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Larry Beinhart's Body Politic: The "L" Word


Last Updated: 03/29/2016 12:33 pm

Donald Trump is doing something absolutely wonderful.

I wouldn't say it outweighs his racism and xenophobia. Or, if you're considering him as a president, that relying on his promises—"I would build a great wall, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall" and "I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created"—would be like loaning him money for projects like the Trump Taj Mahal (filed chapter 11 bankruptcy), Trump Plaza Hotel (went bankrupt), Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts (bankrupt), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (also bankrupt). I note—because it is very important to Donald—that he, personally, did not go bankrupt. He just bankrupted the companies.

Now, on to his greatness. Donald Trump has used the "L" word. Yes, the "L" word, "Liar."

It was during the South Carolina debate, run by CBS. It was a perfect place to do it. The event was lively and entertaining, and the candidates could barely open their mouths without something misleading, deceptive, or an outright lie coming out.

It began with the issue of replacing Justice Scalia. John Kasich, going first, said, "If I were president we wouldn't have the divisions in the country we have today." Well, sure. But he doesn't say it's because it's Republicans who have dug in and vowed never to let Obama accomplish anything, even if it means bringing the government to a crashing halt. Then he moved to the main Republican talking point about the empty Supreme Court seat, that the people should have a voice in the selection by electing a new president. It somehow imagines that electing Obama twice does not count as the people expressing their will.

The moderator moved on to Ben Carson and asked him, since he'd recently written a book on the Constitution (that was a surprise),what the Constitution says about it. With that background, you'd figure Carson would whip out Article II, Section 2, which is simple, clear, and direct: "The President...shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate...[to] appoint...Judges of the Supreme Court." But Carson said, "The current Constitution actually doesn't address that particular situation."

On one side, we have to remember that these debates are by Republicans, for Republicans. They're more like auditions to become Fox News commentators than about governing the nation. But this debate wasn't Fox News or Fox Business. I could tell because the female journalists had normal eyelashes, not the gigantic batwings that female Fox journalists attach to their lids. This was CBS, home of "60 Minutes" and Walter Cronkite. So when Ted Cruz trotted out the next why-Obama-can't-do-what-the-Constitution-says-he-should-do Republican talking point, that it's been 80 years (mostly due to the randomness of when justices have died or become too sick to hobble to the bench) since there's been an appointment in an election year, moderator John Dickerson pointed out that Ronald Reagan had an appointee confirmed during his last year in office.

Dickerson politely apologized for interrupting, with the explanation that, "I just wanted to get the facts straight for the audience." At that point the audience booed. Loudly.

Dickerson didn't try to ruin a talking point with facts again after that. It was left to the Donald to confront prevarication and mendacity.

When Marco Rubio said George Bush "kept us safe," Trump hit him with a sack of obvious: "How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center—the World—excuse me. I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe."

Dickerson did quote what Trump said back in 2008 about the former president: "For the war, for the war, he lied, he got us into the war with lies." But the newsman wasn't doing it to say that a president had lied. It was to ask Trump if he would stand by what he said.

Trump dodged, but bluntly stated another truth: "Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. We spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East."

It was earlier in the debate that Trump had broken out the "L" word, to confront Ted Cruz with, "Why do you lie?" The prohibition on being honest about mendacity was shattered.

Rubio was next with the new way of talking. "Ted Cruz has been telling lies," Rubio said. "He lied about Ben Carson...lies about Planned Parenthood...lies about marriage."

Trump used a variant on Jeb Bush. Jeb's response is too precious not to repeat.

BUSH (calling on the moderator): He called me a liar.

DICKERSON: I understand, you're on deck, Governor.

BUSH: Also, he talked about one of my heroes, Ronald Reagan.

Not every fabrication and prevarication was called out by Trump or by anyone else. When John Kasich did his routine about how Ohio's recovery should be a model for the nation, no one mentioned that job growth in his state lagged behind the national rate, so that Kasich's policies should be counted as a minus against Obama's successes. Ted Cruz said the "nonpartisan Tax Foundation" estimated that his tax plan was a miracle that would produce "4.9 million new jobs...increase capital investment by 44 percent...lift everyone's income by double digits." No one noted that the Tax Foundation was started by the president of Standard Oil and the chairman of General Motors, and that its current chairman is an employee of the Koch Brothers. The economist R. Glenn Hubbard is also on the board. He can be seen in the documentary Inside Job explaining that derivatives—which contributed mightily to the Crash of '08—made recessions milder and refusing to acknowledge that his employment by financial institutions could be a conflict of interest. Nor did anyone even twitch when Ben Carson closed out the show with a quote from Josef Stalin that was totally made up.

One last Trumpism needs mention. Paul Krugman once wrote that "if there was an Economist's Creed, it would surely contain the affirmation 'I advocate Free Trade.'" No serious political candidate challenged it. Now Trump has, and he's advocated—like Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and yes, Bernie Sanders—vigorous protectionism.

This is not to say, in any way, that Donald Trump would make a great president. He is as quick to deny his own lies as to point out those of others. But I've been waiting decades to hear the blunt, and beautiful, "L" word in our public political debates where it so much belongs. It is a job journalists should have taken on, but haven't, and so we had to wait until they'd been trumped.

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