In a surreal moment, Trump told the truth about his lies at CPAC

In a surreal moment, Trump told the truth about his lies at CPAC
Donald Trump at CPAC, 2021 (screeshot)

During a speech filled with lies, boasts, and bullying attacks that observers have come to expect, former President Donald Trump offered a rare moment of self-effacing honesty over the weekend to the audience at CPAC.

He brought up the conservative conference's practice of holding a straw poll to see who attendees favor to be the Republican Party's next presidential nominee — a contest which other polls suggest he still dominates. But while he was speaking, the poll hadn't been finished yet, so he telegraphed exactly how he will react no matter the results.

"You have a poll coming out, unfortunately — I want to know what it is," he said. "Now if it's bad, I disown — I say it's fake. If it's good, I say that's the most accurate poll perhaps ever."

None of this is a revelation, of course. Since at least 2015, Trump has always transparently pumped up polls that showed him doing well and attacked polls that showed him underperforming as fake. And he has, at times, playfully suggested that his criticisms are driven by self-interest and ego rather than genuine concerns about a poll's validity, though perhaps never quite as straightforwardly as he did this weekend.

Why would he admit something like this? It is, like crying foul about disappointing polls, another power play. It shows his dominance over his fans that he can admit this part of his tactics directly to them, and they laugh and eat it up. It proves how much they are in thrall to him that he can tell them he will lie to their faces, and they will beg for more. And for them, it provides a psychological defense mechanism for any time they see he's lying. Since he can admit that he lies sometimes, they can persuade themselves that his lies just prove even more how powerful he is. It's a show of dominance, and everyone who's a part of the team can feel like they're part of the dominant group. In this mindset, critical writers like me or TV pundits who bemoan the death of truth are just sore losers, sad that they're not a part of the team.

This is a well-established fact of Trump and his followers' psychology, so I normally wouldn't think it's worth mentioning in the era of his post-presidency. His remarks carry much less weight now than they did when he led the United States military. But in this case, these claims, this admission, matter because of the primary reason Trump is still relevant in American politics: the Big Lie.

The lie that Trump won the election is driving Republican legislatures to enact new voting laws they hope will cement their advantage, and the Big Lie may even potentially inspire them to circumvent election results that they don't like in the near future. It may inspire future violence, as we saw on Jan. 6. These are major threats to American democracy.

But Trump's Big Lie is based on exactly the same kind of lying he just admitted to doing at polls. In November 2020, he looked at the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, and he didn't like what he saw. When the counting was ongoing, he urged states that looked good for him to stop counting, and he urged states that look bad for him to keep counting, hoping the result would change. He and his team were outraged about voting procedures and changes that occurred in states where he lost, but they were silent about those same changes in states where he won. It was always transparently frivolous.

Now he's admitting, as has always been obvious, that he engages in exactly this kind of lie — this self-serving confirmation bias — that anyone should be able to objectively admit is faulty and intentionally deceptive. No one would accept it from their political opponents, and few others would openly admit that it's what they do themselves.

And yet the GOP of 2021 will hear those admissions, and it will cheer. It will craft its priorities around the obvious and intentional lie, and it will demand that the rest of the country respect those choices. That's what the modern American electorate must face up to.

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