendacity. Before politics, the man had spent his entire career in a business where, evidently, there was no accountability for inveterate lying.
But for this crisis there is accountability. And instead of leading, Donald Trump’s focus has been where it always has been – on Donald Trump. “I give myself a ten out of ten.” “We are very close to a vaccine.” “I don’t take responsibility at all.” “Anybody who needs a test can get a test. And the tests are perfect. Like the letter was perfect. The transcript was perfect.”
Of course, no leader could have prevented the devastation that this virus has and will continue to exact. But because Trump’s focus has been on himself, his reelection, and his fragile self-image, our federal government squandered our most valuable commodity. And the amount of suffering which that lost time will cost our nation is as tragic as it is unknowable.
Trump will not step away. He will continue to take the stage and our focus – but he will not be able to claim the credibility he never earned. We are left to proceed despite our president and find the leadership we need elsewhere. From governors and mayors and other civil servants. From health care professionals and scientists and economists. From community leaders and each other.
It is time for each of us to step up and fill the vacuum at the top – first by staying home. And for those fortunate enough to weather this storm financially – to help those who cannot.
Lest we forget Trump’s Houdini-like ability to escape the traps he’s set for himself, it is also time for us to commit to his defeat in November. For now, find a way to do that from home. But when it’s time to come out into the light, it must be our collective mission to make this godawful human being pay the price for every lie he has ever uttered.