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H. Brandt Ayers: When presidents lie

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If Donald Trump had been a journalist, he would have been fired long ago. No editor of a publication higher in quality than a grocery-store tabloid would have tolerated the first of his baseless accusations, exaggerations and lies.

Credibility is journalism’s coin of the realm; newspapers and networks have to be believed in order to survive — a value of life-or-death necessity for a president of the United States.

From his denial in the face of photographic proof that his inaugural crowd was smaller than President Obama’s to his baseless assertion that massive voter fraud had denied him the popular vote to a criminal accusation that Obama had bugged Trump Tower, this president has sowed doubt in the minds of a majority of citizens, Congress and foreign leaders.

The breathtaking criminal charge against a former president breaches the protocol of honor former presidents maintain. It has been denied by the FBI and national intelligence agencies.

It apparently stems from a rumor circulated by the outlaw news group Breitbart, which was picked up by the president in a bad mood caused by hurt feelings and resulted in a spontaneous tweet against his predecessor.

Lies have consequences.

Trump’s uninformed criticisms of NATO and the European Union, together with his admiration for the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, have advanced and shortened a strategic goal of the Kremlin — weakening the Western alliance as the only force to tame Russia’s ambitions.

As the leader of a major democratic power, the president of the United States has been at the head of the alliance. A president who cannot be believed snaps the cords of trust that hold the alliance together.

Of course, presidents prevaricate for the reasons other people do: Pathology, politeness, paternalism, convenience, shame, self-promotion, insecurity, ego, narcissism and, even on occasion, to further a noble goal.

All lies are not the same size; neither are they always told for evil intent. No one tells a friend who has been away that he or she is fat, though the friend has obviously gained a lot of weight.

All presidents lie when they exalt the great American people knowing we are not always great. Some of us are mean, prejudiced, shallow, lazy and corrupt, but it is true to say that as a whole we are great.

Some presidential lies have dire consequences, some do not. Franklin Roosevelt exaggerated the degree of our entry into World War II through the lend-lease of military supplies to Britain, comparing it to lending a hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire. He did so out of a belief that he was saving our civilization from Nazi conquest.

Harry Truman misspoke when he said Hiroshima was chosen as a site for the first atomic bomb to avoid civilian casualties. Civilian deaths and injuries vastly outnumbered military casualties. John F. Kennedy prevaricated when he said the U.S. government was not involved in the Bay of Pigs disaster when the raid was planned and run by the CIA.

Ronald Reagan did not tell the truth when he said the United States did not trade arms to Iran for hostages, and Bill Clinton told a half-truth when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman. She did with him.

Lyndon Johnson’s exaggeration of a skirmish in the Gulf of Tonkin led to a massive buildup in the foolish, fated Vietnam War that resulted in 58,213 American boys dead. George W. Bush followed imaginary facts into the tragedy of Iraq.

Unlike former presidents, Trump seems to suffer from narcissism, an inflated sense of self-importance, an obsessive need for adoration and an inability to tolerate criticism.

If Trump is unable to get his narcissism under control, the only good outcome for the nation, short of impeachment, is for Cabinet-level heads of State, Defense and the CIA to conspire to run the government and give credit to figurehead Trump.

H. Brandt Ayers is chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.