It was a professional conversation. About long-term financial planning, mostly. We had done all the work and the comments being made were “on the way out the door comments,” In some way, the topic of President Trump came up and I said that he was clearly the most consistently lying president in our history. “Yes,” agreed the professional, “and the most lied about.”
I had one of those moments you see in the movies where I kept moving and everything else remained frozen in place. I felt as if some kind of a spell had been cast.
Say what? The most lied about?
Three impressions came piling in on me at once. The first was the ease with which he said it. It was a “talking point.” He already had that handy. It wasn’t a realization; it wasn’t a conviction. It was a line that was current in the political crowd he identified with.
The second was that although “lying” is something we could know, “being lied about” is not. How would you do that? Would you sum all the lies that everyone told about President Trump and compare it to the number of all the lies told about all previous presidents? Really? Would you calculate an average number of lies per 100,000 of population?
It really isn’t something anyone could know and yet it was tied, conversationally, to something everyone could know—the absolute count of lies, how they were false, and the evidence establishing that they were false—because they are all matters of public record. The huge discrepancy between the two notions—he lies/he is lied about—really struck me.
The third thing that struck me is that this professional is not clever in his speech. He is well-informed and trustworthy (both very valuable) but his style is not the quick quip or the subtle turn. This line, cute as it is, really didn’t sound like him. So the third thought was, “Where did he get that?”
I don’t know. I really don’t want to know. But it reminded me immediately and vividly of a scene in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Flight Behavior. Here is the line I want to end up with: “Al Gore can come toast his buns on this,”
There is a context, of course. Dellarobia, the principal character, and her husband, Cub, are being drawn in different directions by a flare-up in the culture war. Ordinarily, there is only one culture in Feathertown, Tennessee, but the inexplicable arrival of thousands of Monarch butterflies, followed immediately by dozens of lepidopterists, has changed all that. The scientists hired Dellarobia to do some work for them and she has been listening to what they say to each other.
So when she says to Cub, “it’s due to climate change, basically,”  she knows she is close to the edge of the chasm. Cub isn’t sure what “climate change” is. “What’s that?” he says. After hesitating a little—she senses what is at stake—she says, “Global warming.”
That brings us to the line I cited at the beginning. When Dellarobia says “global warming,” Cub kicks up a cloud of frost from the ground and says, “Al Gore can come and toast his buns on this.” A line like that really doesn’t sound like Cub and it isn’t his. It is a line from Johnny Midgeon, a local radio host, who uses it every time a winter storm comes through. In Midgeon’s world, frost on the ground is a refutation of “global warming.”
So when I reflected that the line about “Trump is the most lied about president” didn’t really sound like the person who said it, I remembered Cub and how quick he was to use Johnny Midgeon’s line. Cub is part of a group of locals who listen to Midgeon and who use his one-liners to keep the reality of the world at bay. Just quoting the lines at the right time deals with the topic (It’s ridiculous!) and shows that you are part of the group.
I don’t know if the financial professional I was talking to is really a part of such a group, but his remark is what Cub’s reliance on radio host wit reminded me of. And I think that it why it was so powerful for me. It wasn’t a “slip of the tongue.” It was the practiced reliance on a one-liner that is presumably shared among a group of like-minded people.
I smiled at him on my way out the door and said, “See you in March,” but my mind was screaming, “Danger, Will Robinson.
 Here’s the earlier part of the quote. “And Dr. Byron’s not the only one wondering. There’s more to it than just these butterflies, a lot of things are messed up.