The ease with which both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton appeal to falsehoods is matched only by their clumsiness. It isn’t just that the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees are habitual liars but that they are simply inept practitioners of the craft. No one has to dig into the annals of history to support this contention. You only had to watch a selection of moments on the Sunday morning news programs to understand the full measure of these candidates’ compulsive need to distort the truth.
Sunday’s cavalcade of mendacities began when Hillary Clinton demonstrated precisely why she is so allergic to holding press conferences: she just can’t help herself. “Director [James] Comey said my answers were truthful and consistent with what I said, with what I told the American people,” Hillary Clinton told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. That’s not what the FBI director said. In fact, he said precisely the opposite.
Comey made it clear that Clinton had been deliberately misleading the American people since the moment her email scandal was exposed. In a deadly press conference that will likely haunt Clinton for the remainder of her political career, Comey noted that Clinton’s repeated contention that “no information in Clinton’s emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them” was not true.
That’s not putting words in his mouth, either. “Secretary Clinton said there was not anything marked classified on her emails, either sent or received,” Representative Trey Gowdy asked Comey at a subsequent House investigation. “Was that true?”
“That’s not true,” Comey replied.
He went on to add that Clinton’s contention that she had used just one mobile device for her “homebrew” server was also a lie. The FBI director observed that Clinton’s claim that she had turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department was inaccurate. Finally, he confirmed that Clinton’s assertion that her attorneys had read every email individually and vetted them for sensitive information was a falsehood.
Clinton will not face criminal charges for her role in this misdeed, and the FBI director did give her political cover by repeatedly insisting (if dubiously) that she had not committed a prosecutable offense. Why, then, does Clinton feel obliged to insist that Comey had said something he didn’t?
Not to be outdone, of course, Donald Trump also could not help but carelessly mislead the public on Sunday. In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump indulged again in his bizarre habit of abasing himself before Vladimir Putin when he went about excusing the Russian autocrat of his decision to invade and annex sovereign Ukrainian territory in 2014.
“He’s not going into Ukraine,” Trump said of Putin. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine; you can mark it down.”
“Well, he’s already there,” ABC host George Stephanopoulos countered.
“Well, he’s there in a certain way,” Trump replied.
In the ensuing word typhoon Trump conjured up to extricate himself from another mess of his own making, the GOP nominee conceded that Putin had absorbed Crimea into the Russian Federation following military intervention. Trump may not view that as much of a concession, though, as he later insisted that the Crimean people were thrilled by Anschluss. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said. “So with all these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.”
In 2015, Trump addressed a conference of foreign policy professionals via video link in which he acknowledged the invasion of the Crimean peninsula and the subsequent slow motion proxy invasion of Eastern Ukraine by Russian regular forces and volunteers.
“You made a lot of headlines with Russia this week,” Stephanopoulos later said. “What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
“I have no relationship with Putin,” Trump replied. This admission contradicts a 2013 interview with MSNBC host Thomas Roberts in which Trump insisted, “I do have a relationship [with Putin].” On Sunday, Trump insisted that he would not know Vladimir Putin “from Adam,” and that they’ve never met or interacted. Except that in 2014 at a speech at the National Press Club, Trump gushed over his relationship with Putin. “I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently, and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin,” he said. “I got to know him very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes.’”
What is the point of all these lies? For Clinton, they are to find exculpation for her reckless behavior. For Trump, they are to telegraph fealty to the Russian government, as well as to seek his own personal aggrandizement. For both, lies come easily to their lips. One of these two people will be elected to the White House. They will become role models for America’s children, and they will guide the course of our national culture. What will that culture look like four years from now?