“All Lies and Jest”
On December 7 there appeared in the New York Times an opinion piece by Thomas Friedman entitled “Say What, Al, Ivanka, and Donald?”. Friedman’s essay referenced a meeting held the day before between Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Al Gore, and expressed hope that the meeting would provide an “opening for lessons in climate change”. Gore apparently came out of the meeting describing it as a “lengthy and very productive session”, and stated that the climate change discussion with the incoming administration was likely to be continued. Now I’m far from prescient (If I was, I would have to believe that I would have a lot more money than I do) but my immediate reaction to all this was: “what a crock”. I just couldn’t believe that people as intelligent as Tom Friedman and Al Gore could be taken in by this huckster. And then the very next day the following headline appeared in the Times: “Choice For E.P.A. Has Led Battle To Constrain It; Climate Change Denial; Oklahoman Scott Pruitt Has Deep Ties to Oil and Gas Industry”.
Now I know that we’re supposed to keep an open mind about Trump, but our minds shouldn’t be so open that our brains spill out of our heads and drip on to the floor (credit for that line goes to Marvin Zimmerman, my old philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo). So let’s get something straight here: you can’t believe a word Donald Trump says. What he wants is for everyone to sing his praises, and he will tell you whatever it is he thinks will result in your telling the world good things about him. During the primary campaign Trump met privately with a group of influential Hispanic Republicans, who had asked for the meeting to try to assuage their concerns about his incendiary comments about Hispanics. And assuaged they were; many came out of the meeting stating that they were favorably impressed by the candidate and reassured by Trump’s promises to tone down his rhetoric. Of course, the next day at a rally the Donald was back to bellowing about the great wall that Mexico would pay for. The Hispanic leaders from the earlier meeting were shocked and appalled. What happened? Well, what happened was the next day Trump was in front of a different audience that wanted to hear different things, and the fact that he was telling the rally attendees something that was the polar opposite of what he had previously told the group of Hispanic Republicans did not discomfit President-elect Trump one whit.
And so I say this to the Tom Friedmans and Al Gores of the world: if you want to rely on something Donald Trump has told you, especially in private, you better have it in writing, signed, bonded, notarized, and memorialized with the king’s royal seal itself. Better yet, don’t take the meeting in the first place; it’s pointless. He’ll just tell you what it is that he thinks you want to hear, and the next day he’ll have completely forgotten whatever it is that he told you, but he’ll remember that you praised him for saying it, which will serve only to further fuel his narcissism. By the way, the title of this essay comes from a line from the song “The Boxer” by Paul Simon: “All lies and jest; still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”. With Trump, “disregarding the rest” could be fatal to what’s left of our liberal democracy.