News World Garry Linnell: Donald Trump sits on a throne of lies. How about you?
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Garry Linnell: Donald Trump sits on a throne of lies. How about you?

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Writing this column is easy because my curious mind is always filled with brilliant insights and I never have a problem coming up with stimulating and engaging ideas.

I also love the way my neighbour wanders over for a chat whenever I’m mowing the front lawn because his lengthy stories about his role as assistant secretary of the local model train set association are always fascinating, as are his theories on nature strip weed prevention.

Well, those are my two lies out of the way for today. How’s your tally going?

According to which study you want to believe – and there have been several in the past couple of decades – the average person tells between 1.65 and two lies each day.

It’s an extraordinarily low figure given all the fibs and exaggerations that constantly tumble from our lips, which makes you suspect that most of the participants in those studies were telling whoppers to begin with.

We all lie. It’s one of those basic human traits. We even lie about how much we are opposed to lying.

Every culture throughout history has ranked deceit as one of the worst human vices, and yet every one of those cultures was riddled with it.

It’s in our genes. We lie to protect the people we love, to avoid confrontation or punishment, to inflate our own importance and sense of self-worth, to improve a partner’s self-esteem (“no, your bum does not look big in those jeans”) or to minimise our own embarrassment.

Lying is also a method employed by those wanting to exert more power over others.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump still refuses to concede after he was defeated in the US election. Photo: TND

The outgoing American President will certainly be remembered as The Great Disruptor for the way in which he upended the American political establishment and turned international diplomacy inside out.

But he also deserves the mantle of The Great Distorter.

In just under four years he has helped redefine the concept of truth and steered us all into a strange new world where the line between reality and fiction has become so blurred that honesty no longer even seems to matter.

According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, Trump clocked up his 20,000th false or misleading claim while in office on July 9.

Perhaps encouraged by this milestone, his lies, exaggerations, distortions and embellishment of the truth have only increased, reaching a feverish peak late last week when it became clear he was about to lose office.

“…they are trying to STEAL the election,” was one of a series of Trump tweets flagged by Twitter as potentially misleading or false.

Of course, he’s not the first politician or leader to bend or even break the truth. Dictatorships have been built on falsehoods and empires have risen on the back of fallacies and deliberate dishonesty.

But Mr Trump’s endless deceits have been uttered in an era when truth has never been more available – and valued less. He has been able to get away with it because the world no longer cares.

Let’s take your average high school student. Their homework task: Find out how many languages are spoken in the world.

In my day it required a trip to the library, hours of poring through encyclopedias and perhaps a couple of annoying questions posed to the librarian.

Now all you need do is bark the question at your smart phone’s virtual assistant and the answer is with you in less than half a second (for the curiously inclined the most recent count is 7117, although many are now endangered and that number is constantly shifting).

Facts are no longer precious. They’re no longer hard to uncover. We’re drowning in them.

And as any economist will tell you, the oversupply of any commodity means its value will plummet.

Mr Trump’s genius, if you can call it that, was the way he grasped this rapid depreciation in the worth of facts and understood that the consequences of not telling the truth – of being branded a liar and a cheat – no longer carried the stigma it once did.

So he could say, as he has repeated endlessly, that “The wall is being built – it’s going to be finished very soon” when all Congress really funded was 175 miles of barriers and some newly painted bollards.

Biden supporters outside the state capital denounce any recounting of Pennsylvanian votes. Photo: AAP

He could brag constantly that he introduced the “largest package of tax cuts … by far in American history” despite The Washington Post pointing out it was only the eighth biggest in US history – and was even less than the two rounds of tax cuts enacted under the Obama administration.

He could boast incessantly that “We’ve rebuilt our entire military” and that no other leader had spent so much on defence budgets when, actually, US defence spending peaked a decade ago just before the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Far worse, though, was the manner in which he brazenly dismissed the threat of COVID-19 as nothing more than a simple flu, even after it had claimed the lives of 220,000 of his fellow countrymen.

But please don’t take it as fact that his election loss was a repudiation of all those lies and distortions.

Boosted by a record voting turnout for both major parties, eight million more Americans backed Mr Trump this time around compared to his victory in 2016. That translates to more than 71 million willing voters. It wasn’t what he said that mattered. It was the way he said it.

So don’t be quick to dismiss Donald Trump as an aberration.

He was more than that.

He held up a mirror to show us the world we really inhabit, a place where truth no longer matters and beliefs – not facts – are all we have left to cling to.

Walkley Award winner Garry Linnell is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected journalists and editors

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