In 1982, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling theorized that crime rates would rise if minor crimes were not prosecuted. This theory came to be known as “broken windows theory.”
Donald Trump’s campaign demonstrates the validity not of broken windows theory, but of Broken Promises Theory: if we let minor lies go unchallenged, eventually all lies go unchallenged. Trump lies about everything, from Trump Steaks to his knowledge of David Duke, from Trump University to whether his campaign manager grabbed a reporter by the arm forcefully enough to bruise her, from self-funding his campaign to whether there are “two Donald Trumps” (Trump’s answer: both yes and no). He can’t get through a full paragraph without fabrications. As Heather Wilhelm points out at RealClearPolitics today, Trump has a long history of carelessness about the truth:
Mr. Senecal, now “a kind of unofficial historian at Mar-a-Lago,” recalls how Trump, among other various fibs and exaggerations, “liked to tell guests that the nursery rhyme-themed tiles” in the children’s suite “were made by a young Walt Disney.” Senecal, a seemingly normal person, would often correctly protest that this was not true. Trump, in return, would simply laugh and offer a simple reply: “Who cares?” Who cares, indeed? A significant swath of voters apparently doesn’t.
Trump’s commitment to fibbing, as Broken Promises Theory suggests, means a dramatic increase in lies about minor matters. Those who surround Trump seem committed to prevarication.
On Monday, Dr. Ben Carson – that supremely principled man of faith – admitted that he had backed Donald Trump for president thanks to a basic quid pro quo. “I will be doing things as well, yes,” he told Steve Malzberg. “Certainly in an advisory capacity…we haven’t hammered out all the details. It is very important that we work together in this country.”
On Wednesday, Carson appeared on CNN with Erin Burnett, where he explained that he had not been offered a quid pro quo: “First of all, we did not discuss any quid pro quo. There seems to be a great desire by many people to try to make it seem that way.”
It’s not just Carson. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been reduced to a punch line, refuting all of his own arguments in order to serve his master. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has now become a full-fledged Trump shill, dishonoring himself and his supposed principles in order to push The Donald. Dishonesty blooms around Trump because Trump rewards dishonesty that serves his purposes – which is why Corey Lewandowski stood alongside Trump on stage on Tuesday night, grinning away as Trump ripped the media reporting on his foibles and fictions.
We expect our politicians to lie to us. But Trump’s entire brand is supposedly rooted in a shockingly different type of honesty. That, it turns out, is the biggest lie of all.