Let's be clear about Donald Trump's decision to bow out of the presidential race. I don't buy his "I need to spend more time with my business empire" line. I sincerely believe that his change of direction only came when 'The Donald' bought a proper mirror recently and for the first time in years, he took a long and hard look at himself on it. He freaked out. Got the shock of his life. I mean, have you seen the guy's barnet? It defies logic, let alone gravity.
Alternatively, we could say that Obama's latest double slam dunk trumped the Trumpster. First the White House's incumbent produced his long-coveted birth certificate. And on top of that he even showed a clip of the moment when he first came into this world to a jam-packed audience at the recent correspondents' dinner. Actually, no, that was just a scene from 'The Lion King'. But, heck, these days, guys like Donald will believe anything.
The second blow to DT's presidential aspirations, was Bin Laden's death. Just as Obama's ratings were on the slide, into the picture steps the most wanted terrorist on earth and voilà, as if boosted by a shot of political Viagra, up go the points. I imagine a conversation between Obama and Trumpsie where the former tells the latter: "Take that, buddy, that's how you win back voters. And here's my barber's number. Don't worry, it's on me."
This whole birth certificate issue, though, is not to be scoffed at. Reading recently a terrific essay on lies in Prospect magazine by the philosopher Julian Baggini, I realised how gullible we, human beings, can be sometimes and how far the consequences of a well-fabricated lie can reach. I also came to the conclusion, like Baggini, I think, that being mendacious is part of our DNA, a trait that occasionally comes to our aid in difficult situations. An uncomfortable truth, I know, but a truth, nonetheless.
Baggini doesn't just write about lying, but also about authenticy. If telling porkies is complex, he avers, so is truth. At some point he states that "I could promise right now to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is that sometimes telling the truth is not the point, telling the whole truth is impossible, and there may be things other than the truth that matter too." That's why Obama refused to be part of the birth certificate charade. Because it wasn't about convincing US citizens that he was one of them, but not wanting to become an easy target for the Republicans. First, it's the certificate, and then, what else? Show us proof that Sasha and Malia are your real daughters? Even with Bin Laden dead, the opposition still wants to see the photos. This is not about verisimilitude, but about scapegoating.
Julian provides plenty of good examples of how truth and lies cohabit in modern society. There's the 'estate agent truth', a concept with which some of us will be familiar. The 'expert' highlights the property's virtues, whilst keeping its flaws well hidden. I particularly liked Bagginni's explanation about the existence of two codes when dealing with the law: a legalistic one and a moral one. What is remarkable is that, away from the courts, in real life we still prefer to use the legalistic way of thinking more often than we'd like to believe. Again, this is the bane of politicians everywhere: what am I permitted to say and how will it affect my career?
Where I disagree with Julian is in his defense of Bill Clinton. Baggini writes "That helps explain why one of the most famous 'lies' of recent decades is not a lie at all, but objectionable nonetheless: Bill Clinton’s famous 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.' As many people have pointed out, to a Southern Baptist, this could indeed be interpreted as being strictly true. 'Sexual relations' is, in many parts, a euphemism for coitus, not any other sexual acts between two people. If this is so, then Clinton was accurate only in the legal sense, not in Williams’s",
Er... well, no. Clinton was the president of the US of A. He was not just accountable to voters in Arkansas but also to the American electorate as a whole. What he did in the White House with Monica 'Blue Dress' Lewinsky was sex. Whether it was just petting, oral intercourse, or full-blown-on-the-desk coitus, it was sex. He wasn't just being insincere, he lied.
However, I do agree with Julian that that there are a number of reasons why lying is not always wrong and why telling always the truth can get us in trouble. Can you imagine one of the contestants in the US Apprentice pointing at Donald Trump's quiff and shouting out: You, unruly, rebellious tuft. You are not part of the team. In fact, you've let the team down, or rather left it behind. I'm sorry, but, you're fired!
Next Post: ‘Living in a Bilingual World’, to be published on Wednesday 25th May at 11:59pm (GMT)