Italian Renaissance philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli advised all political leaders to be willing to lie, to deceive, when necessary — to be a combination of lion and fox, using "cunning and strength, fraud and force." It appears modern politicians have taken the suggestion to new levels.
While opinions vary on which of the 43 men who have been president told the most or biggest lies, LBJ and Richard Nixon — from the Vietnam war to Watergate — usually rank pretty high. In more recent history, Bill Clinton, (no "sexual relations with that woman") and Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra) also rate right up there. But nothing matches the current presidential campaign for its lies.
And ironically, it is the candidate who has called others liars with abandon who amounts to the biggest liar of all: Donald Trump.
The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, certainly has told some whoppers, including tall tales regarding her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. But it is Mr. Trump who wins the George Orwell award for his use — or abuse — of dishonesty. It was Orwell who said "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable."
In fact, Mr. Trump has been so full of baloney, he is in a class by himself, comparing closely with the fascist slurs and outright falsehoods of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the red-baiting days of the mid-20th century. A kernel of objective truth is usually at the base of many political lies, but not in the case of McCarthy or most of Mr. Trump's utterances. It is not surprising that they shared a political adviser, New York lawyer Roy Cohn.
On a practical level, political fact-checkers have found Mr. Trump committed far more falsehoods during the campaign and debates than Ms. Clinton. But check the truly outrageous lies of the GOP candidate.
Start with the "birther" lie, which even Mr. Trump now admits was false — five years after he seized on the right-wing charge that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In denouncing the claim in September, he dared to put forth another lie, blaming Ms. Clinton for the start of the rumor.
Then there are his claims to be a brilliant businessman, which ignore the silver spoon he was born with, along with his multiple bankruptcies and lifetime of fleecing of one contractor after another. Coupled with his recent refusal to release his tax returns, and you see his real business skill is hiding facts.
Mr. Trump's statement that "nobody has more respect for women" than he does has been repeatedly torn down by women coming forward with stories of being assaulted by him, not to mention that now infamous recording of his claim that celebrity gives him carte blanche to grope women.
His economic plan would cost $10 trillion, reduce taxes for only the wealthy and wipe out 3 million jobs, not help poor people, as he says. He clearly doesn't "know more about ISIS than the generals"; was actually in favor of the Iraq War early on, not against it as he says; and has in fact claimed on several occasions that global warming is a "hoax" created by the Chinese, despite his protestations that he has not.
The list seems endless. Donald Trump is, simply, a serial liar. For all her faults, the same cannot be said of Ms. Clinton.
Adolf Hitler and his propaganda wizard built much of their rationalization for World War II and persecution of the Jews on a technique known as "the big lie" — telling falsehoods so big and doing it so frequently that they are accepted simply because it's unbelievable that anyone could lie so brazenly.
Henry A. Murray, author of a 1943 psychological study of Adolf Hitler for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services — one that predicted his suicide — summed up the Nazi leader's use of lies: "Never admit a fault or a wrong; never accept blame, concentrate on one enemy at a time, blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong, and take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind."
Mr. Trump is not Hitler, though many have portrayed him as having similar tendencies, and he has repeatedly embraced the telling of a "big lie."
There is a more appropriate word for his behavior, however, according to the Webster's and Oxford dictionaries:
Trumpery — def. Fraud, deception. A noun originally from the French word tromper, meaning "to deceive." First used in English in the 15th century, meaning fraud, deception, and an item or conduct of "worthless nonsense."
Frederic B. Hill, formerly a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and policy analyst for the Department of State, is co-editor, with Stephens Broening, of the recently released "The Life of Kings, the Baltimore Sun and the Golden Age of the American Newspaper." (Rowman & Littlefield).