On Tuesday, July 25, Donald Trump sat down in the Oval Office for an interview with five reporters and editors from the Wall Street Journal. Fresh on his mind was the reaction to his speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree the night before. One of the reporters in the room had called it “mixed”.
“There was no mix there,” Trump said. “That was a standing ovation from the time I walked out to the time I left, and for five minutes after I had already gone. There was no mix.”
But this wasn’t sufficient. It wasn’t enough for Donald Trump to observe the response to his speech from the audience itself. He needed to nail the point.
“I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them,” Trump said.
And there it sat, largely unknown, until Politico published the full WSJ interview transcript this past Tuesday. Now aware of the claim, the Scouts denied any phone call had taken place.
This fascinates us.
That Donald Trump lies, that he lives in a fetid swamp of his own hyperbole, is not news. Nor is any other aspect of his rancid bullying personality. We know all there is to know about Donald Trump. We have known it for a very long time. And we honestly wouldn’t give a shit about it, except for the fact we all must endure it.
And yet this fascinates us. This lie, this least consequential of all his lies. Nobody will die because of this lie, unlike his others. No harm will be caused. Nothing will come of it at all.
Nor would this lie have made any difference to his reputation, not to a man who repeatedly insists his election was historic, his presidency second only to Lincoln’s. A world-historical figure need not worry about the reaction to a speech to a crowd of boys.
And yet Donald Trump felt deeply compelled to lie about it anyway. He could not let it go.
We grew up deeply identifying with Charlie Brown. We were physically awkward, socially clumsy, always at risk of humiliation. We played right field, which is where you put the kids who will otherwise ruin the game. We identified with Charlie Brown because he suffered all that, and endured it, with good nature. He would not let the world crush him.
We farted once in gym, in junior high. The room was quiet, everyone was doing situps, and we ripped one out. A good, hearty fart, a fart for the ages. The gym teacher, a crusty, burly man, responded with a line so perfect that we ask his forgiveness for not remembering it. What we do remember was the laughter that followed. And how we felt.
We were mortified.
There’s a mortification you can only feel when you’re young, a Carrie in the Showers mortification, a mortification that is an existential threat. You will never live this down. Your life has ended.
And then, y’know, we grow up. Most of us, anyway. We learn to accept it, deal with it, incorporate the inevitability of embarrassment into our outlook. Some of us make high comedy of it. Hey, we’re all only human, and that’s part of what being human is about.
But not all of us. Some of us never survive that fear of mortification, that experience of it, that moment that sears deep into a young soul. Because it hurts. It really does hurt. Everything hurts when you’re young and sensitive, but that really hurts.
And from that moment, you can build up the rest. If a moment has hurt you that deeply, you will do everything in your power never to experience it again, or anything like it. Step by step, day by day, year by year, you will build a wall, a wall around your soul, a wall so high that nothing can get past it, not the slightest humiliation, never mind the severest mortification. It hurts that much.
And over time, that wall becomes your personality, becomes who you are. You must be the greatest at everything you do, everything, no exception, for even the slightest doubt is a vulnerability, a potential breach of your defenses.
And by that point, lies are irrelevant. Nobody can lie like that, not so wildly and pointlessly. But anybody can fear like that, fear so thoroughly that anything can and must be said to keep mortification at bay.
Even if it’s regarding a mixed reaction to a Boy Scout speech.
But we have known this for years about him, known the dark depth of his fear, known it for as long as we’ve known about Donald Trump. It was there from the start, in plain sight, not the mortification itself, but the thing that revealed it.
Because Donald Trump has always resisted being called a short-fingered vulgarian. It has upset him for years, decades, so deeply that he would constantly demonstrate to Graydon Carter, who originated the phrase in Spy magazine, that it was not the case.
Only it wasn’t being called a vulgarian that bothered him.