Actor Tom Hanks delivers a commencement address during Harvard University commencement exercises on the school's campus, Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A Trumpy New York grande dame, who should have known better, confronted me at a dinner party the other night. “That Jack Smith is a lethal prosecutor,” she said of the Department of Justice’s special counsel investigating both the Mar-a-Lago documents and the January 6 insurrection. “He takes no prisoners.” 

Of course, last I checked, while long overdue, Jack Smith hadn’t indicted anyone, and I’m sure he hadn’t even thought of murdering someone on Fifth Avenue. Lethality is all relative, I suppose. 

Besides, as the Supreme Court has observed, prosecutors are supposed to strike hard blows; they are not at liberty to strike foul ones. If the facts are there, they should take no prisoners and leave the round-up to the U.S. Marshals. 

It’s been long remarked that Donald Trump has excised truth from our political discourse. His 2016 candidacy was built mainly on the lie that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and Hillary Clinton had committed capital crimes. Lying is congenital for Trump, but like COVID-19, the disdain for truth has become a nationwide pandemic. Tom Hanks, in his recent commencement speech at Harvard, chose words that might have been directed to my lady friend at the party: “For the truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency,” the Academy Award-winner said. Reminding graduates of the need to safeguard the truth, he noted: “If you live in the United States of America, the responsibility is yours. Ours. The effort is optional, but the truth is sacred, unalterable, chiseled into the stone of the foundation of our republic.”  

My grande dame was only picking up on Trump’s comments on Truth Social, his social media platform, which must be true because it’s in the title. Bracing himself for an impending indictment over the documents he stole from the White House, Trump had choice words for the special counsel: “This fully weaponized monster, Jack Smith, shouldn’t be let anywhere near the political persecution of ‘President Donald J. Trump’ I did nothing wrong on January 6th, and nothing wrong with the Democrats’ fix on the Document Hoax….” 

The third-person reference—the key to the Trump affect—is only part of the bombast in that statement and Trump’s fact-free election bid.  

A New York jury found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation of writer E Jean Carroll. The jury had before it the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where the most relevant portion, in terms of the case, was not his physical violence—“Grab ‘em by the pussy”—but instead, his saying of Nancy O’Dell, the entertainment broadcaster, whom he put in his gyroscope: “I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’ I took her out furniture —I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married.” 

Also, in New York, he stands indicted for falsifying business records to conceal various underlying crimes relative to secret hush money payments to a porn star where the evidence is overwhelming. And undoubtedly, there will be more indictments to come both in Georgia and in Washington. 

But he has politicized his legal predicament, lying about the serious charges against him by dubbing them lies—a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” 

Hanks was spot-on in his Harvard address: “The truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency.”  

But this is no longer just Trump’s sin. The GOP deliberately mischaracterizes the “debt ceiling” as new spending when it simply means paying for what we have already, by law, spent. When Elon Musk’s rocket blew up shortly after launch this year, it was deemed by his mission control a success with a straight face.  

Sometimes the lies run their course. In Texas, where the statehouse seeks to replace school counselors with school chaplains, the GOP could no longer ignore Trump loyalist state Attorney General Ken Paxton. After a lingering criminal indictment and years of accusations, the Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly impeached him 121-23. The 20 articles of impeachment include allegations that Paxton attempted to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits, improperly issued legal opinions to benefit a significant donor, real estate developer Nate Paul, and retaliated against whistleblowers on his staff. Also, there were bribery charges that Paul allegedly employed a woman with whom Paxton had an affair and paid for renovations to Paxton’s home. Other charges date back to Paxton’s pending 2015 felony securities fraud case, including lying to state investigators.  

In a statement on Twitter after the vote, Paxton showed his uneasy relationship with the truth, “The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just. It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning.” Paxton has said the charges are based on “hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims.” He has been suspended from office pending trial in the Texas Senate. 

Paxton is one of Trump’s closest Texas allies. Along with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Paxton unsuccessfully sued to challenge the 2020 presidential election results in four battleground states based on the lie that the election had been stolen. 

Before the impeachment vote was even taken, Trump tried to influence the outcome. “The RINO Speaker of the House of Texas, Dade Phelan, who is barely a Republican at all and failed the test on voter integrity, wants to impeach one of the most hard working and effective Attorney Generals in the United States, Ken Paxton, who just won re-election with a large number of American Patriots strongly voting for him,” Trump posted on Truth Social. He threatened any Texas House Republican who let impeachment move forward. “I will fight you if it does,” the ex-president warned. And after the House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton, Trump followed with a “Truth,” trashing Phelan and asking: “What is our Country coming to?” 

One might ask Ted Cruz what the country is coming to. Undaunted by the severity of the charges against Paxton, the Senator, seeking a third term next year, was quick to denounce the impeachment. “For the last nine years, Ken has been the strongest conservative AG in the country. Bar none. No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously—and more effectively—than has Paxton.” “That’s why the swamp in Austin wants him out,” he said. “The special interests don’t want a steadfast conservative AG.” But then, this statewide elected official packed his wheelie and fled to Cancun while his state froze in the dark and blamed his daughters for his hasty evacuation. 

And prominent Trump ally Matt Schlapp, sachem of the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), conveniently forgetting that Republicans, not Democrats, led the Paxton impeachment, tweeted his support for the besieged lawman: “If you stand up to the whacko left you will be corruptly prosecuted. CPAC stands with Ken Paxton in Texas. Any Republican who votes for impeachment will be flunking their CPAC scorecard.” 

But quite commendably, Senator John Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, and state supreme court justice said he found House investigating committee’s findings “deeply troubling,” Applauding their “looking past party labels to try to see what we need to do to preserve the public trust and integrity of the institution.” Halleluiah! 

The MAGA assault on truth is not without irony. For years, hypocritical scolds have damned our society for its relativity, post-modernism, and inability to recognize eternal truths. In the age of Trump, reality isn’t just in the eye of the beholder; it’s utterly dispensable. Fox News and other Murdoch media outlets have ballyhooed a story about illegal immigrants displacing American veterans from temporary shelters. The story turned out to be utterly fabricated. That part is no longer shocking to a traumatized society.  

What’s remarkable now is that a large portion of America not only tolerates being lied to but wants to be bathed in falsehoods, luxuriating as though a warm bath in abject fantasy. Cold, bracing truths? No one from the grande dames to CPAC seems much interested. 

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James D. Zirin, author and legal analyst, is a former federal prosecutor in New York's Southern District. He also hosts the public television talk show and podcast Conversations with Jim Zirin.