Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: A trump of lies


In an interview with the Associated Press this week, President Trump claimed to have “a natural instinct for science” that gives him insight into complex matters such as climate change. As evidence of that ability, he cited his go-to guy on such issues, his uncle John, who was a professor in electrical engineering at MIT.

No, Trump admitted, he had never discussed such matters with John Trump, who died in 1985. But you see, they were related, so .... yeah, he knows science; it’s in his DNA. He can tell a hoax from the real thing.

Such bragging isn’t a surprise. Quite the contrary. At various times, Trump has claimed to know military matters better than his generals, economic matters better than Nobel Prize winners, diplomacy better than his diplomats and the law better than legal scholars. In his view, his brain is just naturally so much better than everyone else’s that it dominates whatever field he wants to pronounce upon. So his claim to know climate science better than climate scientists is to be expected.

In reading the transcript of that interview, however, I was struck once again by the number of lies that Trump tells in every conversation. In this one, he lied about his relationships with Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen, he lied about the Russia investigation, he lied about never discussing a pardon for Paul Manafort, he lied about Russian hackers actually working on behalf of Hillary Clinton during the campaign .... he lied lied lied. He talked a flock of lies, a swarm of lies, a herd of lies, a school of lies. And if a group of crows is a murder and a group of owls is a parliament, I think we need a term for a large conglomeration of lies. In honor of our 45th president, I  propose that “a trump of lies” fills the need nicely.

In fact, if you think of Trump’s lies not as individual mistruths, but as a unit, you begin to understand that there might indeed be a perverted kind of instinctual science behind Trump’s strategy. 

In nature, why do birds fly in flocks and fish swim in schools? According to biologists, behaviors such as swarming and schooling evolved as a powerful defense mechanism against predators. They provide a “confusion effect,” overwhelming an attacker’s senses with so many potential targets that it can’t pick one. Related theories include the “odd prey effect,” in which a would-be predator gets frustrated because all these targets look alike, and the “dilution effect,” in which the odds of any one individual getting targeted decrease as its flock or herd increases.

Applied to this situation, one or two major lies in a speech or interview would be easy to pick out. That’s where the media attention would focus; that’s where opponents would find targets for attack. But confronted by a swarm of mistruths -- again, a trump of lies -- everybody focuses on a different lie and none gets anymore attention than any other. In a bizarre way, each additional lie that Trump tells becomes an additional source of protection for all the other lies that he’s told.

It leads me to the inevitable conclusion that either by instinct or strategy, but probably by instinct, Trump is a flocking liar.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.