Wanted: older male, preferably white, who can lie and order others to kill with impunity.
Stripped of all the puffy embroidery, that might be considered a fairly precise job ad for the president of the United States. (I challenge you to disabuse me and, more importantly, the history of this.)
Don’t kid your (pollyannaish) self: apart from the colour of his skin, for eight years, Barack Obama fitted the description to the letter. As the redoubtable writer and iconoclast I F Stone once cautioned, all governments lie. De facto, heads of state lie, too.
Obama has certainly ordered others to kill a lot and often in the parochial and subjective name of “national security”. And I have no doubt that Obama has fibbed in the name of national security, albeit with a touch more eloquence and command of English than his book-challenged successor, Donald Trump.
Lying on the Richter scale
Still, I wonder what Stone would have made of Trump’s facility to lie with such evident glee and abandon. I also wonder what Stone would have made of the corporate media’s frenzied, hyperbolic response to Trump’s lies, since it has forgotten, surprisingly, Stone’s sage adage that governments – whatever their nature or politics – are genetically conditioned to lie.
I suspect that Stone would probably have agreed that on the lie-Richter scale, Trump has already proved that he is amply qualified to become an accomplished president.
I suspect that Stone would also have agreed that soon after his gaudy inauguration, Trump will prove equally willing and adept at ordering others to kill, since that’s the “presidential” thing to do, and to do repeatedly on every continent where, lately, mostly Muslims and Arabs live and subsequently die.
Despite his well-established and in-demand presidential qualities, much of the “elite” US media has dismissed Trump as being transparently unqualified to be president and, almost universally, finds his chronic, unrepentant lying – not the pending killing, mind you – deeply upsetting to their suddenly fragile psyches.
Not so long ago, these apparently lie-allergic media titans sold a war armed with the following facts' that, weaved together, constituted the 'broad consensus' - that's a euphemism for the truth - about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Over the past 18 months or so, the opinion pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, to name but two of many, have been a spigot of largely white, male columnists trying to out-duel one another with feats of 800-word virtuosity brimming with contempt, vitriol and ridicule as they excoriate Trump’s ignorance, narcissism and, above all, his habitual lying.
It’s not, I think, Trump’s lying that many of these establishment writers find so grating, it’s Trump’s unabashed vulgarity and amnesty from any tangible consequence for all his lying that’s singularly infuriating and offensive.
Lies, they understand, are an accepted part of governing a “superpower”. But the lies must be couched in a veneer of respectability and believability that’s so attractive in more polished politicians such as, say, George Bush No 1 and No 2.
Trump, on the other hand, is too profane, garish and illiterate for their delicate liking. Hence, his lies are too naked, too nasty, and too far beyond the pale.
So these elite news organisations and columnists have been preoccupied with pointing a big, accusatory finger at Trump and his dim, malleable followers for a torrent of ugly, combustible lies.
The necessary corollary to this is that, predictably, much of the corporate media spares itself the rod for continuing to fashion the empty, discredited political framework that permits Trump to lie with such signature confidence and immunity that it routinely rails against with such righteous indignation.
Mainstream media’s historic culpability
The amnesia is convenient. While it may be exculpatory and comforting, it shouldn’t absolve the establishment press of its demonstrable culpability.
The US media would do well to remember its undisputed role not only in regurgitating, but also in providing their impressive imprimatur to a litany of lies that led a nation and a coalition of the gullible into calamitous, never-ending wars that have caused so much death and suffering to so many, in so many places.
Not so long ago, these apparently lie-allergic media titans sold a war armed with the following “facts” that, weaved together, constituted the “broad consensus” – that’s a euphemism for the truth – about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Remember? Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction. Saddam is poised to deploy those weapons quickly and thus destroy a lot of Westerners within minutes.
Saddam is a rogue madman and the already onerous sanctions aren’t working, so to liberate Iraq we reluctantly have to destroy Saddam and a bit of Iraq along the way to Baghdad.
We prefer to call this “regime change” rather than war. But whatever we call it, we can assure you that it will be cheap, fast, easy and our side will, of course, win.
Almost every ounce of it was a state-sanctioned lie.
There were laudable and lonely mainstream media sceptics, but they were quickly tarred as appeasers or apologists by the sober, realpolitik-spouting “experts” in crisp suits and ties, working hand in glove with high-profile media allies who treated their every word as a slightly abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments.
That lie brigade charged into war with obdurate certainty about the motives and legality of its cause and the inevitable outcome of its supposedly tiny, perfect war.
Now that same alliance of scribes and experts is denouncing the US’ liar-in-chief with a string of unflattering charges that it could, arguably, just as well aim at itself. It won’t because the brigade isn’t particularly fond of introspection, let alone self-flagellation.
Ironically, the establishment media’s lies about the Iraq war had the unintended effect of draining whatever faint faith Americans had in responsible government and an independent fourth estate – institutions it insists are under existential attack by Trump.
If, in this gaping vacuum, Trump has adroitly engineered a “post-truth” world where facts are irrelevant and lies morph with lightning speed into the “truth”, the callow president-elect didn’t do this alone, nor was he the first. He had help.
Indeed, the fault for Trump and his lies is found not in the stars, but in other, more obvious terrestrial places.
Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.