Although it might be a little against the grain to say it, Donald Trump was quite possibly one of the most honest politicians that ever held office. Yes indeed, according to the New York Times he has told more than 36 thousands lies during his presidency, yes that is true. That probably makes him one of the biggest liars to ever hold office. Please bare with.
Trump stood in front of any camera that would contain him, and spew out endless lies at a surreal depth and pace. And yet, with the unfathomable tenacity of his grotesque and gratuitous lies, a clarity cut through in spite of him.
Trump committed all of his crimes publicly, in broad daylight, on TV and on social media, on the public record. When he wanted Russia to interfere in the US elections, he simply stood up at a press conference and said so. When he handed over state secrets to the Russian government, he had pictures taken at the Oval Office with Russian intelligence. When he took bribes from businesses and governments, it was via his own company which he refused to relinquish. When he packed the Supreme Court with a Justice who could steal the election for him, he told the press exactly that. When he incited insurrection he told his supporters to “go down to the Capitol and fight!”. It was that clear, that easy, open and shut.
All this was an outlandish change of pace from the accepted archetype of corrupt politicians. They normally say one thing to the public and do the opposite behind closed doors, make back room deal with brown envelopes and secret document. When they get discovered they are taken down by scandal. Not so with Trump. He exploded that model all away and did his corruption and crime in full view.
But it wasn’t only his own actions that Trump was blatant about. He also lit up some of America’s dark sides in nauseating frankness. Border controls and limiting migration was not for any logical reasons but because “hombres” and “rapists”. But migrants from Norway were fine. Those from “shithole countries” are the problem. The sheer ugliness of these words were far beyond any dog-whisle, and could not be masked.
Selling weapons to dictators was simply for money and troops in Iraq were only there for oil. There was no attempt at narrative or a story of heroism, no sugar-coating or lacquer. Just the plane facts that everyone knew but all these adults in the room avoided at all costs. Trump broke these disturbing taboos with relish and with glee.
Trump lied all the time, compulsively, even when it was against his interest. But much like in the Theatre of the Absurd, they absurdity was an illustration. It uncovered a chasm with a mirror he held up to America, and to much of the Western world. The Western world and liberal democracies are only as good as the paper they are written on. Only as long as that paper is respected. What do we do when it isn’t respected?
Now that Trump is gone — absolutely good riddance. He should be prosecuted and face justice for his crimes. In the meantime, there are many other leaders in Europe and North America who’s scope of abuse may be similar, but deceptions more effective. The rest of us need to wonder, what will we do now? How will we treat leaders who are less obvious, less grotesque? If we are used to Trump making it easy by lying all of the time, how do we as citizens hold leaders accountable who only lie some of the time?
This harrowing experience has taught us that citizens must be vigilant for the fate of democracy, and that evidence-based truth in our society must be defended. That commitment must not stop now, it should only accelerate and become more sophisticated, nuanced, complex and effective. Organised citizens must set the standard for democracy and stand up for it.
Piece written by Omri Preiss, Managing Director at Alliance4Europe