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On Calling President Trump a Liar

A Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Jeff Rubin Perspective

Recently (5/17/17), Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor John Kasich held a CNN nationally televised town hall style discussion. At one point, a questioner asked about President Trump’s frequent lying, at which point Sanders and Kasich had a fascinating exchange. It can be viewed for free on YouTube HERE

It begins with Sanders turning to Kasich and asking him, “Is Trump a liar?”

“Well,” Kasich replies, “sometimes he says some things that I don’t agree with, and I think they don’t resemble the facts, but I’m not going to call him…”

At this point, Sanders says, “Okay,” while chuckling along with the audience, apparently because they think Kasich is using a bunch of double-talk to avoid directly answering the question.

Kasich, noticing the audience’s laughter, replies, “Now wait a minute. There’s a difference between saying, sometimes when I see, I can see that there are politicians that say things that don’t resemble the facts, and I can actually call some people very close to me on their facts don’t match the reality.”

Sanders, begins to nod, and says, “Right.”

Then, Kasich says, “But I’m not going to go so far as to call someone a liar! That when you get, when you start using terms like that, Bernie, we saw it in Congress. You know, back in the days when we were in the majority and they were after Jim Wright and all those things and there was a lot of calling people dogs and liars. Just let the facts speak for themselves, and then we can draw a conclusion. And I’m only saying this, not because I’m trying to defend anybody. I’m worried about my country. I’m worried about getting through this.”

At this point, Sanders replies, “But when we talk about the facts, I mean Jake asked a pretty simple question. All that I’m saying is, it’s not a question of, you’re a Conservative and I don’t think you’re a liar. We disagree on everything, but that doesn’t make you a liar, and I don’t think that makes me a liar. But if you were to tell me that three to five million people voted illegally in this election, of which no Republican or Democratic official believes, what can I say? I think that it’s a lie.”

Here Kasich looks troubled, and replies, “I, I, look, I guess I’m gonna do it, I didn’t think I would, does that mean that someone who writes a campaign ad that distorts somebody’s record is a liar? I mean, we have to be careful about our terms. That’s all I’m saying, okay?”

Bernie, here, agrees to end this discussion, saying, “Okay, we’ll let it be here, we’ll bury it here.”

My Opinion  

Regular readers of this blog well know that name calling leads to me and others to lose some respect for the name caller. Calling someone a “liar” is name calling, and we can see the loss of respect that Governor Kasich feels for those who use that term when we watch the video clip.

Now, I well understand that some people who use that term believe that it is a useful rhetorical device for discouraging people from lying. The argument goes something like this: Most people don’t like to be lied to. Most people don’t like to be called a liar. If people who lie end up getting called a liar, perhaps this name calling will discourage lying. So, what’s wrong with that reasoning?

Well, first of all, we pretty much all lie from time to time, either by exaggerating the truth, or lying to get something we might desire, or to protect the feelings of someone we care about. As Bob Dylan once said on his radio show, “According to a survey, 4 out of 5 people admit to telling white lies at least once a day, and I’m telling you that that other guy, he’s lying.”

As soon as you call someone a liar, those who hear it, at some level of their consciousness, recognize that they have also lied in the past. They know that they would not like it if you called them a liar, and this leads to some anger towards you, though it might be at a very subtle level. There are, of course, some people who do not like President Trump, and for those people, hearing someone calling the president a liar might be, for them, just fine. And they love pictures of him illustrating his lying ways. This might have been the reason for the chuckling of Senator Sanders and those in the audience when Governor Kasich began to reply to the question, “Is Trump a liar?” But consider how you would feel if someone called the candidate you support a liar. Recall that there were people calling President Obama a liar during his administration and illustrations of what some believed were his lying tendencies. I think the Golden Rule applies here. Moreover, calling the president a liar stirs up his supporters to be angry, and this can produce less than ideal conditions for people to come together in mutually beneficial ways.

When we are losing respect for someone who is engaging in lying, there are better ways to discuss this without calling that someone a liar. In the case of President Trump, when he expresses a political position that differs from mine, I can simply state respectfully what my position is, and give some reasons why I hold that opinion. When the president says something that I believe contradicts the facts, I can explain the facts as I see them, and provide the evidence that supports them as being regarded as facts.

Now, Senator Sanders has been trying to make the case that there is something different in the type of lying that President Trump engages in compared to what most people engage in. He is seeking to see how he can best make that distinction by bringing up the liar issue. In the clip, he brings up the example of the president declaring repeatedly that between three million and five million people voted illegally, and that if just the legal votes were counted, he not only won the electoral votes, he also won the popular vote. At other times, Sanders noted that the president has repeatedly claimed that his electoral vote victory was by the largest amount in history. When the president is confronted with the facts that the previous president, Mr. Obama, had won more electoral votes then he did, that many other presidents also won by more electoral votes then he did, and that this can easily be verified by anyone really interested in the truth of the matter, he just continued to claim he won the election by the greatest margin in history. At another time, the president claimed he was against the Iraq War despite a videotape clearly showing his support of that war, and no evidence that he spoke out against the war when it was getting under way.

These, along with others that he has made, are indeed whopper-sized lies. By providing the type of specifics that I provided in the previous paragraph it makes the point clearer than calling him a liar.

We all lie to some degree. Using the term just means he has lied from time to time, and therefore the term does not make a clear distinction between what the president has been doing, and what most of us regularly do. Giving the specific examples of the lies he engages in, describing them as seeming to be far bigger lies then most people are willing to engage in, presents a clearer, more precise form of communication. Explaining the value of having a president that we have trust in can also be beneficial. In my view, we will all foster more respect from others if we come to realize that there is alway a better option for your communications than using name calling.

———————

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Doonesbury and the Nature of Payback
Trump Supporters: Are They Gullible?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

8 Comments

  1. OK, so he’s not a liar, but respectfully is regularly lying his ass off. Is that better?

    • Hi Roald Michel,
      I must admit that your rewording made me smile. As for being better, maybe. It expresses to me that you don’t like it one bit that he lies as much as he does. I think that’s a fair idea to communicate with others. If you were talking directly to the president, it would depend on your relationship, but probably your statement would be somewhat less offensive then calling him a liar. If you wanted to offend him to the highest degree, I would ask you what you hoped to accomplish by doing that.

      • If I were talking directly to your president, I would make an honest person out of him.

  2. Like the deceptive media who mince words and attempt to present both sides of any fact, your essay is surprising. Lets call it stating falsehoods. Trump has, shall we say, stated falsehoods all his life, deceived and stolen from legitimate business people whom he hired to do work, placing them and their families in a financial bind. He stated falsehoods, along with his father, to the DOJ when they were accused of racial discrimination in property he owned and/or managed in the 60’s or 70’s, He constantly stated falsehoods about Barach Obama, passing on the false conspiracy theory that he was not a US citizen, when he likely knew that was a falsehood and did so in an attempt to discredit him. He states falsehoods about his organized crime relationships and his financial relationships with Russian oligarchs. He states falsehoods about his wealth, claiming that he is a “billionaire” when he is not. Most of the property he owns is deeply in debt, much like the casino that his father bailed him out of by leaving a cache of poker chips so that he could pay off some of his debts. He creates disparaging labels and condemnatory statements, most of which are untrue, for people who slight him or disagree with him, or for whom he appears threatened from, like former FBI Director Comey whom he recently called a “nut job.” Many professionals have cited him as a classic example of a narcissistic/paranoid personality who will say anything to win an argument. Others have stated he is a sociopath and white collar psychopath or criminal psychopath. Most every day he appears to lack honesty and empathy for other human beings. The only people who stay with him are those who benefit financially…and these are becoming few and far between, as he develops pathological theories about them and dismisses them.. He has such racial hatred of non-whites that one of the casinos he owned ordered all the non-white staff to vacate the premises when he visited. Isn’t racial hatred based on a false premise?

  3. THIS IS A FANTASTIC EXPLANATION. Your best point you made, in fact, is that by specifying which things Trump said are NOT accurate that is a BETTER way to communicate that we can not trust his words than by name calling. Good job, Dr. Jeffrey Rubin! This 70 year old grandma is PROUD of you! By the way, PLEASE post this article on my page in Political Liberals and Progressives on Facebook. We would LOVE to see this there.

  4. A person who practices law is a lawyer.
    Someone who farms is a farmer.
    Those who teach are called teachers.
    One who creates jewelry is a jeweler.

    I rest my case.

    • Hi Carol,
      When you call someone a lawyer, or a farmer, or a teacher, or a jeweler, you are not seeking to insult a person. If you call someone a liar, you do seek to insult. Thus, there is a clear difference. Moreover, since it is pretty clear that we all lie to some extent, the word liar doesn’t distinguish between everyone and the person you are referring to. So, in my view, it is better to be more specific rather than using a term that can apply to everyone, and I think that it is often better to foster constructive change by avoiding insults. Perhaps it would help if you think about it this way–If someone insults you, are you more or less likely to be open to what that someone is advocating?

      • Your premise doesn’t seem to hold water. When you call someone a liar it may be that you are being truthful, with no intent to insult. When you call someone a lawyer, you may be truthful, too, unless the lawyer is a grifter or poseur.

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