Communicating in a “post-facts” America

For decades, I have told my clients to never lie.

Never.

The reasons go beyond morality. Lies are often found out, and a reputation that took years to gain can be lost in an instant. Once you lose your credibility it is almost impossible to get it back. Richard Nixon will always be known as a liar. Same with Bill Clinton. Corporations like Exxon will never fully regain the trust of the American public because of cover-ups and misstatements made decades ago.

So how do you explain the election of Donald Trump as President?

On the surface, it would seem he counters this theory. His misstatements, exaggerations, and outright lies in the campaign would have, and should have, torpedoed any other candidate. How is it possible for a man with so little regard for truth and accuracy to have won?

The answer, as I see it, is a cosmic stew of circumstances, most notably the difficulty in any party holding the White House for three terms, his celebrity, and a willingness of his supporters to, as The Atlantic put it, take him seriously but not literally.

While Trump’s disregard of the truth did not stop his ascension to the White House, did it really “work?” He had the lowest approval rating of an incoming president on record, his credibility is low (even among members of his own party), and he is widely perceived as untrustworthy and reckless.

So I’m calling him the “exception that proves the rule.”

My advice is still to stick to the truth and facts. Even if lying offers a short-term boost, there is long-term damage. In fact, I believe the inability to pass healthcare reform is, in part, due to the President’s lack of credibility. The more he “stretches the truth,” the more his surrogates join him in this, and the more he doubles-down on the untruths, the harder it will be for him to pass anything that doesn’t have the 100% support of the GOP (especially the Freedom Caucus). And the harder it will be for the Republicans to keep their majorities in both Chambers in 2018.

“The truth will out” is still, well, the truth.

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