Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We Got "Bushed" for Eight Years, Let's Not Get "Trumped"

At the beginning of the 21st century, the American people got snookered by a Republican president who talked a good game and seemed tough and strong, but was incompetent. By the end of his two terms, we were “Bushed.” Now, we are being "Trumped" by a con man who wants to be the next Republican president.

George W. Bush did not know much about foreign policy, but people thought he was successful in business and Texas politics, very personable and persuasive so people trusted him. While he was born to a wealthy family, his father had been President, and he’d attended Yale, he had adopted a good old boy manner, and people perceived him as a man they’d like to have a beer with. He would be the "decider," who would listen to wiser, more knowledgeable advisors and make the best decisions based on his "gut." He seemed to be compassionate and was thought to be "centrist" on economic and immigration issues. Unfortunately, once elected, he surrounded himself with neoconservatives who believed they could remake the world by creating democracy in the Middle East by force. It turned out he was very much into trickle down economics, breaks for the rich. And Iraq War, formation of ISIS, Iranian nuclear program development, North Korea developing nukes, big deficits, and the Great Recession.

Trump doesn't know much about foreign policy, but he is a successful businessman, despite several missteps resulting in bankruptcies, and he is a master salesman of a certain kind (the kind who usually sells products on 30 minute infomercials). He won't need advisors and wouldn't listen to them, because he has a "very good brain," and knows "more than the generals,” he assures us. 

Jake Novak, a producer and columnist at CNBC, identified one of Trump's main tactics as puffing, a legal term that allows salesmen and businesses to make boastful claims about their products and services without fear of lawsuits. 

Trump, with a ghostwriter's help to make it coherent, acknowledged this in his book, Art of the Deal, "The final key to the way I promote is bravado...I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion."

So his language is full of "the most amazing," "fantastic," "unbelievable," which he might follow with, "believe me." The innocence of this may be true in a legal sense, except when he's made guarantees he can't keep and wanders into the territory of outright lies and fraud, witness Trump University and not paying contractors, fleecing investors, etc. He's had to settle hundreds of lawsuits, which means he went beyond "puffing" many times.

Because politicians have even more speech protection than salesmen, he has moved far beyond puffery to world class lying. When has a politician ever been sued or prosecuted for making unfulfillable promises or claims? After toying around with the birther issue and finding out that he could tell a big lie and convince 20% of Americans to believe it back in 2011, he decided he could up the ante, boost his brand, maybe get a Fox News gig, and who knows, maybe even win the presidency. As he said after a debate, "I am not a debater, but I am a winner. If I am elected I will make this country a total winner." He will do almost anything to win.

So he picked his issue, immigration, and started talking about the great big beautiful wall he would build to keep out all the drug runners, rapists, and terrorists. He uses playground bully's skills at humiliating his opponents and using what psychologists call "projection," accusing others of those things that actually apply to him (I know you are, but what am I? I'm rubber, you're glue) to paint his opponents as liars, corrupt, weak, ignorant, and on and on. He is also adept at manipulating the media, making outrageous statements and tweets that have kept him the lead story almost every day for over a year. He may succeed in winning the election.

So, the media and almost half the American people have been the victims of a masterful con man who seems to be unable to tell the truth at times. When he finally disavowed the birther lie, he found it necessary to add a new lie, that Hillary Clinton started it. 

What can we do? We are used to lobbying politicians, now we have to lobby the media. We need fair coverage. First, while we know Hillary can defend herself, we should demand the debate moderators are prepared. They shouldn't debate Trump, but if the curtains are red and Trump says they are blue, when Hillary responds red to which Trump repeats blue, the moderator should say, "For the record, these curtains have been independently verified as red curtains," and move on. It would be helpful if the networks would run a fact checking scroll during debates or at least show a fact checking website where connected viewers can see real time fact checks. 

News outlets should be using the words lie, untrue, false, falsehood, fabrication, deception instead of softer words like misstatement, inaccuracy, hyperbole. Hopefully, in the few weeks left until the election, those Americans who are being fooled by this man or, perhaps worse, are not fooled but plan to vote for him, will see him for what he is and understand the dangers of a Trump presidency. But we can't count on that. It may be a very close election. The best way to beat this man will be to show up at the polls and get everyone who has not been "Trumped" there, too.

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