Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: Liar’s Poker

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White House lawn, 30 May 2008. (Credit: Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons)

Three impressive political lies came out of the White House during the first weeks of the Trump administration: 1) there was the summary affirmation, against all photographic and professional evidence to the contrary, that Trump’s inauguration was visited by “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”; 2) there was the illusory claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton in the past election, making Trump a loser in the popular vote, even though he won the presidency; 3) there was an Executive Order imposing a Muslim ban (which the White House denied was a Muslim ban), accompanied by an affirmation that we were in peril of terrorist attacks from seven Muslim countries, the citizens of which have never committed acts of terrorism against the United States.

To this we must add the coining of a new political concept by presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway (one missed by George Orwell in 1984): “alternative facts.” If this avalanche of fabrications continues unabated, Donald Trump will make Richard Nixon look like a paragon of virtue. One is tempted to shout, along with Big Daddy at the end of Act Two in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, “CHRIST—DAMN—ALL—LYING SONS OF—LYING BITCHES!”[1]

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“To begin with, I’ll paint the town red”, by Grant E. Hamilton, The Judge vol. 7, 31 January 1885. (Credit: U.S. Library of Congress)

Let us come to terms with the fact that we are playing a game of “Liar’s Poker” (see Michael Lewis’ wonderful book of the same name, about the author’s time in Wall Street, for the rules of the game) with the new Trump administration. Granted, the stakes are merely the welfare of the country, the fate of the constitution and the soul of the nation; but still, it would behoove us to come up with a winning strategy.

We are far removed, in our time, from Mahatma Gandhi’s lesson: “My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim ‘Truth is God’ instead of the usual one, ‘God is Truth’.”[2] One is tempted to adopt the advice of Eli Gold from television’s The Good Wife: the way to fight a lie is to oppose it with a BIGGER lie! But in one of his myriad essays Bernard Shaw instructs us: the great curse upon the Liar is not that no one believes him (at some point, no one does), but that the Liar, because of his lies, cannot bring himself to believe anyone else. That is his weakness, and we should take note.

In Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Arthur Miller chronicled “some of the most terrible conflicts running through the streets of America.”[3] In his essay “On Politics and the Art of Acting,” Miller puts to us the following question:

Consider the sublime achievements of Greece and her military victories and defeats, the necrophilic grandeur of the Egyptians, the glory of the Romans, the awesome power of the Assyrians, the rise and fall of the Jews and their incomprehensible survival, and what are we left with but a handful of plays, essays, carved stones, and some strokes of paint on paper or the rock cave wall—in a word, art?

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Jo Mielziner’s stage design for Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” 21 April 2016. (Credit: Chelsea Tenenbaum / Wikimedia Commons)

Art survives, Miller contends, not because of its formal beauty, but because it reveals essential human truths—as a “glimpse from God.” [4]

In the 1960s, Cuban poet and dissenter Heberto Padilla was reviled, jailed and beaten by the Castro regime for his book Out of the Game (Fuera del juego). One of his poems reads:

POETICA

Tell the truth.

Tell, at least, your truth.

And after

let anything happen:

let them tear your cherished page,

let them stone your door down,

let crowds

gather before your body

as if you were

a prodigy or a corpse.[5]

Moral for the saints engaged in the Trump Apocalypse: Tell the truth; this will summon God’s Guardian Angels to stand beside you. Tell, at the very least, your truth, because they won’t believe you mean it, and cannot conceive that you are fueled by anything but self-interest. Like the harvester in the Gospel, you will be sowing the seeds of their defeat.

Tell the truth and I guarantee you this: your truth will outlive the sons of bitches cursed by Big Daddy.

OG

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Anti-Trump immigration protest in Baltimore, 28 January 2017. (Credit: Bruce Emmerling / Wikimedia Commons)

[1] Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (New York: Signet Books, 1955), 95.

[2] Thomas Merton, ed., Gandhi on Non-Violence (New York: New Directions, 1965), 28.

[3] “Morality and Modern Drama: Interview with Philip Gelb,” in Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (New York: Viking Press, 1967), 177.

[4] Arthur Miller, On Politics and the Arts of Acting (New York: Viking, 2001), 84-85.

[5] Heberto Padilla, Fuera del juego (San Juan, PR: Editorial San Juan, 1971), 24.

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