In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, White House communications director Hope Hicks acknowledged that she sometimes was required to tell white lies in service of President Donald Trump.
Hicks insisted that she had never lied about substantive matters to or for Trump.
This might seem like a minor matter. After all, everyone tells a few white lies here and there, right? You don’t feel like going to drinks at work so, suddenly, a personal commitment you forgot about pops up. (The personal commitment is sitting on your couch watching “The Bachelor.”)
But, as always, context matters. And the context here doesn’t work in Hicks’ favor.
First of all, how are we defining “white lies” – that’s the way a source characterized them to CNN after her appearance before the committee? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person.”
Is that what Hicks did? Or did she expand the definition of a white lie in some way shape or form? If so, how?
Second, how would Hicks define “substantive” matters? Does that mean she never told any white lie to or for the President about any White House personnel or about any policy issue the administration was dealing with?
The chances of us getting forthright answers to any of those questions are remote. But Hicks’ admission that, sure, she had told some white lies while in the service of Trump is yet another example of how the only way to survive and prosper under this President is to be willing to bend the truth.
The simple fact is that Trump misleads and flat-out lies at a rate astronomically higher than past presidents (or any prominent politician.) That, whether you love Trump or hate him, can’t be disputed.
In his first year in office, Trump said more than 2,000 things that were either totally or largely false, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. That’s more than five falsehoods a day. Every day.
This President lies about big things (his alleged opposition to the war in Iraq, 3 to 5 million people voting illegally in the 2016 election, President Barack Obama ordering a wiretap on Trump during the 2016 campaign) and small things (winning 84% of the Cuban vote, Florida being hit with the highest winds ever recorded).
And, that culture of untruth seeps into those who work for Trump – if they want to work for Trump for long.
Press secretary Sean Spicer found himself lying to media about Trump having the largest inaugural crowd ever just 24 hours after Trump was sworn in a president. Sarah Sanders has lied about Trump never advocating violence. And now, Hicks’ supposed white lies.
The point is this: Donald Trump’s extremely casual relationship with the truth infects his entire administration. Everyone who works for Trump knows this. And they also know that the best way to keep in his good graces – and keep your job – is to facilitate and defend his version of the truth (even if they know it isn’t actually the truth.)
Creating an alternate reality – or using “alternative facts,” to borrow a phrase from senior counselor Kellyanne Conway – is simply an accepted way of doing business in the Trump White House.
That disinterest in accepted facts – or the belief that everyone is entitled to their own facts – is both insidious and toxic to the broader culture. Trump’s flouting of facts – and his staff’s willingness to enable that tendency – provides not just cover but growth potential for those who would undermined accepted truths for personal or partisan gain.
Whether Trump is in office for four years or eight years, that assault on truth will be his lasting legacy. And it will be one from which the country won’t quickly recover.