If you have noted — and possibly pointed out to a Trump supporter — that his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was lying when he said Trump’s inauguration drew the broadest audience in history, period, then Trump has you right where he wants you. Bloomberg columnist Tyler Cowen explains why focusing on facts ignores what’s really going on, and the real reasons Trump’s staff is lying.
Cowen points out that some hardened leaders use loyalty tests that ask their followers to go against conscience. Spicer and Kellyanne Conway are passing their loyalty tests with flying colors.
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing…That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates…and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
But there’s even more to it than that.
When Trump tells an obvious lie, we, his detractors, are quick to disavow it. His supporters, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. That’s because, Cowen notes, there are two kinds of lying. The first, which he calls low-status, is simply saying something is true when it isn’t. Trump and his surrogates seem very comfortable with this type.
The second is what Cowen says diplomats and politicians and lawyers use: high-status lies. These are not outright lies but instead purposefully leave lots of room for interpretation.
These higher-status lies are not Trump’s style, and thus many of his supporters, with some justification, see him as a man willing to voice important truths…For one thing, a lot of Americans, especially many Trump supporters, are more comfortable with that style than with the “fancier” lies they believe they are hearing from the establishment.
Now you know why trying to convince Trump supporters that Hillary Clinton was NOT a liar failed. They didn’t bother fact-checking her words when they could clearly hear the lawyer-speak shiftiness in her voice.
Still wondering why Trump stood in front of the country during his inauguration and painted a ginned up picture of “American carnage?” Or why his followers see Trump and his third wife as paragons of virtue, Christian in both thought and deed, despite Trump not properly quoting a bible verse? Or why they believed it was the Clinton Foundation that was corrupt, when it’s the Trump Foundation that is under fraud investigations?
Cowen says Trump asks his followers to ignore such cognitive dissonance for the same reason the man sits back while his surrogates lie to the press and public.
…the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.
And that’s why Trump made no effort in his first speech as president to unite the country, or to heal the wounds of the campaign, or to promise to work across the aisle. That time, Trump wasn’t lying.