I know why Donald Trump lies so much. I learned it in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and Twelve Step meetings.
Back in the early days of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, I had the joy and privilege of being Fred Rogers’ partner in producing the program. Until my responsibilities for managing the company eventually required my full attention, I wrote the scripts for quite a few episodes.
Although both Fred and I were deeply versed in matters of child psychology, we depended to an enormous degree on the wisdom of the unsung heroine of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”—Margaret McFarland, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and lifelong Director of the Arsenal Child Study Center there. Her two co-founders of the Center—Benjamin Spock and Eric Erickson–went on to greater fame, but Erickson once said, “Margaret McFarland knew more than anyone in this world about families with young children.”
So I followed Fred’s lead in setting up a meeting with her each week to discuss whatever phenomenon of child development I was intending to develop in the next set of scripts I would write—sibling rivalry, separation anxiety, fear of the dark, or any of the other dramas that enliven and sometimes bedevil the preschool child. Always quietly composed, she would proceed in her soft voice to weave a rich tapestry that displayed how that particular dynamic was embedded in the interactive network of factors animating a young child’s life. More to the point of my mission, she informed and improved my tentative script ideas about how that issue might be evoked and nurtured through Fred’s TV relationship with the child.
One day I asked her why preschool children are often inclined to tell tall tales. Her first words were memorable: “Because they feel so small. Telling tall tales makes them feel bigger.”
She went on to elaborate, of course. The truth is, she continued, they are small. Everything and everyone around them is much bigger than they are, and that is often scary to them. Imagine your eyes at the level of a small child, and you realize that dogs are as big to them as a horse is to you today. Dogs knock them down. Older children take things away from them. They reach blindly onto a surface above their eye-level and pull something over onto them. Being small makes you want to be bigger.
Eventually, small children do grow bigger. They can relinquish the need to tell tall tales because they no longer are small. But we all go on telling lies into adulthood, of course. Some of them embellish the truth (resumé buffing), some are the harmless white lies that lubricate social interaction (“Love your new hairdo!”) and some others (think: perjury or libel) are not so innocent. Unlike the small child, however, in adulthood we care quite a bit about not being labeled a liar, about not getting caught in lies, about not losing our credibility on which so much depends. We lie carefully.
But there is one category of adult liar for whom the lying is so extremely important that it doesn’t even matter whether we look stupid and untrustworthy to others. I am talking about addicts. Everyone who has ever spent time in a Twelve Step meeting—I am one such—knows it is a den of liars. The difference in the meeting, of course, is that we declare, decry, and denounce our lifelong habit of lying to ourselves and others about the abuse of whatever it is that we are addicted to—alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling.
An addict’s whole life is a lie. It’s not just the lying words of denial when confronted by someone’s challenging our addictive behavior. It’s the whole web of deceptive behavior—secretly attaining what we crave, hiding our stash of addictive relief, sneaking around like a thief in the night to get a hit undetected.
Self-respect and dignity are early casualties, self-loathing is rampant, and even the disgust of observers—especially loved ones—has no capacity to prompt change. The power of addiction propels an addict forward into a future the addict knows full well, beyond any doubt, is destructive. It just doesn’t matter. Too much is never enough, and so the free-fall will continue forever—or until the addict hits “low bottom” where the pain is so intolerable that the addict surrenders and seeks a way out of the big lie of their life.
Donald Trump is a small, insecure person living out a never-ending frenzy of narcissistic self-aggrandizement wherein his addiction to lying is the principal feature. It is pathetic to all who observe it except—and this is critical—those “co-dependents” who choose to join him in his lying. He doesn’t care that everyone on earth knows his oft-repeated lie about General Pershing and pig-blood bullets is a total piece of BS. Like any addict, he’ll repeat it because it’s part of his life-lie and because there are some equally self-deceiving followers who are willing to swallow it and, in the swallowing, feel a surge of nourishment for their free-range hatred.
Many addicts who were not fortunate enough to hit low bottom on their own and turn to the truth to save themselves have been saved by an “intervention”. This is a process in which a small group of those who care about them stage a surprise party where they confront the addict with a united front of tough love that is engineered to close every door except the one to a rehabilitation unit, through which the addict is led into the possibility of recovery.
Can a President addicted to dishonesty, who is unable or unwilling to stop lying and show his capacity to recognize and honor actual truth, safely discharge the powers and duties of that office? That is a question that the Vice President and a majority of Congress must decide, pursuant to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment which gives them the power to perform an “intervention” in order to protect the United States of America from this dangerously dishonest man.
When the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), publicly questions Donald Trump’s “stability” and “competence” and says that he has put America “in peril”, one might think the Republicans would consider protecting us from him. But of course, they won’t take any such initiative.
That is why the work of Robert Mueller and his Grand Jury may be our only hope of an intervention that comes in time to prevent a catastrophic decision by this man who lives inside a sick mind and is pathologically disconnected from truth and reality. Hillary Clinton put it best: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” May Mueller’s work continue apace and be concluded swiftly.