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All last week, The New York Times, journal of record for the United States together with The Washington Post, focused on Trump’s propensity to utter mistruths.  A headline that used the word “lie” became its own media sensation.  At least four or five articles in the top ten riff off this theme.  And then, in the midst of the purposeful chaos that Trump creates, we experienced Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” 

Given what the Times and other journals have to work with in the new president, it is not a wonder.  Everyone would agree, especially Trump, that he has upended aspects of reality.  He revels in being the exploder of the status quo and seeks the far end of controversy as a matter of course.  Had he lost the election, mainstream press would have likely reverted to its pattern of point-counterpoint.  Because he won, political discourse has drifted from policy and is being reduced to debates on perception. Epistemology, ordinarily an obscure topic in a philosophy curriculum, has come front and center of news.  Journalists traditionally trained in fact-gathering and objective analysis are understandably besides themselves. Politeness be gone, the gloves are off, call a spade a spade, he “lies.”

I don’t think that this term gets Trump exactly right.  Delusional goes deeper.  At first impression, I do not mean it negatively. It lets Trump off the hook about “lies;” he lacks the requisite intent.  Where my interpretation might not be so complimentary is in what it suggests about the man’s personality.  Delusional goes hand in hand with the narcissistic diagnoses frequently mentioned throughout the campaign.  Reality bends in the direction of his abiding, intense need to hyperbolically flatter himself.

The distinction is important.  If the press believes that they can topple this president by calling out his lies, they are going down the wrong path. That tack worked with Nixon, not because Nixon was without psychological blemish – many armchair analysts noted his life-long tendency to paranoia, but because what Nixon lied about was so clearly a criminal act: his knowledge and complicity in the breaking and entering of National Democratic Committee (DNC) Watergate Office.   With Trump, taking note of his anxious insistence on the inauguration numbers or immigrant voter fraud claims is necessary commentary but it will not be sufficient evidence to get him to quit.  To the contrary, his handlers fly into action with creative responses such as Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” or Steve Bannon’s “opposition party” euphemism for mainstream press.  We need evidence that he either had knowledge of, or colluded with Putin or his agents, in the Democratic National Committee hack.  That would, or least it should, warrant Congressional indictment.  

Having cleverly created the chaos that is effectively on par with the Reichstag fire, Trump lobbed his immigration executive order bomb. Clearly a violation of Constitutional law as both a matter of de jure substantive equal protection and of procedural due process, those federal employees designated to implement this order should organize to resist.  Nullification – a political notion contoured to U.S. antebellum history – might be resurrected and refitted for those seeking a concept that incorporates invalidating a federal law as unconstitutional.  Higher education officials, many of whom have demonstrated courage in a timely manner, might consider adding their voices to such an effort.  More than any other action that Trump has taken, at least to me, this one draws the line in the sand. What so many of us have feared is coming to pass, and it is time to resist.

In the end, whether it is a “lie” or “delusion” matters little when the effect goes so clearly against what this country traditionally represents: regulated but open borders, open hearts to immigrants and the spirit of innovation and progress that refresh our economy and culture, and open minds as how to appropriately – and not discriminatorily – address terrorism and threats to national security.  The eye cannot leave the prize.  If there is any truth left to be found in these unsettling epistemological and political moments, it is that no leader, no matter how compelling his or her narcissism, is worth forsaking this great American experiment in citizenship.

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