Some political facts, alternative facts, and the art of the lie

Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway helped tie the Trump administration to a stupid and silly lie about inaugural crowd sizes. If they want to govern better, they'd better learn to lie better.

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Sean Spicer (Screenshot CNN) Kellyanne Conway (Wikipedia CCO)

WASHINGTON, January 22, 2017 — Dear Sean and Kellyanne: We’ve all been watching with great interest as the most unusual—dare we say “unique”?—administration in the last hundred years picks up the mantle of government.

Half of America loves or wants to love you, half hates you, and half isn’t sure. (It’s Washington; don’t expect the numbers to add up.)

Your first weekend has been gruesome. I thought President Trump said he’d bring a skilled team to town, but you’ve acted like rank amateurs. Washington takes lying seriously. It’s been a specialty of the place since Honest Abe said, “you like your habeas corpus? You can keep your habeas corpus.” Our government is filled with masters of the craft.


At last, America’s president uses the term ‘Islamic terrorism’



Then you come along and stink up the place. It might be charming in Iowa or at Sunday school to be bad at lying, but in Washington, it’s just embarrassing. Yes, you’re new to government, but your clumsiness this weekend has been excruciating to watch.

Please, take some advice from one who wishes President Trump a hugely successful presidency and a landslide win in four years. Most of America wants Trump to succeed, except those who hate him so badly they’d prefer to see their own children, nay, even their own genitalia devoured by rats if it would show what a horrible human being Trump is.

But we’re afraid that a nasty, messy implosion is much more likely.

You really need to up your game. Here are some rules that might help you with that.

  1. Don’t lie. Simple rule, but we realize government must keep secrets and lie to us for our own good. You know how bad things are but don’t want to hurt us, so you say, “Everything is fine. Just look at the flowers.” So, easier said than done. Sometimes you have to lie.
  2. If you must lie, do it by omission and misdirection, not by fabrication. It’s much easier to lie when you only have to keep track of reality, and not of alternative realities. It’s easier to mess up with two sets of facts than with one.
  3. Make your lies as uncomplicated as possible. It’s the old KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.
  4. Make sure your lie isn’t easily falsified, especially if it’s fabricated. If your wife asks, “did you take out the trash?” and you say you did but you didn’t, and if she’s standing next to the trash can, you’re toast. Better to say, “I was on my way to do it when I was hit with explosive diarrhea. But I’ll take care of it right now.” The odds are low she’ll ask to see the results of your next bowel movement. Tell the hard-to-check lie.
  5. If you tell a falsifiable lie, save up and make it a big one. This is the old principle of the “big lie.” Tell a big, important, absurd lie and people will be so gobsmacked they’ll figure you’re either telling the truth or you’re crazy. Consider, “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.” That was absurd and falsifiable to anyone who understood Obamacare, but it was so bald-faced that millions bought it as truth, and insisted it was true when it was obvious it wasn’t. There were only four lights, but half of America saw five. It’s stupid to waste reputation and credibility on small and unimportant lies. Go for the big one.
  6. If you feel a stupid lie coming on, shut your mouth and
  7. Just Don’t lie.

Yes, real life gets complicated and these rules oversimplify, but President Trump is counting on you, and America is counting on you to do a better job.


The lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet appointments


So here’s another hint for you. After people have bought a big lie, it’s easier to sell them on small ones, even they know you lied big. Weird, isn’t it? Once we’ve bought the big lie, we feel like we have to buy every lie so we won’t feel stupid.

If you want to go back and tell us there were five lights—excuse me, that your crowds were the biggest ever—we’ll see big crowds when you show us the pictures. But only after we’re conditioned.

From the looks of it, you’ll never reach Clintonesque or Obamacare levels of lying mastery, but the art of the lie isn’t so hard if you follow these rules. Remember: When it comes to lying, less is always more.

Please feel free to pass this advice upstairs.

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Jim Picht
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.