Trump: stonewaller, shape-shifter, liar

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus

— The last few weeks have of­fered Amer­i­cans a chill­ing glimpse of three faces of Don­ald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar.

Trump the stonewaller has been on dis­play in his re­fusal to re­lease his tax re­turns. “It’s none of your busi­ness,” Trump flatly told ABC’s Ge­orge Stephanopou­los when asked about his ef­fec­tive tax rate.

Stephanopou­los: “Yes or no, do you be­lieve vot­ers have a right to see your tax re­turns be­fore they make a fi­nal de­ci­sion?”

Trump: “I don’t think they do. But I do say this, I will re­ally gladly give them.”

Sure, he’d be happy to —

WASH­ING­TON

ex­cept that he isn’t. And it is our busi­ness. Vot­ers are en­ti­tled to know this in­for­ma­tion about a can­di­date for pres­i­dent, a per­son who would help steer the na­tion’s fi­nances. For decades, pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have rou­tinely made this ma­te­rial avail­able.

It is as­ton­ish­ing that Trump be­lieves he is ex­empt from this norm — that a pend­ing au­dit makes his re­turns less im­por­tant to see, not more, or that he is not obliged to find some other way of pro­vid­ing the in­for­ma­tion, such as re­turns from ear­lier years or sum­mary data for the years still un­der re­view.

Even more wor­ri­some is what this high-handed ap­proach au­gurs for a Trump pres­i­dency; to air­ily prom­ise trans­parency while re­peat­edly fail­ing to de­liver. It is an iron law of pol­i­tics that can­di­dates do not be­come mag­i­cally more forth­com­ing once in of­fice. Their be­hav­ior on the cam­paign trail, when un­der pressure to sat­isfy vot­ers, rep­re­sents a better ver­sion of what they would do on the job.

Then there is Trump the shape-shifter, a man with­out fixed views, and whose pol­icy pro­pos­als are mere open­ing gam­bits. What does he be­lieve? What is a core prin­ci­ple, and what is up for ne­go­ti­a­tion?

“I’m al­lowed to change,” Trump told Stephanopou­los on the min­i­mum wage (he didn’t want it raised, then he did, now maybe not). Cer­tainly, flip-flop­ping is a chronic and com­mon po­lit­i­cal con­di­tion; it can be ev­i­dence of open-mind­ed­ness, rather than craven pol­i­tick­ing or ide­o­log­i­cal spine­less­ness.

Yet Trump’s pro­claimed “flex­i­bil­ity” is un­set­tling be­cause it does not rest on an ex­ist­ing ed­i­fice of long­ex­pressed con­vic­tion and recorded votes. When ev­ery­thing is a start­ing bid, how are vot­ers sup­posed to judge — or guess — where Trump might end up?

Trump’s cam­paign is a vast pol­icy desert, so declar­ing that the sparse fronds of de­tail are em­i­nently ne­go­tiable erases any con­fi­dence that vot­ers know what they are get­ting. Vot­ing for Trump is like nail­ing Jell-O to your bal­lot.

Fi­nally, most ap­pallingly, Trump the liar. That is a strong charge, but it ap­pears war­ranted in the mat­ter of Trump mas­querad­ing as his own spokesman (dis­turb­ing enough) and then out­right deny­ing it (way more dis­turb­ing).

“It was not me on the phone,” Trump told NBC’s Sa­van­nah Guthrie. “And it doesn’t sound like me on the phone. I’ll tell you that. And it was not me on the phone. And when was this, 25 years ago?”

Yes, and Trump could have said any num­ber of things: This was a silly prank, long ago. Of course he shouldn’t have done it.

In­stead, Trump opted to lie. How do we know? Be­cause in a quote back then to Peo­ple mag­a­zine about sup­posed spokesman “John Miller,” Trump de­scribed his pos­ing as “a joke gone awry.” Be­cause nu­mer­ous re­porters have de­scribed hav­ing sim­i­lar en­coun­ters with phony Trump spokes­men.

Be­cause Trump him­self ad­mit­ted in court that “I be­lieve on oc­ca­sion I used that name” — re­fer­ring to a dif­fer­ent alias, “John Bar­ron.” Be­cause who are you go­ing to be­lieve: Trump or your ly­ing ears?

This is a fib, you might ar­gue, so triv­ial as to be mean­ing­less. Yet a can­di­date will­ing to lie about some­thing so small will be a pres­i­dent will­ing to lie about some­thing big — and this is hardly Trump’s only lie (e.g., thou­sands of Mus­lims cel­e­brat­ing in New Jer­sey on 9/11).

The pop­u­lar un­der­stand­ing may be that all politi­cians lie, but there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween the or­di­nar­ily dis­taste­ful po­lit­i­cal diet of spin, fudge, eva­sion and hy­per­bole and the Trumpian habit of un­var­nished, un­em­bar­rassed false­hood.

“Who cares?” Trump would breezily as­sure the hor­ri­fied Mar-a-Lago house his­to­rian af­ter re­gal­ing guests with the un­true tale of how Walt Dis­ney him­self cre­ated the nurs­ery-themed tiles in his daugh­ter’s room.

Who cares, in­deed — an im­por­tant ques­tion for vot­ers. Amer­i­cans have elected pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents who sub­se­quently lied to them (and, yes, that in­cludes the hus­band of a cur­rent can­di­date). Know­ingly elect­ing one who lies while try­ing out for the job would be a tragic mis­take.

Ruth Mar­cus is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

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