Donald Trump is probably the most casually dishonest serious candidate for president that this country has ever seen. He lies so easily, so shamelessly, and so regularly that media outlets have largely given up trying to factcheck his more, er, problematic assertions.
Politifact, a site that exposes politicians’ lies, awarded their Lie of the Year prize last year to “the campaign misstatements of Donald Trump.” There were so many they couldn’t pick just one.
Trump is worse than a mere fibber; as more than a few observers have noted of late, he’s also a master gaslighter, as are the political operatives closest to him. Gaslighting is a favorite tactic of abusers who’ve mastered the art of lying so baldly that their victims are led to doubt what they’ve seen and experienced, and begin to think they’re literally going mad.
Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski responded to reporter Michelle Fields’ claim that he had assaulted her at a Trump event by declaring her “delusional” — a favorite ploy of gaslighters everywhere — even though, as footage of the event now conclusively shows, he did in fact grab her and pull her away from Trump, just as she said he had. Lewandowski’s employer, whose own story on the assault has undergone a number of mutations, is now accusing her of changing her story, which has been consistent from the start. Add to this a heaping helping of old-fashioned misogynistic victim-blaming, and you’ve got a nasty smear campaign going.
But Trump’s latest claim about the Lewandowski incident is so over-the-top ludicrous that it transcends mere gaslighting. During a CNN town hall last night, Trump tried to convince the world that Lewandowski’s assault was perfectly justified because the pen she was holding could just maybe have been, you know, some sort of James Bond style pen-bomb.
“She had a pen in her hand,” he declared, “which Secret Service is not liking because they don’t know what it is, whether it’s a little bomb.”
Never mind that there was a Secret Service agent right there, and he didn’t deem Fields to be enough of a threat to intervene.
Oh, and never mind that A PEN BOMB!!? YOU CAN’T BE FREAKING SERIOUS.
And that’s a bit of a clue as to what is going on here. Trump can’t possibly be serious. The pen-bomb claim is almost certainly a bad-faith attempt to derail the discussion and to draw public attention away from the surveillance video showing Lewandowski grabbing Fields.
This is what trolls do. Trump is pulling the same sort of bad-faith nonsense that anti-Semitic trolls do when they declare that they can’t possibly be anti-Semitic because Arabs are Semites too; when a certain far-right fantasy author declares that he can’t possibly be a white supremacist because he has a bit of American Indian blood in his genes, a fact that he discovered only recently and which he gleefully trots out every time he’s accused of racism.
The trouble is that these tactics, however transparent they are to most observers, work. As David Marcus notes in The Federalist, Trump’s energetic gaslighting has managed to distract the media from the real issues and shroud the Lewandowski incident in doubt.
Now that Lewandowski has been arrested and video shows that his account is patently false, Trump is lowering the lights. Well, he says, she touched me too, can I get her charged? He says, well, how do we know she didn’t already have those bruises (which she photographed the next day). As the lights dim, those most tragic figures, cable news anchors, fall into his frothing sea of who knows what the hell happened?
And when those claims began to wear thin, Trump started talking about pen-bombs.
Donald Trump is a troll. He’s been trolling us all from day one of his campaign.
So it’s no wonder that the Anime Nazis have embraced Trump so enthusiastically. It isn’t just his racism that’s appealing to them, or his not-so-subtle encouragement of physical violence against protesters, more than a little bit reminiscent of Nazi electoral thuggery.
It’s because he’s one of them, a born troll.
I half expect Trump himself to take up the joke slogan of his trolly followers and promise voters that he will make anime real. After all, that’s a claim no more absurd than Trump’s contention that he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
Like most successful trolls — paging Milo Yiannopoulos — Trump has attracted a rabid following of trolls happy to troll and smear on his behalf. However ridiculous their memes get, their support for Trump is sincere, and their attacks still sting.
And that’s the problem with trolls. Their ironic stances have a tendency to calcify into sincerely held beliefs. Cartoon fascism becomes real hatred. Donald Trump the media-trolling buffoon becomes Donald Trump the dangerous demagogue. Some of his more over-the-top pronouncements may be mostly hot air, but his racism and misogyny are real. And to those who bear the brunt of Trump’s (and his followers’) attacks, a smear is a smear, even if the smearer knows he’s spouting bullshit.
But trolls can’t bend reality completely to their liking. Lewandowski’s attempts to smear Fields as an attention-hungry confabulator came up against the hard reality of the surveillance tapes. We need to keep calling out the endless lies. Trump’s fans may believe the lies — or they may find it convenient to pretend that they do — but I don’t think most Americans are quite as gullible as Trump and his troll buddies think they are.