The dyspeptic Dr. Gregory House, portrayed by Hugh Laurie in the former FoxTV series that bears his name, dealt with every patient based on the same overriding principle: everybody lies.
The medical drama, which ran successfully for eight seasons and treated each patient initially as a victim of either lupus or sarcoidosis before the final epiphanic diagnosis came from the lips of the brilliant doctor himself, probably made no-one particularly sanguine about entering a hospital, but most of us more confident about leaving one alive.
And through it all, his sardonic mantra—everybody lies—invariably rang true.
The last episode of House aired in May of 2012. With a president of high character in the White House, lying then was still considered an aberration. Yet today House’s assessment of humanity seems almost quaint—not merely a wary or frightened patient lying about his condition, his social life, his symptoms. Six years later lying has evolved to an almost incalculable presence, an art form mastered by a huckster named Trump, a mannequin names Sanders, and a host of novices learning their skills on the job
It’s not merely distressing; it’s paralyzing.
The other day I was ready to launch another tirade against the president, one having to do with the FBI raid on his lawyer and Trump’s equating it with an attack on America. (That was a phrase I had always reserved for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the events of 9/11/01, and maybe even the presidential election of 2016 in the world of cyber-warfare.) But I stopped writing halfway through when I realized that everything I was saying I had said before.
Now I’ll admit that I often suggested to my writing students that there was seldom anything new to recount, only better and more imaginative ways to tell the old stories. Maybe that’s truer in fiction than in real life, for it seems that I—and I’m not alone here—keep pointing out the same malfeasance, the same deceit, the same chicanery and stupidity, the same everything day after day. And nothing changes. House was right: everybody lies. Everybody.
Yes, we win little victories when a porn star underscores the president’s treachery, or a candidate the president railed against wins an election, or a woman’s march draws a larger crowd than his inauguration, or some White House underling is given jail time. But more and more it seems likely that when the 2020 elections come around, Trump will be the incumbent. And the damage that can accrue before that—to our country, to our world, and to ourselves—lies outside the realm of my imagination, even as a fiction writer.
And when I say it’s paralyzing, this is exactly what I mean: I’ve been reduced to blogging about blogging.
Look, I get it: the longest journey begins with a single step and every vote counts and Rome wasn’t built in a day. But all these appeals to patience and persistence are difficult to honor when we no longer know whom or what to believe.
When that ornery but brilliant Doctor House said everybody lies, we all smiled and said, “Well, that’s House.” I don’t think we knew at the time that, half a decade later, we would live in a country whose guiding precept was the same, and whose president would become its benchmark.
Trump even tweets with House’s orneriness, but (and this is not a lie) with the brilliance of a bedpan.