As a child, I knew this kid who said his father was a 100-year-old astronaut. He said his dad was 100 years old because he was a kind of dumb kid; he believed that people kept growing indeterminately like sharks or crocodiles. He wanted us to believe his father was enormous, out there in space.
The lie was so ridiculous that nobody even challenged him. He kept repeating that he had a 100-year-old father who was in space. We knew it was a lie, but probably figured that whatever was going on behind the scenes to lead to a lie that weird was something we didn’t want to be mixed up with. He probably thinks the lie worked. In a way, it did.
It’s not easy for some public figures to have the truth believed, even when they produce evidence to support it. President Barack Obama had to produce a long-form copy of his birth certificate to show he had not been born in Kenya, and many of the people who were “just asking” still didn’t believe him. Hillary Clinton released years of tax returns and a full health report, and many of the people who were “just asking” still didn’t believe her finances were above board or that she wasn’t a frail old lady.
President Trump has spent the last three years or so doing the political equivalent of telling America that his dad is 100 years old and lives in outer space. And nothing has happened to him, apart from a parade of Good Sir! Monologues from pundits and politicians who seem like they’re auditioning for a community theater play called Mr. Smith Gets A Cable News Contributor Contract. His sycophants in Congress shrug; his sycophants with publishing deals write books with titles like Let Trump Be Trump. His supporters and enablers nod, or shrug, or change the subject. He’s a beneficiary of a society that spends its credulity in the wrong places.
Trump is a twice-divorced serial philanderer who doesn’t pay his contractors, so history shows us he’s not great at keeping promises. He lies about easily disprovable things, like the size of crowds and the height of buildings. When 19 women accused him of sexual misconduct, he accused them all of being liars. Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal, two alleged former mistresses, also liars. He’s lied about saying things that he said on tape. He never released his tax returns.
This week we learned that Trump, a fat old man who eats trash, dictated his doctor’s letter calling him the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” during the campaign (a letter that was about as believable as the now-infamous “Best Sex I Ever Had” Marla Maples New York Post cover). We also learned that Trump knew about hush money payments to Stormy Daniels long before he had admitted publicly to knowing about them.
Trump’s approval rating has a ceiling in the low 40s; the majority of Americans don’t think too highly of him and never will. Lots of people agree that he’s a liar. But there’s something deeply sick about a country where that many people view the word of women and non-whites with suspicion while accepting or ignoring obvious lies from loud white men.
Something tells me that the Venn diagram documenting people who threw around the #HillarysHealth hashtag and people who shrug in response to President Trump’s brazen lying is a single circle. I’ve tried to imagine how this would play out under a President Donna Trump. It’s impossible to picture it because the public would never let a woman or non-white person who lies like Trump does get as far as Trump has.
This isn’t to suggest that women should be allowed to get away with Trumpian lying. Nobody should.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders shouldn’t. She was finally cornered during a press conference this week and confronted about her credibility, given that she lies an awful lot. She told the press corps that she just repeats what she’s told (by a guy who lies all the time).
John Kelly shouldn’t get away with lying, either. But the White House chief of staff got away with smearing Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson by mischaracterizing a speech she gave during a 2015 FBI building dedication as bragging. He never apologized to her, even after video surfaced that proved what he said wasn’t true. Kelly’s lie came on the heels of President Trump lying about knowing the name of deceased soldier La David Johnson. A lie sandwich. Nobody has pressed him on it since.
On Election Day 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had confetti that looked like shards of glass loaded into party cannons at Manhattan’s Javitz Center. The plan was: Hillary was going to win, the confetti would fire, the glass shards would mean all women had won, the glass ceiling had been shattered and hooray for feminism, we did it, we killed the patriarchy forever, etc.
But President Trump has proven to be a boundary-shatterer himself. He’s broken down the wall between politics and pop culture, so now the news is culture and culture is the news and nobody can escape either one except through the sweet release of death. He’s broken down typical barriers between the decent and profane. He’s humiliated his wife, turned his favorite daughter and her dweeb of a husband into a national joke and case study in ineptitude, he’s ruined the careers of nearly everybody he brought with him.
He’s crashed through all of the things that would stop a normal, shame-experiencing person like sliding glass doors that he didn’t even know were there, barging bloodily forward and through the next, the next, the next. He’s exposed the fact that men like him get away with things, as he demands proof from others and produces none for himself.
As long as that double standard continues to exist, men like Trump will have virtually free reign to create their own planets. The rest of us can watch through the glass ceiling.