When my children were younger, I didn’t really mind so much when they would lie to me. After all, lying is a skill just like anything else, and the only way we get better at the things that require skill is the same way we get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. I think that (if we’re being honest about lying), most people feel the same way. It’s the reason why we find all those YouTube videos of toddlers blaming the cat for their misadventures with the Sharpie to be adorable rather than infuriating. Aw look, we all say, they’re so little they can’t even lie properly. How cute.
Of course, I (and every other parent) becomes significantly less amused when, ten years down the road that mischievous toddler turns into a surly teenager, and their lies remain just as inept. Because at that point their lies are no longer bad because they lack the skills to do it well (years and years of sometimes successful lying have finally given them those talents), but rather because they lack the desire. A toddler lies poorly because they are too ignorant to do it well; a teenager lies poorly because they think you are too ignorant to be worth the trouble to do it better. And that, even more than the lie itself, is what is so infuriating.
And also explains why our country’s current administration is so infuriating to so many usually apolitical people.
The great Judge Judy once famously said, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” meaning that the lie itself was insult enough: don’t insult me a second time by not even bothering to make it a good lie. Over the years the plaintiffs that appeared in her court (or at least the viewers watching them) learned that lying to Judge Judy was the quickest way you could lose a case: she trained her courtroom to know that about her. Just as we, as parents, hopefully trained our children to understand that the lie was always going to be punished worse than the crime—I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has ever choked back a bitter lecture about drinking simply because I got the midnight call for rescue from the offending party, and not the police.
The question then becomes, how do we train the President (and the President’s surrogates) not to lie—or rather, not to lie so badly? Because every time we get distracted by just how bad some of them are at lying, we are taking our eyes off of the big picture (what they’re lying about), and being distracted (yet again) by the darting red laser pointer of the lie itself.
I propose that we train them the same way we train our children: we ignore it. Not that we ignore the transgression, but rather, that we ignore the lie that accompanies it. When your toddler insists that “the cat” was the one who drew all over the walls with marker, you don’t fire up Wikipedia to prove to them that, lacking opposable thumbs, a cat would never have been able to open the marker, let alone wield it. You don’t “fact-check” their conspiracy theories about who might have “stolen” their homework. (Or at least you shouldn’t.)You proceed as if the lie had never happened. And you work to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
Because it’s important that it doesn’t happen again. (Change “cat” to “Obama” and “marker” to “Russia” and I think you’ll see where I’m going here.)
Look, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s even possible, at this point, to change the behavior of a septuagenarian. In all likelihood, it isn’t. But it is still possible to change our reaction. It is still possible to punish the crime, and ignore the feeble attempt at a cover-up that accompanies it. All we have to do is keep our eyes on that prize.
And away from that oh-so-infuriating laser pointer.