Out and About (Sort of): Lying – Vice and Virtue by Howard Freedlander


In 558 days as president, as of August 1, 2018, Donald Trump has lied 4,229 times, according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” database. The lies amount to an average of 7.6 a day.

Now, if I were being charitable, an attitude difficult to sustain during the tumultuous Trump presidency, I would use the phrase “false and misleading claims,” as the Post did. I prefer the simpler and more accurate word—lying.

Why do I feel so emboldened to call President Trump a chronic liar? Because I think he would agree. He believes in and practices on a daily basis the art of creating an alternative reality.

And he’s good at it. If you continue to repeat a falsehood over and over, as he does so very adroitly, some—as in his loyal base—will consider his bombast as the truth. That’s downright scary.

The media is the “enemy of the people.” There were two sides to the racist riots in Charlottesville, VA about a year ago in which an innocent person was killed. President Obama secretly taped conversations during Trump’s post-election transition. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a decent fellow and well worth pursuing as a chum.

His statements not only are false, they are dangerous. He doesn’t care. He’s an expert in firing up his base.

He measures his success by the intensity of his followers.

Eighty-eight times he said he engineered the biggest tax cut in U.S. history. Untrue.

His beloved, still unbuilt wall with Mexico is under construction despite lack of congressional funding. He has uttered this assertion 30 times. Untrue.

He has said more than 60 times that the United States pays as much as 90 percent of NATO costs, and that other countries have failed to live up to their obligations. He dishonestly couples our nation’s overall defense spending with our specific NATO support.

To deal with the daily onslaught of lies and instances of boorish behavior, I sought the refuge of humor to provide a perspective on lying. I certainly wouldn’t want to seem self-righteous about my disdain for falsehood as a vital ingredient in President Trump’s governing style.

So, I turned to the great humorist and philosopher, Mark Twain, and his essay entitled, “On The Decay Of The Art of Lying.” I learned, not surprisingly, that Donald Trump, our liar-in-chief, is not a very good or refined liar, according to Twain’s satirical standards.

Twain wrote, “No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances—the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying. No virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent cultivation—therefore it goes without saying that this one ought to be taught in the public schools—even the newspapers.”

After noting his inability as an “ignorant uncultivated liar against the cultivated expert,” such as a lawyer, Twain opined, “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie injudiciously. An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.”

As he dwelled on the glorious art of lying, Mark Twain, ever so skillful in his use of words and humor to scour the human condition, said, “I think that all this courteous lying (as in falsely and politely saying that you are glad to see someone), is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.”

As I move my attention, leavened by humor, back to our lying-infested, morally bankrupt president, I must quote once more from Twain, “The man who speaks an injurious truth lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not worth saving. The man who tells a lie to help a poor devil out of trouble is one of whom the angels doubtless say, ‘Lo, here is an heroic soul who casts his own welfare in jeopardy to succor his neighbor’s; let us exalt this magnanimous liar.’

Mr. Trump is not a very good liar, despite his years of experience. His lies are based upon a poor, uninformed command of information. He lies simply for his benefit, not for the sake of others.

We Americans must accept that our president is a congenital liar, or should I say a purveyor of “false or misleading claims?”

After 18 months imprisoned in the purgatory of a Trump presidency, we should be inured to the daily storm of incredulous comments. Perhaps we should pity a person who cannot meet Mark Twain’s standards of useful, selfless lying.

Maybe we should laugh a little more. Maybe we should realize that truth is not part of the Trump brand.

Mark Twain should have the last word in my commentary about lying:

“Joking aside, I think there is much need of wise examination into what sorts of lies are best and wholesomest to be indulged, seeming we must all lie, and what sorts it may best avoid—and this is a thing which I feel I can confidently put into the hands of this experienced Club—a ripe body, who may be termed, in this regard, and without undue flattery, Old Masters.”

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Sales says

    Howard Freedlander’s compelling op-ed makes it clear that it is time for Robert Mueller to subpoena Trump.

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.
We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.