The lie was about the size of the inaugural crowd. It was easily disproven and had no real purpose. It was not to protect national security or for any other justifiable reason. Spicer stood at a White House lectern and lied simply to feed the new President’s ego and ease his limitless insecurity. Over time we learned just how significant and prophetic that first big lie was.
Fast forward to this week, when Spicer’s successor Kayleigh McEnany, on Fox News, deflected a question about the Trump administration sharing intelligence with the Biden transition team. McEnany said that was really a question for the White House, but she couldn’t answer it right now because at that moment, on the air, she was appearing as a member of the Trump campaign. Now it should go without saying you can’t be a White House staffer and a campaign adviser at the same time, but in the Trump Administration, that’s where we are.
It would be funny if it weren’t so destructive. This White House’s antics keep reminding people of the satirical HBO series “Veep.” But they are not a joke. The administration’s chronic lying has divided Americans, degraded their trust in government, and, worst of all, turned facts and evidence into slippery instruments of partisan politics.
And if you are part of the Make America Great Again crowd, you only believe what Trump says.
So, tens of millions of Americans have trusted Trump and refused to put on a mask to protect themselves and everyone around them from a highly contagious disease that has killed more than 245,000 in the US. Trump sidelines actual infectious disease experts and instead makes a neuroradiologist, Scott Atlas, the face of the administration’s coronavirus efforts.
Trump tells us to believe that tear gas wasn’t used on peaceful protesters outside the White House to clear the way for a Presidential photo-op — and half of America goes along with the lie, despite visual evidence shown on our screens over and over again.
That same half of America agreed with him that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a political hoax and the President himself was the victim. Both Special Counsel Robert Mueller and a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee said the opposite. And let’s not forget the “perfect call” where the President attempted to pressure the Ukrainian President into manufacturing dirt on the President’s political opponents. (Trump denies that was his goal.)
The dishonesty from this President and his press secretaries — all four of them — has us where we are today.
Truth now comes in two varieties: Republican and Democratic. This is shaking the foundation of our democracy.
Of all the challenges facing President-elect Joe Biden, restoring objective truth and common facts will be among the most daunting and important. But it can be done.
My advice for the incoming White House press secretary is to find a mistake or misjudgment the new President or his team has made and embrace it, highlight it with the media and the public. Credibility comes from being honest about the things you screw up. Taking responsibility, something Donald Trump told us out loud he never does, is the key to winning trust and restoring a common set of facts.
It’s easy to say to the new press secretary: Promise you will never lie. The fact is the last four press secretaries have promised the truth and delivered everything but. The ability to be a trusted messenger for the President needs to be earned. And it’s earned by telling the truth even when it’s difficult and damaging to your team’s interests.
It took Donald Trump less than four years to destroy the credibility of the Oval Office. He leaves us in a place where we don’t trust the evidence right in front of our nose. He did this deliberately and my guess is he’s quite proud of his work.