If you’re going to lie, make it a good one.
Meaning, put some effort into it. Make it convincing. Make sure the truth is not easily discoverable. Don’t just draw on a weather map with a Sharpie.
That’s apparently what Donald Trump or someone in his employ did to prove he was right all along in claiming that the state of Alabama lay in the path of Hurricane Dorian. He made this claim via Twitter Sunday morning, and it was so alarmingly wrong that the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted an emphatic correction: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”
A smart person would have let it go at that. A smart person would have said, “Oops, my bad” and moved on. Trump, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a smart person. Worse, he is saddled with a congenital inability to admit when he is wrong.
So what followed in the Oval Office was both predictable and pathetic. Trump trotted out a forecast map on which someone had used a black marker to extend the storm’s possible track across the southeastern tip of Alabama. Reporters asked if someone had drawn on the map. “I don’t know,” said Trump.
Later, he tried to further justify himself by trotting out raw computer model data indicating a low likelihood of Dorian striking Alabama. “I accept the Fake News apologies!” he crowed. But the data were from Aug. 28 — four days before Trump’s lie. By then, everyone in the country knew Alabama was in no danger — everyone but him.
Yes, you’re right. The fact that Trump lies is hardly breaking news. The Washington Post says he’s made over 12,000 “false or misleading claims” since taking office. He’s lied on nations, public officials and presidents. Why not lie on a hurricane?
But it’s not the fact of the lie that occasions these words. It is, rather, the laziness of it.
As noted once before in this space, the quality of a lie is in direct proportion to the respect the liar has for the person being lied to. You would not tell your boss that the reason you’re taking a day off is that you’re needed to do repairs on the International Space Station. No, you put work into a lie, you make it credible, when you respect the person you’re lying to, when his or her good opinion matters.
Otherwise, you draw on a map with a Sharpie and call it a weather forecast.
Point being, we’ve grown so used to the fact that this guy lies that we forget to marvel at how truly bad at it he is. Meantime, the coterie of suck-ups and sycophants he calls an administration insists with a straight face that he’s telling the absolute truth and we’re somehow missing it. We are living the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, only it’s not a fable, and the emperor has nuclear weapons.
It gets worse. Roughly coincident with Trump’s whopper, there appeared on Medium an article by psychiatrists David M. Reiss and Seth D. Norrholm, renewing concern about the state of his mental health. “We definitely believe that based upon his observed behaviors, it is clinically indicated that Trump undergo a full and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation,” they wrote.
So maybe he’s not just lazy. Maybe he’s also mentally impaired.
It’s an alternative that offers a sobering sign of the depths to which we’ve been brought by the bigotry of Republican voters who put him in office and the spinelessness of Republican (and Democratic) lawmakers who keep him there: We face two options, one of which is that the president of the United States simply does not respect the presidency or the people.
And incredibly, that’s the best-case scenario.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.