Presidents Have Always Lied, But Trump May Be the Worst, Prof Argues


Presidents have been lying since the office was formed — some more than others.

Brooklyn College Professor Eric Alterman explores the history of presidential falsehoods, and explains why he believes Donald Trump’s are worst of all in his new book Lying In State: Why Presidents Lie — And Why Trump Is Worse.

“A lot of presidents have lied, most have lied. And some of these lies have resulted in literally millions of deaths. But Donald Trump is different because he lies about everything. He doesn’t care that you know that he’s lying. He doesn’t think truth is any more valuable than lying,” Alterman says.

“In that sense, Trump has been laying the groundwork for a dictatorship because if people can’t distinguish between truth and lies then you can tell them anything and they’d have to swallow it. So if Trump were re-elected, I think, it’ll mean the end of our democracy as we know it one way or another. And I think that grows out of his lies.”

But the book isn’t just about Trump. Lying In State goes back to the presidencies of George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson to put today’s political world into proper historical context. As it turns out, Alterman notes, Trump’s lies aren’t an aberration, but are part of a long tradition of presidential dishonesty.

“George Washington lied about slavery. Thomas Jefferson lied when he signed the Louisiana Purchase. Andrew Jackson lied about Native American removal policies,” the scholar says.

Alterman argues that presidents most commonly lied for imperialistic purposes and to maintain white supremacy in the nation. Also, presidents often lied in order to advance their own political agendas. These lies are a direct threat to democracy, Alterman argues.

“I wrote this book to help us understand how we got here, but also as a book I thought would last over time for students to read,” Alterman says. “The mainstream media will be very torn about calling the president a liar. And our democracy will be very much at risk.”

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Brooklyn College