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The Strange Appeal of Trump's 'Honest' Lies

Trump might compulsively mislead, but he exudes emotional honesty.
Photo via Getty

Welcome to Evesplaining, politics writer Eve Peyser's column about why everyone else is wrong and she's right.

Joe Walsh, the conservative talk-show host and former congressman who notably refused to pay his ex-wife child support for their three children because he "had no money," is notorious in certain circles for his controversial tweets. Hall of famers include, "This country is at war with itself. Choose your side and choose it now. Grab your musket and get ready," which he wrote after House Republicans were shot during a baseball practice, and, "Bernie says health care is a right. Why stop there? Don't I also have a right to a job? A right to a meal? A right to housing? Am I right?" (Actually, you are?)


Hidden within his madness comes the occasional nugget of wisdom, which happened Wednesday when Walsh mused, "All politicians lie. Obama lied. Hillary lied. Trump's at least open & honest about his lying."

On face value, Walsh's tweet sounds absurd and was roasted accordingly. "This is some of the saddest shit I've read all week," wrote one Twitter user in a reply that racked up more than 11,000 likes; a chorus of others jumped to point out Walsh's obvious contradiction and to remind everyone that Trump's lies are still bad.

But Walsh, perhaps inadvertently, illuminated an important truth behind Trump's popularity: The president's inconceivably loyal base forgives him for his obvious and frequent lies because they have a distinctly different tenor than the average politician's fibs.

Trump is a liar, but since he doesn't have a filter, he manages to lie authentically. His lies are not polished and cunningly crafted, nor are they a regurgitation of his communications team's spin; they are impulsive, more often than not, self-sabotaging, and most important, genuine. He plays dirty. He has no shame. He approaches his deception casually—as if it's simply part of the politics game.

Whether it be repeatedly asserting that he would have won the popular vote if hadn't been for all those undocumented immigrants risking everything to cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, insisting his inauguration crowd was bigger than Barack Obama's despite the evidence against it, or his constantly changing explanation for why he unceremoniously fired FBI director James Comey, Trump spins falsehoods without discernible long-term calculation. He lies like a middle school boy telling his friends he's totally kissed a girl before, it just happened at summer camp, or a gassy man in a crowded elevator doing his darnedest to pin the stench on the woman standing next to him, or an unfaithful husband explaining to his wife that the reason he's incessantly texting his 21-year-old intern because he's mentoring her.

Walsh's assertion that "all politicians lie" is perhaps an oversimplification, but one that a lot of people would agree with. But Hillary Clinton's deceptions, for instance, are much harder to notice without looking up her past misdeeds on Politifact.

As Virginia Heffernan noted in Politico in may, "In a town of snakes and double-agents, the president's extreme emotional transparency would be admirable, a sign of vulnerability, sincerity, guilelessness—that is, if it weren't so self-incriminating."

Regardless of whether what he says is factual, he manages to honestly convey his emotional state—and sometimes, tap into the feelings and fears of his audience. His authentic and often exasperated expression of raw emotion makes him seem familiar, a real human being. And that's the one thing that's impossible to fake.

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