Donald Trump is obviously someone who enjoys the spot-light. He does well on a stage, but if there is anything to be drawn from his blistering performance during the first Republican debate it should be the certain knowledge that he is a blustering demagogue who will say whatever it is that he thinks people want to hear.
With the entire establishment as a target, Trump has taken aim at the unnamed “stupid” politicians who do everything they can to sell America short. Why exactly they would do this is left unexplained, but in the ambiguity lies the strength of the message. Because the target of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is clear but unspecific it allows his audience to hear within his words all of their own private suspicions. To those who know the government as horribly incompetent, Donald Trump might stand apart as an experienced and successful outsider. To those who know the government as timid and weak, enfeebled by President Obama’s terms in office, Donald Trump might be the man who will stand for the unabashed exceptionalism which made American great. For those who know American politics as a shamelessly corrupt process which has become distanced from the common man, Donald Trump is the righteous heckler. From his own cynical self-promotion, including comments that he’s so rich that he can’t be bought, to his rhetorical slander of illegal immigrants from south of our border as being nothing more than Mexican murderers and rapists, Donald Trump’s candidacy has been defined by an irrepressible urge to be seen, and then being seen, to be noticed as different. It is, in short, an exercise of ego.
Last Thursday, during the first Republican presidential debate, this compulsion manifested itself when Rand Paul and Donald Trump got into a spat with each other about who was whose crony. Because Trump was unwilling to pledge his support for the ultimate Republican ticket, whoever might comprise it, Paul accused him of “already hedging his bet on the Clintons” as someone who is “used to buying politicians.” In return Trump shot back that he had “given [Paul] plenty of money.”
He has not in fact, not really. There has not been a single donation ever made by Donald Trump to Rand Paul’s political efforts. The Federal Election Commission keeps track of this stuff, and their records for Donald Trump’s reported donations can be found here. What we find therein is that over the years Donald Trump has supported a host of causes, but never Rand Paul’s. The only major expenditures made by Donald Trump in Kentucky were two donations totaling $60,000 to KENTUCKIANS FOR STRONG LEADERSHIP who supported Alison Lundergan Grimes against Mitch McConnell. Other than that, the closest we come is a series of contributions to the NATIONAL SENATORIAL REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE which has in turn supported Rand Paul, but given that the NSRC supports every Republican Senator, that is hardly remarkable.
It is possible that Donald Trump has donated anonymously and individually to a Super-PAC in support of Rand Paul. However, even if this is the case it undercut’s Donald Trump’s claim that he has “given [Rand Paul] plenty of money ” because it would be impossible for Rand Paul to know the substance or provenance of any such donation, and it is therefore similarly impossible that Paul could feel any reciprocal obligation.
In sum, Donald Trump has never supported Rand Paul’s political efforts financially. The implication that he had was a plain lie. But beyond being a simple lie, the full circumstance of this lie shows that it is in fact even more insidious. This is because Donald Trump did not craft the lie from whole cloth, but rather from a fragment of truth which, because Donald Trump willfully distorted it, reveals an awful lot about his character. It is the difference between the lie of a six year old, given in the spur of the moment and without thought, and the lie of an adult who knows better, but simply does not care.
The truth within Donald Trump’s lie comes from a sequence of events back in 2014. That year Rand Paul had taken part in a charitable expedition to Guatemala where he used his training as an ophthalmologist to provide care for local residents. The trip was organized through the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, and at the time Rand Paul had approached a number of prominent donors to help fund the expedition. Donald Trump was one of those, and is reported to have given $10,000 in aid of the effort. This is the money to which Donald Trump referred on stage. In itself, Trump’s donation is an admirable thing as an act of pure charity. However, I can only regard as very low someone who would give to a charitable cause, and then years later recall that donation in order to illustrate an ulterior motive. It is not altruistic to give only if you expect something in return. To do so would be trade, not charity.
So, either Donald Trump is a charitable man who only recently lied about his intentions, or else he is a committed cynic who only pursues his own advantage. Whichever he might ultimately be, I find both detestable.
This is particularly frustrating because so far Donald Trump has gotten so much play for being that which he is not. His public persona might be a straight talker who tells it as it is and doesn’t take any guff but it is just that; a persona. In fact, Trump is alternatively an egoist and a sycophant, a liar who will say whatever it is that he thinks people want to hear. This isn’t entirely uncommon in this world, but the banality of his lies does not serve to excuse them. And, that he would employ such blatant lies in the pursuit of petty power compounds his fault. While he pretends to be aloof of the hard-scrabbling, cynical politics of Washington insiders, he is but one and the same as them.