Yesterday I asked readers which of our “presumptive” Presidential candidates were revealed as the worst liars last week: Hillary Clinton, whose stubborn, year long claims that she followed State Department policy in handling communications, that she turned over all of her official emails to State, and that she “never sent classified material on my email, and I never received any that was marked classified” were all shown to be false by new emails that were released to the media, or Donald Trump, who denied that he had pretended to be his own publicist in recorded phone calls unearthed by the Washington Post, despite the fact that he had previously admitted as much in court testimony under oath.
I learned several useful things from the poll results:
1. Most readers don’t bother to take polls.
2. Clinton’s lie is overwhelmingly believed to be worse, and
3. I measure lies very differently from most people.
To me, the worst lie is the brazen denial of what cannot be denied, done so shamelessly that it sends the message is no big deal. On the old Ethics Scoreboard, I highlighted such lies as a regular feature called the David Manning Liar Of The Month, named after a now forgotten incident when Sony was caught using fake rave reviews from a made-up film critic on its ads for some really bad movies. Sony’s excuse was that since everybody knows those reviews in movie ads are unreliable, there was nothing wrong with using a fake review. Another version of the lies I hate are those labelled Jumbos on Ethics Alarms, the infamous and often funny “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” desperation excuses, like Lindsay Lohan’s “These aren’t my pants!” explanation when arresting officers found drugs in her pockets.
I believe these lies are the worst of all because 1) they are insulting to everyone who reads or hears them, 2) they are proof of cowardice and immaturity, showing an inability and unwillingness to accept accountability even when one is caught red handed,, 3) they show stupidity and arrogance, since such lies never work, and 4) they indicate that the individual regards lies as a natural and acceptable tool of first resort, while assuming that nobody will think worse of him for giving deception a shot.
Those who automatically choose Hillary as the worst liar seem to be measuring the importance of the underlying matter being lied about rather than the lie itself. No doubt, Hillary’s intentional maneuvers to evade detection of her many personal and financial machinations while endangering national security are far more serious than Trump engaging in sophomoric stunts to blow his own horn. His lie denying his acts, however, unlike Hillary’s carefully calculated denials, misrepresentations and deceits, is signature significance. No respectable or trustworthy individual would publicly deny what has already been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, and nobody but one devoid of any shred of principle or shame would attempt such an outrageous stance.
There are three factors that elevate Trump’s lie even above Hillary’s, in my view:
- We already know that Hillary has been lying and spinning about her e-mail fiasco. All revelations since the initial revelation that she secretly maintained her own server only add evidence to what is already a certainty.
- We know Trump lies all the time too. We have seen him lie when a little research would proved that he was lying, such as his assertion that he opposed the invasion of Iraq “from the beginning.” We have seen him engage in Clinton-like lies, relying on the ignorance and gullibility of his audience, such as his excuses for not revealing his tax returns. He has also admitted that he lies for effect and for political advantage, like Harry Reid, taking the position that a lie is justifiable if it “works.” However, this lie is a step beyond any of this. The lie about his masquerading as imaginary publicity flacks to compliments himself is pathological lying, the lie of someone who lies first before considering any other measure, like, just to take a wild example, admitting wrongdoing and expressing regret.
- Trump’s juvenile and desperate lie was about a lie.
Finally this, the acid test: Can I imagine Hillary Clinton, or any prominent national leader, pretending to be their own publicity agent? Would even Hillary Clinton stoop that low? No. Of course not. Her lies are those of a calculating, legalism-trained, cynical, corrupt politician. Trump’s lies are the lies of, at best, a child, and at worst, an idiot.