7 December 2015

Trump supporters forgive “little lies” as The Donald tells the “big truths”


There is a long history of right-on artists objecting to centre-right politicians using their songs. The latest to press the stop button is Neil Young. Young – a Canadian supporter of the US Democrats – objected to Donald Trump using “Rockin’ in the Free World” at one of his rallies. Fortunately Mr Trump has got the support of Twisted Sister for the use of what has become his campaign anthem:  “We’re not gonna take it / No, we ain’t gonna take it / We’re not gonna take it anymore”.

Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider has actually welcomed Trump’s adoption of his 1984 classic – perhaps seeing Trump’s campaign as an echo of his own punk rock rebelliousness against the system. Snider hopes that Bernie Sanders might also use his song – he sees the socialist Democrat and the populist Republican as two sides of the same anti-establishment revolt.

And that one thing – a rebellion against the status quo – is the big truth about the whole Trump phenomenon. In fact, it may be the only truth. “The Donald” has told lies about the number of refugees that President Obama wants to admit to America; about the murder rate in the African American community; about Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey; about mocking a disabled reporter (he clearly did) and… I could go on but you can read the pants-on-fire, mostly false and other porkie pie Trumpisms on the Politifact website. There are about five webpages of them.

I went to a Trump rally last Wednesday night in Virginia and given the split he is creating within the Republican Party it was, appropriately enough, held at the civil war site of Manassas. I talked to thirty or more of the one thousand people who had arrived (as ordered) two hours before the presidential wannabe was due to speak. I asked what they thought of their hero’s casual attitude to the truth and whether it bothered them. It did bother some and few defended his most incendiary remarks. The overwhelming view, however, was that all politicians told lies and Trump was focusing on the “Big Truths”. The Big Truths were that America needed to build a wall across the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out (70% of likely Republican voters agree). That America needed to stand up to China and give American manufacturing a fair chance against Beijing’s state-subsidised industries. That Washington’s politicians were all in the pockets of big business or the unions. And that Obamacare was a good idea but had cost average Americans too much.

If Trump is to be defeated (and I’ve already predicted, somewhat incautiously, that he will be) the mainstream of the Republicans will have to attack – or have better responses to – the “greater truths” that Trump is propagating. And every day that they don’t focus on those big truths is a day that Trump wins.

It’s not just Trump who is ready to employ “little” lies in support of “big” truths.  Last week I watched a movie entitled “Truth”. Few movies have been more misnamed. The film is an attempt to justify explosive memos that the CBS network published less than two months before the 2004 presidential election. The memos purported to prove George W Bush effectively dodged service in the Vietnam war. It may be that by getting into the Texas Air National Guard through top notch connections that the young Bush did effectively dodge much more dangerous service but there was one big problem with the CBS memos. They were fake. Within hours of them being broadcast bloggers recognised that they had been forged on Microsoft Word and could not have been produced by typewriters of the period. CBS apologised – eventually.  But many remain in denial. The veteran newscaster Dan Rather was forced to end 44 years of service at CBS and lost a $70 million lawsuit claiming unfair dismissal. But the truth did not stop Robert Redford (yes, the Robert Redford) or the Cate Blanchett agreeing to participate in this plodding attempt to justify the publication of the memos. Hollywood produced this film because Tinsel Town’s great truth is that anything done to bury the presidency of George W Bush is justifiable. So much of what the entertainment industry serves up in the way of “faction” is more fiction than fact and entirely factional – as in partisan service of the greater cause of liberal Democratic politics.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the Trump campaign is no worse than other campaigns. I’m not even suggesting that the Truth film proves that the Left is as reality-challenged as the Right. But everyone who worries about democracy should worry when all sides of important debates are so casual about facts and fiction. “Everyone,” after all, “is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts”.

By the way: the last thing I heard at the Trump rally came as I left and it was the music being pumped from the loudspeakers. It was the Rolling Stones and “You can’t always get what you want”. The truest thing I heard all night. I hope Trump’s supporters heard it too. Not even a Trump presidency will give them what they want. Not even a quarter of it. “But if you try sometimes you just might find – you get what you need” – and we all need a lot more truth in politics.

Tim Montgomerie is a Times columnist and a CapX contributor.