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All I Want for Christmas Is the Truth

“Tell the truth and shame the Devil,” goes the old saying, but I have a better idea: Tell the truth and shame Trump.

A television displays President Trump, the morning after he was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 2019, in New York City.

Winter Solstice has passed. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are upon us, and in the giving spirit of the season, Donald Trump has bestowed upon us a dollop of gibberish so elemental in its purity that birds tumbled from the trees for miles around.

“I never understood wind,” said the president of the United States on Saturday. “I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody. I know it is very expensive. They are made in China and Germany mostly, very few made here, almost none, but they are manufactured, tremendous — if you are into this — tremendous fumes and gases are spewing into the atmosphere.”

Trump was talking about wind power and how it kills birds… which it does, to a comparatively small degree. Wind turbines don’t kill nearly as many birds as, say, buildings such as the huge glass towers Trump likes to see his name on, or, for that matter, your average outdoor housecat. “Twit! Twit!” chirped the birds as they scuffled for purchase against the hot nonsense buffeting from Trump’s gob, but he wasn’t finished yet.

“You know we have a world, right?” continued Trump. “So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right spewing, whether it is China or Germany, is going into the air.”

And so much for the birds, and knowing we have a world, right, and how tiny that world is compared to the universe, and the spewing fumes of China and Germany, and pretty much everything else.

Trump said this in front of students (MAGA-hatted millennial conservative students, to be sure, but students nonetheless). Had any previous president spoken like this before an operating camera, to students or anyone else, the markets would have crashed the following Monday and the entire nation would be plunged into a vortex of existential terror. “That dude has the nuclear codes,” people would whisper to each other, and to themselves.

But it’s Trump, so it was just another Saturday. The vacuously abnormal has become our national resting face as we endure another budget of rubbish from that small fraction of a man. Why not? Something very much like this latest spelunk into the void of his mind has happened during every one of the 1,653 days that have passed since he rode a golden escalator down to announce his presidential intentions and painted the gilded walls with anti-immigrant bigotry.

Everything Trump said on Saturday was a lie, or at least half a lie (we do have a world, and the world is tiny compared to the universe), but nobody called him on it as he spoke. Perhaps they were too mesmerized by the beat poetry of the damned he was peddling from the podium.

1,653 days since Trump’s campaign commenced. More than 15,000 lies since he took office, coming at a clip that has often exceeded 30 lies per day. It’s a remarkable achievement if you step back and contemplate it, especially since he doesn’t appear to put any effort into it at all. Ever watch Larry Bird shoot free throws during practice back in the day? It was as if someone had buttered the rim. Lying is like that with Trump, only easier. For him.

“The concept of truth is getting a bad rap these days,” wrote Truthout’s Maya Schenwar in a recent email to the readers of this publication. “But even many Americans who don’t like Trump have been throwing up their hands and assuming that ‘nothing is true.’ Indeed, maybe this route is easier for some of us because — in this age of climate crisis, ceaseless war and rampant injustice — the truth is deeply painful. It’s simpler to just not go there.”

This point is underscored by the recent Washington Post report on the many lies that have buttressed the war in Afghanistan for three presidential administrations and counting. Thousands of lives lost and ruined, trillions of dollars squandered over 18 years, and nothing to show for it except the money made by the war profiteers. If Trump loses next November and a new president takes the oath the following January, the war will be waiting for that new president like an infinitely patient, infinitely lethal, infinitely expensive tar pit.

It’s simpler to just not go there, and when the Post report came out, that is precisely what most everyone did. Reaction to the revelations was about on par with folks hearing a weather forecast on the radio they’d already seen on TV. Of course, went the consensus refrain. We already knew that. Dealing with the trauma of the truth did not happen in this instance. It was simpler, and far less painful, to just not go there.

In 1971, The New York Times published excerpts from what became known as “The Pentagon Papers.” These official government documents revealed that presidents going all the way back to Eisenhower had made lying about the war in Vietnam a matter of policy. Worse, the documents revealed that the government knew the war had been unwinnable for years, but persisted in fighting it in order to save face. That the war was also wildly profitable for the “defense” industry went unmentioned, but was as true then as it is today.

When the Pentagon Papers dropped, the outrage from the public and the news media was immediate and thunderous, despite the fact that by 1971, it was widely known that the war in Vietnam was a hopeless endeavor. Even with the weight of the Pentagon Papers pressing down on policymakers, the war ground on for another four long years. Such is the power of lies.

Now? We shrug, and I’m not sure our collective reaction to the revelation that the ongoing offensive against Afghanistan was based in another raft of lucrative war lies would have been different under some other president. We have been subsumed by lies for far longer than Donald Trump has been alive. The country reacted in fury to the war lies of 1971. Some 48 years later, for a variety of gruesome reasons, the eerily similar Afghanistan war lies barely make a dent.

Trump did not invent lying, any more than he invented feral capitalism and the climate catastrophe it has spawned. He is a front man for the triumph of profitable lies, the latest of many front men, and the lack of reaction to the Post report shows that triumph is almost complete. That he is so shamelessly vivid in his lies demonstrates the comfort of the liars he speaks for. They barely have to try anymore.

“Tell the truth and shame the Devil,” goes the old saying, but I have a better idea: Tell the truth and shame the president. Channel your inner Whitman and sound the truth from the rooftops of the world. No more shrugs, no more We already knew that responses to the intolerable and the unconscionable. Confront the lies with fury, and when they come cloaked in Trumpian gibberish, tear that cloak asunder.

They want to wear us down. Do not let them. Lies have astonishing power, never more so than when they go uncontested. If we are to be free of this man and all that he represents, the truth is our most formidable weapon.

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