From B.S. Blurbs to Lying Leaders

Before beginning Mark Leibovich’s This Town, a Washington tell-all from a political insider, I skimmed a few reviews. As with most books, the reviews were mixed; some people praised Leibovich’s relentless wit, others questioned if the average American would even care about his gossip.

The publisher’s marketing team would never publicize these negative reviews, and that’s ok. It’s their job to promote the book. The section that highlights reviews rightfully draws raving one-liners from only the positive ones.

However, sometimes acceptable cherry-picking of certain reviews takes a deceitful turn. Leibovich’s praise page, rather than being filled with quotes from approving readers, was a butchered and reconstructed list of out-of-context quotes taken from negative reviews. Because of this, my first impression of this book was that it was deliberately spewing falsehoods and exploited its position as a trusted, professionally published book for self-serving interests.

My eyes flickered back and forth between Carlos Lozada’s original review, his words in the context he intended, and the distorted construction of his ideas on the inside cover of the book.

Lozada’s original comment was: “Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine and a former reporter at The Washington Post (where we overlapped briefly but never met), is a master of the political profile, with his subjects revealing themselves in the most unflattering light. That talent becomes something of a crutch in “This Town,” which offers more a collection of profiles and scenes than a rich narrative….This Town is as insidery as Game Change, but with lower stakes, and it lacks the historical import of Woodward’s deep dives into the White House.”

What the book gave us was: “[Leibovich] is a master of the political profile….This Town is as insidery as Game Change.”

I was outraged–but why? After all, it’s only a short blurb on the inside cover of a book published in 2013. Manipulation for the purpose of profit should not have surprised me. It should have been a trivial disappointment, but I couldn’t shake the gnawing feelings of resentful distrust.

Sitting there, seething, I eventually realized the root of my frustration. It was not the little lies from a book; it was how it reminded me of the big lies from the mouth of the man charged to lead our nation. My anger over an out-of-context quote shouldn’t be able to transfer over to a fiery rage toward the president of the United States, but that’s the world we’re now living in.

Over the summer, the Washington Post and the New York Times made their latest updates to the running catalogue of every misleading or false claim Trump has told publicly since taking the oath of office. The New York Times provide a color-coded calendar showing every day our president told a public lie or falsehood. (His first 40 days are colored in various shades of liar-liar-pants-on-fire red.) On August 25th, the Washington Post tallied up Trump’s total deceptions to 1,094. As of November 13, the total is 1,628. The article outlines every false utterance paired with a detailed explanation of why exactly Trump’s words are B.S. A graphic welcomes all who visit the “365 days of Trump’s claim” page, showing that this July the number of documented lies Trump has told in a single day reached an all time high, with over 50 claims being made on July 28 about the stability of Obamacare.

So what happens when Trump, arguably holding the most powerful position in the nation, makes blatant lying expected, normal?

Culturally, our foundational sense of trust is rattled. If a strong social order is built on truth, Trump’s lies have weakened the stability of our societal constructions — especially politics. Our political system has become increasingly polarizing. It is difficult to effectively engage in political discourse: some people fervently clinging to either side, acting as if our nation’s governance is more of a game to be won rather than a collective, compromising effort; others become jaded trying to navigate the muddy, untrustworthy waters of  our nation’s political climate. Some people get so frustrated or develop such a deep-seeded distrust that they stop engaging at all, opting to ignore the trainwreck rather than looking on helplessly.

Growing rate of these mindsets only hurts our chances of taking substantial steps toward political progress, but the general psychological impacts are damaging in a larger context as well. By Trump effectively normalizing lying, it generates a culture in which truth is subjective, distrust is our default, and manipulation is a mild offense. This trend of dishonesty has become so normal, I more often hear talk of it in the context of a joke rather than as a productive conversation.

President Trump’s frequent lies are nothing new, but that does not mean we should normalize them. Little lies and blurbs on the inside cover of a book published 5 years ago won’t hurt us, but Trump’s ethical assault is unprecedented and dangerous on a nationwide scale. We must keep ferociously caring about this news, even if it has become “old news”.