Column

Donald Trump asks this columnist for advice, and that's no lie

Donald Trump has been reaching out to me every day, and I’m not lying. All right, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but so what?

Hillary Clinton, I never hear from. Not a peep out of her. But Trump wants my advice on how to handle the big Monday night debate.

“Friend,” he emailed the other day, because that’s how close we are, “I’m turning to the very people who have humbled me and gotten me to where I am today…YOU…I want to make you proud, Friend.”

I don’t know how I got on Trump’s mailing list, but believe me, I’m grateful to him for teaching all of us that reality is negotiable and truthfulness is a wasted virtue.

What a relief.

We’re barely out of diapers when parents start telling us we cannot tell a lie. We go to school and teachers warn us not to cheat.

Living with a moral compass can be stressful and exhausting, and where does it get you in the end?

Athletes on steroids prosper. Corporate fraud, which is always in the headlines, reaps ridiculously huge salaries and bonuses.

Then there’s this election, in which two people who have trouble squaring with the American public – including one who doesn’t even pretend to try – are in line to rule the free world.

It’s time we told our children the truth. It’s OK to tell a lie, and even better to tell lots of them.

I feel liberated. Trust me, as Trump might say without irony. I haven’t felt this good since I graduated magna cum laude from Stanford and Harvard, won Olympic gold medals in archery and the bobsled and invented the laptop.

Donald Trump wants my advice?

It’s pretty simple.

Do not, under any circumstances, tell the truth about anything.

He has to stick with what’s working.

He should continue to say he was “totally against” the war in Iraq, even though he wasn’t.

He should stick with his claim that he watched thousands of Muslims celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, even though it didn’t happen.

He needs to keep saying Clinton started the rumor that President Obama was born in Kenya, even though she didn’t.

He should look us all straight in the eye and insist that the unemployment rate could be as high as 42%, crime is on the rise, he can’t release his tax returns because he’s being audited, and we may have more than 30 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

These are all wildly bonkers claims, and they’re accompanied by more flip-flops than you’d find on the Venice boardwalk in July. But you can’t argue with the results, and the more time Trump spends making things up, the less time he has to devote to policy details.

We are living in post-truth America. I have no doubt that on a perfectly sunny day at 12 noon, somewhere between 20-30% of registered voters could be made to believe it’s midnight, if only because they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

In his personal correspondence with me, Trump asked if I could take a debate-preparation survey to help him figure out how to handle Hillary.

Sure, why not?

I clicked on the survey and one of the questions jumped out at me. Trump wanted to know if I think he should “contrast his tell-it-like-it-is attitude with Hillary’s running list of lies, corruption, and deceit?”

Two words, Friend:

Absolutely not.

Clinton has definitely had her own issues with the truth — the biggest whopper may involve the claim that her public comments about her email issues were backed up by the FBI director — but why give her any credit at all?

PolitiFact, which has been keeping a tally, says Trump’s statements were found to be true 4% of the time versus Clinton’s 22%. His statements were ranked mostly true 11% of the time to Clinton’s 28%. They were half true 14% of the time to Clinton’s 22%. They were mostly false 17% of the time to Clinton’s 15%. They were false 35% of the time to Clinton’s 11%. And they were what PolitiFact calls “Pants on Fire” false 18% of the time to Clinton’s 2%.

So Trump has a commanding lead in the deception derby, and if you can make stuff up as often as he has and still be in a tight race, why not double down?

I checked with my Cal State L.A. students last week, and they weren’t the least bit surprised by the level of deception on the campaign trail.

“Both of them are liars, you know what I mean?” one student said.

Another student got right to the heart of the matter. He said for many people, truth is beside the point.

“People are going to believe what they think,” he said.

Yes, and in the dark galaxy of digitalized reality and crackpot punditry, it’s easy to find other people who think the same way you do.

Pamela Meyer, author of “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception,” calls lying “a cooperative act.” What she means is that a lie has no power unless someone buys into it.

We all deceive, she said, beginning with the baby who fakes crying to get a reaction. Before you know it the baby grows up and insists he did not have sexual relations with that woman.

“I’ve felt for a long time that we have a deception epidemic,” Meyer told me, “but it seems to me to be out of control.”

Ever hear that song “My Sweet Hunk o’ Trash” by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday?

“You lie about your youth,” Holiday sings.

To which Armstrong protests:

“I don’t lie, baby. I’m just careless with the truth.”

Well, Mr. Trump, you asked, I answered.

Be careless Monday night and thereafter, Friend.

Thanks to you, it can no longer be debated.

The truth is overrated.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com

Get more of Steve Lopez's work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez

To read the article in Spanish, click here

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
70°