Americans voting for Trump are almost without exception not doing their homework in some respect.
I was discussing with a Trump supporter who insisted that Trump had never lied and that the media had just misrepresented him by taking claims out of context.
I brought up the David Duke case, where Trump said “ Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know… I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him”.
Now, of course, this is belied by two other quotes: One where Trump said that Duke represented the “anger vote”, and another where he said Duke was “a bigot, a racist, a problem”.
Let’s be clear: Duke is a Nazi. No, not in the snarky Internet way, in the “I really want to see Hitlerian policies and openly emulate him” way. So Trump in the 1990s and 2000s was right: Duke is a bigot, a racist and a problem. And the fact that he’s running again thanks to the Trump phenomenon is, well, a problem.
And, to be even more fair, Trump did disavow Duke later. Thus far, he’s on the record in the correct fashion. He eventually did the right thing. But this actually isn’t a redeeming factor, as we shall see.
But let’s be fair to this Trump supporter and consider: What context could possibly justify this?
Because, in reality, it is the context that is the most damning. And it is when you consider the context that it is most clear that this Trump defender simply stopped caring about the truth and wanted to protect his cognitive dissonance.
Lack of Knowledge Is Not An Excuse
I have a character flaw: I’m very good at lying. It’s not that I’m constantly doing it, or doing it for no good reason. But I am good at it.
One of the tricks of the trade is this: No one can interrogate a lack of knowledge. All you have to do is say “I don’t remember” or “Are you sure? Because I don’t recall that” or “It’s possible I just did something stupid”.
This is one of the very clear indications that Trump is a liar. If someone gets caught not knowing something once, that’s modestly acceptable. But when someone repeatedly is corrected and keeps on acting like they don’t know, that is a clear sign of a liar.
There’s two scenarios: One where Trump was lying, which is obviously bad; and one where Trump really didn’t know about Duke and white supremacy.
That second scenario is galling.
A man running for President should know what white nationalism and white supremacy are and who David Duke is. These movements are marginal but they’re disproportionately important.
When you don’t know what something is, you ask. If Trump really didn’t know, he would have said, “Can you define what a white supremacist is for me, Jake?” (Though frankly the terms are self-explanatory so any reasonably intelligent human being should be able to guess what is being discussed).
It’s just like with Trump’s response to the nuclear triad questions asked by Hugh Hewitt: Trump doesn’t even have the most basic knowledge, which is forgivable, and he will fake as if he does, which is not. This trait of Trump’s, of just faking something for as long as possible until enough suckers don’t notice, makes for a great con man, and it also makes for being terrible at everything else. Trump relies on the adage that some people can be fooled all of the time and all of the people can be fooled some of the time: he relies on the fact that none of us have enough of a complete picture that it is clear when he is talking nonsense.
“A Bad Earpiece” Is Not An Excuse
Trump’s eventual excuse was that he had a bad earpiece.
Right. So why was he able to clearly repeat everything Jake Tapper said?
This is another good lie: Again, since no one can prove that you did in fact hear them beyond a shadow of a doubt, you can keep on pretending to the contrary.
If Trump had actually not heard Jake, he would have said, “Jake, I’m getting some feedback. Could we get this mic situation fixed?” He would have spoken clearly and asked questions to make sure that the David Duke in question was in fact the neo-Nazi scumbag.
What happened instead was that Trump repeatedly stalled for time. He didn’t ask for clarification, he didn’t say there was a problem, he repeated a nonsense statement that should disqualify him for the job Commander-in-Chief but he knew wouldn’t.
The False Implication Is Very Specific
My Trump-defending interlocutor replied that Trump was saying that Trump didn’t personally know Duke.
That would make sense, except when he said, “I don’t know anything about David Duke”. Those two words, given further context by saying that he also doesn’t know anything about white supremacy, are designed to make the careless listener think he’s saying he doesn’t know Duke personally, while giving him the wriggle room to play a different card later.
Trump’s denial here let him not only delay but imply to everyone that he simply didn’t know Duke personally and didn’t know about white supremacy enough to comment. It let him seem innocent: “Hey, I don’t know what goes on in the mind of racists! I just know Mexicans are rapists”.
The false implication of the lie is the same false implication of every bigot who tries to claim that “I’m not being racist, but…” and follows the upcoming racist statement with “I’m just being real” or “I have a black friend”. It’s the idea that you can just be giving “plain talk” and even when it means you walk like a neo-Nazi and quack like a neo-Nazi that somehow you’re just a goose, so of course you’re goose-stepping!
Intentionally Playing with the Alt-Right
Then we have to consider why anyone wouldn’t just reject David Duke outright. We have to consider why Trump was delaying.
After all, Duke is a Holocaust denier. He’s a Nazi. It should cost someone nothing to disavow them up front.
But there’s two problems:
Trump likes people to like him, and won’t crap on anyone unless he knows the short-term gain is worth it…
And Trump’s base includes white supremacists.
Trump may not be politically very astute. I have no idea how his brain works and how damaged he is. But what is very clear is that he knows how to read people and how to surf a crowd. Trump knows what strings he’s pulling with his base. He may not understand the psychology formally, but he gets it intuitively.
The moment he got asked about Duke, he obviously knew that he had to be very careful about how to distance himself from Duke, the same way Duke himself got distance from the more overt racism and the same way white supremacists routinely try to play patty-cake with their bigotry to slowly inculcate people into it, because if he came out too strong too fast, he would lose his supporters.
Instead, by stalling, he gave his supporters that idea that “He’s just like us” (a bigot who likes Duke a lot more than he cares to admit in mixed company) while also still being savvy.
Once the Duke controversy hit, it was time to fake being Presidential. It was time to disavow Duke when it was clear to Trump that the blowback was too serious. Time to assuage his base that, no, they’re not really that racist.
The context is one of the most damning aspects of the entire discussion. The context was that Trump was starting to openly get the approval of white supremacists and Trump had to find a way to make the optics of that look good while maintaining that support. Trump playing games with who he knew and what he believed was beyond the pale precisely because the context was so obvious and overt. There is no way that Trump’s advisors didn’t tell him that this kind of white supremacist appeal has power. We’ve seen that the Trump campaign didn’t realize how successful they would be and he essentially run to stick it to his naysayers, but if they didn’t know when they launched the campaign that the bluntness of his racial appeal wouldn’t at least have a chance of working, they knew as he started winning states.
It’s precisely this timing and his wording, and the lack of Trump’s actual substance, that taints even his later disavowal.
Trump said on Morning Joe on March 3 that, “David Duke is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years. I disavowed him. I disavowed the KKK. Do you want me to do it again for the 12th time? I disavowed him in the past, I disavow him now”.
Every word of that repeated but shallow disavowal let Trump still have room to keep winking at the racists. “Hey, I still want your vote! I still think like you! I just have to pull the wool over the eyes of these suckers”, he’s saying to those people.
If Trump had actual integrity, he would have said, “I disavow David Duke because Nazism is wrong and racism is wrong. I oppose white nationalism and white supremacy. Human beings are equal. I just have concerns about migrants that have a dangerous ideology and I have concerns about protecting our law”.
But, see, that’s why Trump won the Republican primaries. Because he doesn’t have that integrity.
The bigots that truly back him, and Hillary’s claim that his core are bigots to some degree was in fact completely fair and well-articulated, need more than coded language. They need someone who will flat out call Mexicans rapists. They need someone who will act like Muslims do not have human rights.
A neo-Nazi I’ve met (anonymously of course) has told me that he knows Trump is lying and he doesn’t care because for the first time someone is lying to him. Now someone cares about his vote specifically.
Back to the Supporter
So now we’ve looked at the context, pretty extensively, of Trump’s claims.
So why isn’t the supporter convinced?
He didn’t think any of this through.
He had a gut check moment and he didn’t start thinking about the scenario where Trump was lying and if that would make any sense. He didn’t think through the context. He didn’t think what the context actually said. He just knew that, if he said that there was a context, he could humanize something that seemed inhuman.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. One form that vigilance takes is to test what we’re saying from all angles to make sure that we’re not repeating some nonsense.
In this case, my interlocutor’s failure to do that meant that he was apologizing for a fascist.
Now, this happened months ago. So why bring it up?
Because even today, people still want to insist that Trump is somehow less dishonest than Hillary.
Hillary’s pulled some big ones, to be sure. But Trump is the most naked and extreme kind of liar because nothing he says has to even be remotely true for him even at the moment he says it.
Our country’s integrity is on the line even before we get to the ballot box. Our ability to hold people accountable is at risk.
Honesty isn’t just about not lying. It’s about caring that what you say is true. It’s about correcting mistakes that you make. It’s about caring that you are providing something real and helpful when you speak.
It’s not just that Trump doesn’t want to do that: of course a narcissist doesn’t.
It’s that far too many people are joining him.
This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine.