Making the rounds on social media these days is a video of the late Henry Hyde reading a letter from a Chicago third-grader.
The year was 1999, and Congress was in the midst of impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton. The president had been caught lying about an affair with a White House intern.
“If you cannot believe the president, who can you believe?” the child wrote. “If you have no one to believe in, then how do you run your life?”
The boy suggested requiring the president to write an essay about the importance of telling the truth.
Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had another idea. He urged his colleagues to remove the president from office. It was, he said, the only real remedy for a president who had violated the public trust.
Nearly 21 years later, social media wags wonder why Republicans no longer feel so strongly about a president who lies. After all, they say,
President Donald Trump lies all the time.
Take, for example, the president’s promised border wall.
“We’re going to have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year,” he said at a rally in Orlando last summer. “It’s moving very rapidly.”
Actually, it’s not. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the administration has completed 83 miles of wall, mostly as an upgrade to barriers that were already in place.
How much new wall has been built? Economic analyst Steven Rattner says the administration has started work on 8 miles of new barrier. It has completed 32 feet.
For the president, such exaggerations are typical.
He lies so often that CNN’s Jake Tapper put together a one-hour special report called “All the President’s Lies.”
“We all know he does it,” Tapper said in the show’s introduction. “This isn’t a partisan thing. He just empirically says a tremendous number of things that are just completely wrong.”
Daniel Dale became known for his live fact-checking of the president while working as a reporter for the Toronto Star. He joined CNN last summer.
“Look, every politician sometimes lies, at least gets things wrong,” Dale said on Tapper’s special. “Trump isn’t always intentional when he’s getting things wrong, but after literally thousands of these, at some point I think those defenses just start to sound silly.”
In reporting on CNN’s program, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple called the president “a motivated liar with a Twitter account.” He described the task of documenting the damage from the president’s many lies as “bottomless.”
“So gauging this fallout shouldn’t be a special report,” he wrote. “It should be a series.”
The Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, says the president has made more than 13,000 false or misleading claims since taking office.
Critics describe the president’s frequent lies as “gaslighting,” a term that traces its origin to the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. The play tells the story of a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing she is going insane. One of his tricks is to dim and brighten gas lights to make her question her own eyes.
In the end, though, the wife gets the upper hand. She ties up her abusive husband, and when he tries to convince her to cut him loose, she gaslights him, pretending to be too far gone to understand what he’s asking.
In the current drama, of course, the president plays the role of the abusive husband.
The American people play the role of the manipulated wife.
Could this story have an ending similar to the play? I guess we’ll find out.