A memorable statement uttered during the last presidential election campaign was: “We will not let fact-checkers dictate our campaign.” It was a reaction from Mitt Romney’s team as the presidential candidate’s repeated deceitful declarations kept being refuted by the media.
While overstatement is a characteristic of political rhetoric, it becomes a problem when lies stop being spur-of-the-moment exaggerations and become a strategy in itself, aiming to create resentment and hatred.
In this regard, the candidates in the 2016 Republican presidential primary seem to be on another level in their use of dishonesty as political strategy, especially in the case of Donald Trump, the front-runner who has dominated the polls so far.
Trump exemplifies the exaggeration of a political promise and the use of deliberate populist falsehoods that ‒ in the best fascist tradition ‒ seek to rouse his followers by creating a foreign enemy.
The former is his promise to be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” a laughable expression to boot. The latter is his insistence to claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating in the U.S. as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Then came his retweeting of a racist chart inflating the number of white people killed by black people and, of course, the string of insults against Mexican immigrants.
Promises and accusations during election campaigns lend themselves to hyperbole, but Trump has gone beyond by also instigating hatred. Back in August, a pair of Trump supporters said to have been inspired by the candidate’s words to batter a Mexican homeless man. Months later, a black protester was beat up during a Trump rally in the South.
For Trump, it is enough to repeat a lie incessantly and then accusing the media of lying. Accusing the media is an old Republican tactic which, in this primary, has been turned into an art thanks also to other candidates such as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina.
The truth has become of secondary importance, and Democrats are no exception. But the virulence of the lies expressed in the GOP presidential primary is dangerous because of the dishonesty and hatred they arouse.