Trump lied shamelessly in CNN's Town Hall — but he's just a symptom of our national dysfunction

As Kevin McCarthy is held hostage by the likes of George Santos, Trump returns to prime time to trigger everyone

By Brian Karem


Published May 11, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump and George Santos (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump and George Santos (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Since humans first crawled out of the caves and encountered others like themselves, tribes have waged war against each other for reasons that are real, trivial, fictional and nonsensical.

One could argue it's our prime directive.

Moreover, it can be argued that every institution devised by humans has been used to enslave other humans.

The difference today is that social media has given everyone a voice to fight the power, but unfortunately, it's that little fearful voice inside our head saying "Burn it all down!" that people are using instead. Those who wish to wield power against everyone else have listened to our fears and are leveraging them against us. Thus, the more we yell, the more violent our mania seems.

Enter Donald Trump. The former president continues to suck up all the air in the room because he is not only bombastic, he's also a twit and a grifter with no moral center and a preternatural ability to focus on fear and use it as both currency and a cloak.

Some of that cloak was stripped away in court this week in the E. Jean Carroll civil case. She successfully established Trump as a liar and a sexual, misogynistic bully. The jury in her case slapped Trump with $5 million in punitive damages. Once again, the followers have been shown the Emperor has no clothes. But as Rip Torn reminded us in the film "Defending Your Life," "Being from Earth, as you are, and using as little of your brain as you do, your life has pretty much been devoted to dealing with fear." Thus Trump's faithful fearmongers likely will not abandon their master over the Carroll verdict. His supporters are already calling it part of the "witch hunt" and giving Trump his perpetual pass to embrace his darkest angels.

It is fear of the world, fear of Trump, fear that you might be wrong and fear in general that drives his supporters to their violently manic actions. That fear sits like a giant fog, blocking true happiness and enlightenment as we suffer through a world of so-called alpha males obsessed with penis envy.

That brings us back to Donald Trump, who showed up for a Wednesday night appearance on a CNN "Town Hall" hosted by journalist Kaitlin Collins and didn't wait more than a minute before he began lying. He told lies about January 6, the 2020 election, classified documents, the border, and made misogynist comments while also calling a Black police officer a thug.

Trump played before a handpicked crowd of supporters as Collins frantically tried to hold him accountable. Trump was Trump. He still would not accept that he lost the 2020 election, continued to spread lies about voter fraud, made disparaging comments about Carroll and continued to play to a crowd that was only too happy to cheer and applaud every misogynistic and racist comment he made.

For some, it was a moment loaded with PTSD. I for one had forgotten how happy life has been without having to face and push back against dozens of lies on any given day. But the mania that is Trump is still there, though he appears to have a lot of hard miles under him since we last saw each other.

But, just in case you missed the point, Trump endorsed the U.S. government defaulting on its debt unless the Democrats "cave" on issues and cut spending. Then he said the Democrats would absolutely cave. The funniest moment came during the commercial break when Ron DeSantis was seen in a commercial claiming he wouldn't back down. Most of the rest of the "commercials" were in-house promos for CNN shows. Turns out few wanted to subsidize Trump's return to television as he talked about our country being destroyed or being a Third World nation, or how great he was.

As frustrating as it was to watch him on a national stage again, and as sure as I am that millions of people watching him were yelling at the television, Trump is still just a symptom of our dysfunction.

Recent articles about the economy claim the only thing keeping us from plunging into the abyss of a recession is the American frenzied consumer. We're so well trained at spending, that while economists claim we're on the brink of a recession, Americans continue their consumptive nature with a fury that hasn't let up just because we're suffering from inflation or a loss of medical care, the shrinking or non-existence of our retirement funds, our lack of health care, insane politics, climate change, doomsday advocates, religious fanatics, Trump supporters, delusional politics from the far left, the far right, and the threat of annihilation from a stray asteroid.

Man, we're crushing it. We're a lean, mean, fighting capitalism machine. 

Against all logic, we've embraced the competition that has led to an increasingly smaller number of larger companies determining how we spend our lives.

And that's still not good enough for some members of the Republican party. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy met with President Biden at the White House Tuesday. The discussion was about the debt ceiling. McCarthy wants to break the president and make him curb social spending before McCarthy will agree to raise the debt ceiling so we don't default on our debts.  

Mind you, Republicans voted for the spending they now blame Biden for. In essence, they want Biden to act like their parent so they won't spend again. But in an attempt to break Biden, they run the risk of breaking the country. Trump, on the other hand, is happy to say he'd welcome a default.

McCarthy is stuck too. He has to play to the crazed far-right minority that elevated him to his leadership role – or he could face losing it if one single member of his party challenges him. Hence his public stance of blaming Biden for the potential debt ceiling crisis. The entire world economy and every person on the planet could suffer because of the likes of George Santos, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the other reprobates who hold McCarthy hostage — a fact Biden acknowledged Tuesday. "I don't know how much leeway Kevin McCarthy thinks he has in light of the fact — and I'm not being a wise guy when I say it took 15 votes for him to acquire the speakership. And, apparently, he had to make some serious concessions to get it from the most extreme elements of his party. So, I just don't know," Biden explained.

McCarthy is stuck too. He has to play to the crazed far-right minority that elevated him to his leadership role.

What Biden and those who understand this issue do know is that if anything could throw the world into an economic depression it would be if the most powerful country on the planet defaulted on its debts. It would be like finding out your rich uncle, who has propped up everyone else in the family, has gone broke and needs your help. (I swear that is not a Donald Trump reference.)

The only two news issues I can think of that rival the debt ceiling in importance is the war in Ukraine or a stray asteroid wiping out the planet. But Biden thinks it's the debt ceiling; "Obviously, this is the single most important thing that's on the agenda," he told reporters at the White House Tuesday.

A look across the country explains why.

Rural America is dying. Some homes are so freshly abandoned in rural America that the shattered window panes are still hanging like glass fangs over the openings in the hole in the wall they used to cover.  

Spend a night in Dodge City, then drive from western Kansas through most of New Mexico and parts of Arizona along the old Cimarron Trail. A road trip through that area will show you hundreds of abandoned individual homes; hundreds of rusted trucks, cars, bicycles and school buses; tiny communities with scarce to non-existent services, from groceries to health care. Laguna, New Mexico, founded in 1699, has a median income that a fast food worker would find insulting. Vast parts of rural America look tired, abandoned and quiet — painfully so.

This is the essence of Trump Country: Empty, vaguely dangerous by night and a stone-cold drag by day. They want better. They deserve better.

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The one sliver of hope in a drive through these areas is the ubiquitous sight of workers rebuilding our infrastructure. Love him or hate him, Joe Biden may be remembered to posterity in a favorable manner for signing the infrastructure act. But many in Trumplandia won't give him credit for it.

A refusal to raise the debt ceiling could be the trigger that finally destroys what's left of the shrinking rural culture in our country. It is no coincidence that this is where Trump's most fervent supporters live.

There's the root of your histrionics. There's your frenzy. It is not unexpected. It is the rage against the dying of the light, sponsored and created by the very people you voted into office to save your way of life.

A refusal to raise the debt ceiling could be the trigger that finally destroys what's left of the shrinking rural culture in our country.

Speaking of things not unexpected, on Tuesday news broke that George Santos was charged with federal crimes. Wednesday morning we found out there are 13 federal charges against the New York Republican. All told, the craven liar and loyal Trump supporter is charged with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives — and a partridge in a pear tree. 

It is serendipitous that Trump, himself charged with a felony, had a civil jury rule against him the day it was announced Santos would face charges. It portends greater woes for Trump because Santos is a liar and a cheat like Trump – though nowhere near as accomplished. And like Trump, Santos is a millstone around the GOP's collective neck. Of course he's going to run for re-election. Meanwhile, Speaker McCarthy — who once said he wished Santos had more power than Biden — sang a different tune Wednesday evening. He said he wouldn't support Santos for re-election and if the ethics committee found he had broken the law, he would ask for Santos to resign from Congress. This is one millstone McCarthy may yet remove from the body politic. The mania continues. In Santos' case, you've got to give it to him: He's berserk. He's bat-guano nuts. He's delusional, rabid and unencumbered by ethics, morality or human decency — but he and Donald Trump are consistent.

That consistency drives the paranoia and the frenzied behavior. We saw that again Wednesday night with Donald Trump on CNN. As the ancient mariners warned us, "Beware: Here there be dragons." Trump says he would pardon a "large portion" of the January 6 rioters and claims the insurrection was a march that was done by people with "a lot of love" in their heart.

What will it take for McCarthy and what's left of the GOP to finally push themselves away from Trump? The damage is done; there's very little left of that party. Trump, of course, has done much more than Santos in ruining the Republican party. As Dahlia Lithwick and Ronnell Andersen pointed out in Slate this week, the former president was "found liable for a horrific sexual assault and . . . his dishonesty has become so commonplace that both his supporters and opponents mostly shrug when yet another of his statements turns out to be wholly untethered from the truth."

Yet, the lesson from the frenzy this week is clear. A former president told a blatant lie and was finally found accountable in court. This does not bode well for those who follow that warped dragon. And he hasn't learned a thing. He still lies continuously. Loves the fight, ignores the facts, plays to the crowd who swallows his lies and sits in judgment preaching the same fear and the same hatred.

Too bad the evangelicals who wrapped themselves around Donald Trump and his minions like McCarthy and Santos forgot their book of Hosea. "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump George Santos Kevin Mccarthy