Most Americans agree that President Donald Trump lies a lot, and the president knows that they think he’s dishonest.
Still, he’s betting he can again paint his opponents as even less trustworthy than he is.
The strategy has worked before. In 2016, he smeared his Republican primary opponents, the media, Democrat Hillary Clinton and assorted critics, including a family who lost a son fighting in Iraq and a beauty pageant winner.
Since becoming president, he also has targeted the CIA, FBI and federal courts, claiming they are corrupt and can’t be trusted.
Trump has made more than 12,000 inaccurate claims while in office, according to the Washington Post. If you’re a Trump supporter, you probably reject that figure, preferring to believe instead the president’s anti-journalist tirades.
Fake news. Totally dishonest. Bad for our country.
It’s a daily barrage. His aim is not to get you to trust the president, but to hate and distrust everyone who raises issues about Trump’s honesty.
Working in journalism, I occasionally ran into sketchy businessmen and politicians who behaved in much the same way. When caught in a lie or unethical situation, they used intimidation and threats, and then insisted they were the victim. They focused not on their own behavior, but on creating doubts about those who exposed their dishonesty or crime. In psychology, they call it projecting. In practice, it means they want us to believe everyone is as unethical as they are.
Many of the president’s current troubles are inevitable consequences of a man who unethically mixes his personal political ambitions with government service, and his private business with both.
From his vantage point, all of us would do the same if we could. He makes that clear as he hammers journalists daily, calling them corrupt.
He twists and exaggerates any questionable move an opponent. That includes Joe Biden’s son’s deal with a Ukrainian gas company, which was legal but absolutely unethical.
He feigns outrage at lies others tell — such as the dishonest remarks of Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, about his early knowledge regarding a whistleblower complaint filed about Trump.
His message is that he may be bad, but that those who expose his faults are even worse.
Even if that were true, it would not excuse the president’s misconduct.
And his critics’ motives matter even less.
As professionals in law enforcement will tell you, sources willing to talk about the misdeeds of others don’t always have noble motives. Sometimes people do come forward because they want to do the right thing, and sometimes they are motivated by fear, anger, hate or vengeance.
Ignoble motives invite skepticism, but they don’t make the allegations false.
The impeachment inquiry in Congress needs to move forward, even though the task of obtaining and assessing the facts won’t be easy.
It may not even be possible. The White House has chosen to defy Congress and the Constitution. Most Republicans, at least publicly, praise the president or provide tacit approval with their silence. They increasingly embrace Trump’s dishonesty, as well as his smear campaigns.
Trump and his supporters know that by treating the impeachment inquiry as a political crisis, rather than a process to determine whether the president’s misconduct warrants his removal, Trump might survive. But it will mean covering everything and everyone with slime.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.