In a recent press briefing, US President Donald Trump was asked why he lied to the American people about the virility of the Coronavirus as he knew it to be back in February 2020. His answer? “I didn’t lie. I didn’t want to start a panic.” This brings the question of how do we define a lie? What is a lie anyway? And how do you communicate the truth? On today’s show, Bill Stierle and Tom take a look at what lie is and compare it to justifiable truth.
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Lie, Truth And Coronavirus
I’ve never seen much discussion on a single event where President Donald Trump was asked in a press briefing, “Why did you lie to the American people and not tell them the virus was as deadly as you knew it to be back in February 2020?” He says, “I didn’t lie. I didn’t want to start a panic.” This brings about the question of how do we define a lie? What is a lie? Is it a lie or is it something else?
This is one of the challenges that we have with our language. As we’ve talked about before in the past about communication is that we don’t take a second guess at leaving information out for our kids because they can’t comprehend it. We don’t say, “I need to tell them the whole story. Your dog died and it’s not coming back. We’re going to put them in a box and the dog is going to dissolve and the dog is no more. That’s the way life goes.” No, we create a fictional story about dogs going to heaven. Spin the story the way the human being spins a story.
We run on story and story many times does not include the truth. The need for truth is tough because is it true that Snow White lived with seven dwarves in a cottage? No, it’s a myth. It’s a story. A story is designed as a metaphor. Here’s a woman who has seven emotions and she has to grapple with these seven emotions. That’s what the story is about this. She has seven emotions all talking and then finally all those emotions get the best of her and she tries to look things. All of a sudden, she’s doing housework and cleaning up after the dwarves and she’s being in this way and the witch goes, “You can’t live in this naivete. Here’s an apple.” This puts her asleep and then she’s got to get kissed and woken up to be an adult.
That’s a big part of the story is how does one become an adult and manage your emotions? That’s a weird interpretation but that’s closer to what the metaphor means than a young girl lives with seven men. The reason why people admit the truth and don’t use truth straight out is we don’t like having to work through difficult emotions. We don’t want to upset emotional stability or financial stability in this case by saying, “This pandemic’s going to be bad. It’s inside the country and it might tank the stock market.” He was covering the financial stability in that environment and he was trying to keep people in the game. What game? The financial game. The one that he’s used to playing.
I think that is right on the money. I think that when the president said, “I didn’t want to start a panic,” I think the implication was and what a lot of people took it to mean was he didn’t want to start a panic, a run on the grocery stores. We’re already seeing a run on toilet paper and paper towel at that time and all this sort of stuff. I think that he didn’t want the stock market to panic. I think that was his real big thing why he was not truthful about what he was learning about the virus and why he didn’t take any more serious action at the time. It’s disappointing because our leaders are supposed to be looking out for us and help protect us.
That’s the idea. The leaders are supposed to protect us and provided that it’s the comment that we’ve used many times. What does a public servant do? What’s the function of a public servant? How do we show up for each other and how does the leader that we’ve elected to do the public made their best choices? They have their own individual preferences, but it’s not their individual trust in there with blinders on it. It’s trying to consider the greater good of the public. We would have ran run out of PPE earlier.
There would have been a run on gloves and masks because our economy runs so thin because of efficiencies. We order something, then it’s made, then it’s shipped. It’s not like we make a whole bunch of them and they sit there and, “We have an extra 100,000 of these that nobody wants anymore.” We don’t do that anymore. We’re saying, “Let’s keep the production thin and make sure that we’re doing a little bit more in time with the production and let’s not keep big stockpiles because then you have to pay money to store it and that costs money and it’s a drain.” We’re not being ready but at the same time, to ramp-up some of those things weren’t done the way it needed to be done. A lot of people died because of it.
There’s been a lot of discussion going on in the media and on social media and all this about did Donald Trump lie to the American? It’s obvious that he did lie or he certainly did not volunteer the truth of the situation. People arguing whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing or if people needed to be told the lie so they didn’t panic. I thought it’d be good if we read something that I saw posted on social media that helps frame this and might help our discussion a little bit.
This was a post on Facebook of someone that we’re connected with. He said, “Donald Trump believes you can’t handle the truth. You can’t make informed choices. He protected you by deceiving you. Sensing the truth while being lied to is what incites mistrust and panic. People can handle the truth. It’s a deception that breeds wavering. Truth hardens resolve and conviction promotes work in cooperation. Soft peddling and deception invite hoarding more deception, self-protective behaviors.”
He then makes a comparison to New Zealand to see their response, which is different from the United States. He says, “Look at New Zealand’s response to see the opposite result. A nation unified, rather than polarized. A disease battled with majority involvement, rather than politicized and divided. They had the same scant knowledge of the nature of this disease, but they responded with trust and faith in their people to choose and do the right thing. Even when it’s difficult and unpopular.”
To me, that’s an important point even when it’s difficult and unpopular because that’s what we know about that happens like in battlefield triage when life is at stake, people are wounded. Sometimes you have to sacrifice someone’s arm or their leg to save their life. If you didn’t then they would die. It’s that type of tough decision-making that that it seems that the president did not do back in late January 2020 and February 2020. It’s a hard decision.
It’s the tough decision leaders need to make in a triage situation if we put it in a battlefield or bad car accident when a lot of people are hurt and stuff. The ones that don’t get treated are the small injuries because the person’s not going to die or the large injure injuries that a person is going to die anyway no matter how much we tried to save them. The one we go after and triaged is the one in the middle. The one that’s savable. That’s called a middle of the road message. It’s a little tough for leaders to do that because when they immediately say that, they don’t go all the way to one scale, regrettably. Donald Trump trying to play this like, “No one’s going to die. This is a small thing. We have this handled.” He needed to play this in the middle and he didn’t have to play it a bit but regrettably, his language pattern won’t let him out of his own jail.
That’s the profound statement of the list. His language and system do not let him out of his own jail which is, “I don’t want to talk about difficult things and I struggle with focus because there are many different things I want to comment on but not necessarily things I want to take action on. I have a belief about the way I think it needs to be handled, but usually, my belief has limited resources or limited information.” It makes it tough for him as a leader to make those decisions and to command to delegate to others. There’s an expectation that they should do what he’s telling them to do. You can look at Michael Cohen’s stuff. They were always Band-Aiding, covering and providing support around him. That’s the way the white house is right now. It’s like, “What open wound are we going to look at and tomorrow to deal with?” That part’s tough.
You mentioned Michael Cohen there who was always, and I think still is referred to someone who was a fixer for Donald Trump. He would fix his problems. When you think about it, Donald Trump treats his closest aides and cabinet members as his fixers even William Barr in the Justice Department has become the chief fixer in the United States using the Justice Department to try to defend the president. I didn’t mean to get off into a whole justice department discussion, but the idea of fixers that he surrounds himself with fixers.
If I have the need for truth and I struggle with communicating truth to others, then what happens is that I’m going to make mistakes, but I don’t want to tell the truth about the mistake I made. I want somebody else to fix it. It’s akin to a kid that doesn’t want to clean up their own mess. They don’t want to take their dish to the sink. They don’t want to put the dish in the dishwasher. They don’t want to clean their own room. It’s like, “I made a mess in here. Could you guys fix this over here because I’m leaving here? I’m not doing this mess that I started.” Those are things that anybody that was on the backend of his bankruptcies would have been involved. It’s like they’re fixing the mess that was left behind. It’s like, “What are we selling? What’s the value?” What ended up happening is that literal thing is that they had to make a shift in the way they were doing things and the way they were coming about stuff.
It’s unsettling and now we’ve got the biggest coordinated effort by the administration, all of the aides, all the cabinet members to try to fix this which is like one of the biggest things this country has faced. We’re now months into the reality of this virus and the theory is that if the president had told the hard truth to the American people back in late January 2020 and early February 2020, and shut things down, maybe we would have had to shut down for two months. Close the borders and stop air travel from everywhere.
It would have been hard. A lot of people would have been out of work, but we would now be five months into the recovery of it. It’s hard to tell where the lies are at times for a lot of people because Donald Trump is saying, “No, I didn’t lie.” Even his aides when they said, “Back in April 2020, we’ve turned the corner medically on this,” when we had 65,000 dead. Now, we have almost 200,000 deaths. They said, “We’ve rounded the corner medically.” If they’re called out on it, now they say, “Were you lying then?” “No, I wasn’t lying. I was telling the truth and we did round the corner medically and the president’s done all the right things. Nobody could have predicted what was going to happen.” They do anything except take responsibility for the lies that happened. I don’t think they see them as lies.
It’s one of the beliefs biases that we have. It’s called the Texas Sharpshooter. It’s like, “I’m going to pick a piece of the fact and information and I’m going to build a story around that fact and information. I’m going to disregard all of these different points of data that validated the different truths. I’m not seeing those. I’m looking at this one.” I will bet $100,000 right now here on the table than the one they’re going to go back to and it’s right there in the field of time is when he was in the Rose Garden and he says, “They thought it was going to be one million, but it looks like it’s going to be around 250,000. We think we’re ahead of this. It’s going to be a lot less than that.” There’s a moment where he did say 250,000 and he’s going to bring that right out and stick that right in front of everybody around October 15th through November 8th. I said it was this number. This is the number that it is.”
You’re telling me that even though he gave us many estimates, he said, “It’s probably getting worse before it gets better. We’re probably going to have 60,000, 65,000, maybe 80,000 or 100,000 dead.” None of that is going to matter because there’s one sound bite where he predicted it would be 250,000.
Yes. He was right, 250,000. He knows what he’s talking about because he mentioned it once. We could even do a search on it and find the exact date of when he said that thing and that clip of him in the Rose Garden saying, “It’s going to be bad and 250,000.” He will say that and that will be their ad. It’s unsettling but the need for truth, when it’s hooked up with the need for respect. This is not about Donald Trump. There’re many people and the lives of our audience.
Donald Trump’s a human being. Everybody is familiar with this concept of a human beings with language and thought structure that works similarly than other people’s language and thought structure. Human beings run by language. That’s our software. That’s how we operate. We operate by language. When we can’t speak or tell a story, we have troubles. We’re getting closer to death when we can’t do those two things, speaker or tell stories. It keeps us alive. It keeps us invigorating. The physiology of our story runs a lot of our biochemistry. Does that make sense?
It does. I appreciate that, Bill. That perspective is helpful but I wonder if we can come back to the word ‘lie’ for a moment. The Woodward tapes came out and he said, “I always wanted to downplay it because I didn’t want to start a panic.” Everybody seizes on that in the media and they’re trying to make it be this big thing, “The President lied.” As if that’s novel, but it isn’t any help. The interesting thing is when they try to call people out on it, they spin their way out of it. They say, “No, it wasn’t a lie. It was this or that. He did the best he could. No one could have done it better.” While there’s a third of the country that probably is either buying the lie or maybe not caring that he’s lied. Why do you think they might not care about the lie?
We’ve talked about this in the past. It has to do with the one thing that a person values most over truth. For example, if a person that’s voting values that the Republicans have more conservative judges so it sets the legal framework over the next 10, 20 years because those people are in charge. Those people are making the decisions on the court cases and they’re going to decide it from a conservative viewpoint. Whatever the word ‘conservative’ means now, that’s a whole other problem. That would be one way.
Let’s suppose somebody says, “I’m voting for this guy because of taxes. I don’t want redistribution of wealth. I want to keep the money I earned for the talent that I gave given or natural.” You get paid for your talent. I don’t like passive affluence as much because somebody else got it and you get it because you happened to be in the right spot. That’s the money piece. “I’m voting for this guy for money. I’m voting this guy for judges. I’m voting this guy because he is talking strongly about being anti-abortion.” “Is he really anti-abortion?”Our leaders are supposed to be looking out for us and help protect us. Click To Tweet
“I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he knows how to say to these people ongoing to get this thing for you and do what I can and those evil people on the other side will show that they’re the ones that are doing the more damage on this.” How about the schools? “We want to privatize schools. Schools are bad.” Why are schools bad? It’s because you’ve been shutting off the spicket of funding and the spicket of innovation in education for the longest time ever. No wonder why they’re crippling. “I want to churn up the funding on the military. I want this guy because he churns up the funding on the military. Look at all the new things we get.”
You’re saying people will have an issue that’s important to them that they will put that issue above the president being somebody of integrity and honesty. That those kinds of values are less important to them.
Donald Trump was correct. He could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and they will look for ways to defend and say he had a good reason to do it.
That’s the way this appears is, “Is it a lie? Is it a justifiable truth?” That gets scary because I think certainly when we’re younger, we are taught to believe truth is absolute.
That’s a belief until we realize how many things our parents told us and didn’t tell us or they told us something that was true and it was a particularly harmful message that we interpreted as a harmful message. I was telling my fifteen-year-old daughter this sentence and it affected our relationship for the rest of our lives. It’s like, “One sentence did that?” The answer is yes. That’s the way it works. One sentence can do that because I told too much when they were too young to hear that adult narrative.
Kids are too young to hear certain messages. We don’t tell them fully at age five about the undertow of the water of the ocean. What we do is we stay there close enough. If they happen to experience it, that we go, “Look at that. I pulled you out of there. How about that boy? That was interesting how that wave did that thing that they did.” Meanwhile, the parent is terrified which is okay too, but it doesn’t then scare the kid with the physics of an undertow of ocean water. It will scare the kid on that thing.
This is the tension that we have about telling the truth when a person is ready or can’t hear it. Regrettably, any idea or thought that the leader of a country cannot be truthful to the adults of the country. The “adult children” of the nation are going to throw a little bit of a tantrum, “You took this thing away.” The answer is, “Yes, we took this thing away.” “I have my rights. I’m an adult.” I’m going like, “Not at the expense of other adults who don’t.” It’s hard to even go that way.
That’s an interesting way to frame it is that the issue that the media is trying to latch on to is, “We have him recorded saying one thing and then publicly he says another that he lied and I think what’s important is we get over that issue of labeling that it’s a lie or it’s not. I saw on Meet the Press and on their panel discussion, they always have some journalists on from other newspapers or other out media outlets. One of the well-respected journalists who was saying that, “There was a time at which we journalists would work hard never to claim that a president or a person high in the administration lied.
We wouldn’t use the word ‘lie’ because that has an absolute definition and meaning that it was hard to back up and it became more of an opinion than a fact.” It got them into a lot of trouble. They would say it’s true and do anything to contort themselves to write these and not being entirely truthful or that he’s stretching the truth or bending the truth. They would say other things dancing around the word lie.
We saw that with the Fox guy, “Do you think President Donald Trump lied?” “No. He exaggerates and spins.” That’s that exaggeration is not like he put another 100,000 on it and we could see that he did a push cause he’s rounding up a number because the number looks better. We can all give a head nod and smile gently and go like, “It’s not particularly accurate, but it’s close enough to be the truth. When somebody says, “He exaggerates and spins.” No one says in the next breath, “Is that the leader we would like?”
That’s the ultimate point because what the media is saying is that there have been many lies told by this president over the course of almost 3.5-plus years now. The media long ago stopped pulling those punches to say he wasn’t lying and now they have labeled many of what things he said as lies that the word ‘lie’ has become a word that has less impact now. You will always say, “The facts don’t matter.” I think in reality, a lot of them don’t. That’s where we come to this whole issue.
It’s not that the facts don’t matter. They don’t have an impact on a person’s belief structure. If somebody believes something and there’s a fact that shows up in front of them. If they are enticed to believe something, and when they see 1, 2, 3, 4 different things that reinforce that belief, then the fact is discarded. It matters to get linguistically clear here. The fact matters but it’s not helpful. I know it’s going to tweak people’s brains when they read this and be like, “What do you mean it’s not helpful?”
It’s not helpful against somebody’s belief structure that’s sitting on top of it and they are like, “No. That’s fake over there.” You’re going like, “I don’t think it is. I measured this.” It’s like, “No, it’s 4 feet.” I don’t think so. I think I got 3.5 feet.” “That’s fake news.” It’s like the end of the book, Nineteen Eighty-Four when the lead character is being interrogated and is asked, “What about this?” The only answer that gets them out of the chair is, “The answer to the number is whatever you say it is.”
When the person has no internal advocacy and they can’t advocate for themselves. They have to wait for the message to come from above. We’ve moved into that dangerous time where many people are waiting for the message to come and because he’s the leader, this is the message. Even at the end of World War II, there were Nazis that said, “Hitler never told a lie.” They were invested in the emotion and their belief was validated, “Here’s a soldier who is in a wheelchair who lost his legs.” Hitler never lied. It’s difficult to deal with and to face that.
Thank you for reminding us that it’s not that the facts don’t matter, but it’s that they don’t have an impact, and I think that’s true. To say that the president has lied or not, may not even be helpful but in this whole context and discussion of, “He didn’t want to tell us the American people the truth because he didn’t want to have a panic happen.” Whether you believe that or not, it comes down to what country do you want to live in and what leaders do you want? It’s the bigger picture that’s more important point here.
Did you hear about the new product that Donald Trump is delivering throughout the nation? Donald Trump has a new branded product. It’s a type of smoke detector. Have you ever seen this brand-new smoke detector? Because he is launching a new product, it’s going to be branded. It’s going to be in all the stores. It’s going to be all the rage of people to purchase this one. Now that I think that there could be a heck of a gag gift that would go around at Christmas time that the people would give, although it’s a sad thing because there’s trying to make light of them and laughing at the experience.
It’s the “Donald Trump Smoke Detector. It stays silent so you don’t panic.” It is humorous and it’s hard to be humorous when 200,000 people have died of Coronavirus, but it’s a good analogy. We don’t put smoke detectors in our homes to keep us from panicking when there’s a fire. I heard this also on television discussing this same issue and when somebody in the administration or somebody in on the conservative side of the fence was trying to justify the president not inciting a panic, they said, “You don’t go into a movie theater and yell, “Fire,” because you’re going to incite a panic.”
That’s what the person said. I was impressed because I don’t think he’s the best journalist and the best moderator out there on television, but it was Chuck Todd who said, “I hear you saying that, but you do yell fire in a theater when there’s a fire.” That’s the point here. Donald Trump’s smoke detector is not going to help you when there’s a fire. The point is there was a fire, there was smoke leading to a fire back in late January and February of 2020 but we, the people didn’t know it because it was being downplayed by the president.
At that time, I was listening to that. I had a trade show that I was sponsoring and exhibiting from March 5 to 8, 2020 in Florida. I flew there and I went and I got sick. I didn’t end up having Coronavirus. I thought I might’ve gotten it while I was on that trip, but I got sick traveling. Had I known how deadly this virus was, I would have canceled and not gone and sponsored that event because it was not that important.
The need for safety over the need for financial security which is what we’re grappling with.
I like the smoke detector analogy although it’s been made a political meme by labeling it the Donald Trump Smoke Detector. I do think the smoke detector and yelling fire in a theater are good analogies and comparisons because they’re not political analogies. I think everybody can agree if there’s a fire in your home, you want a detective that’s going to tell you there’s a fire so you get the heck out of the home. It’s not a political issue. The virus is the same thing. Nobody wants it. Nobody wants to get sick and have their life put at risk.
This is a good one, Tom. I think that being able to be honest as an adult and doing the scary honesty of here’s a yucky message. We don’t know about it, but let’s err on safety. Let’s err on protection. Let’s not err on protecting the stock market. Let’s err on what is physical health and wellness because the cost of 250,000 lives, the cost the economy of that is an extraordinary amount of money. Let alone the interpersonal part of it too. There’s more to come on this.
Thanks, Bill. I appreciate you helping us understand more about a lie versus justifiable truth.
That’s what we’re doing. I appreciate it.
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