Speaking power to truth

Most politicians lie. Or do they?

Even if we could find some isolated example of a politician who was scrupulously honest — former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps — what about the rest of them? And if most politicians lie, why are so many of us so hard on President Donald Trump?

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told more than 6,000 lies so far in his presidency. In the seven weeks leading up to the midterms, in fact, the rate increased to 30 per day.

That’s a lot, but isn’t this a difference in degree and not a difference in kind?

From my perspective as a philosopher who studies truth and belief, it doesn’t seem so. Even if most politicians lie, that doesn’t make all lying equal.

The difference in Trump’s prevarication seems to be not in the quantity or enormity, but in the way that Trump uses it in service of a proto-authoritarian political ideology.

I recently wrote a book titled “Post-Truth,” about what happens when alternative facts replace actual facts and feelings have more weight than evidence. Looked at from this perspective, calling Trump a liar fails to capture his key strategic purposes.

Any amateur politician can engage in lying. Trump is engaging in post-truth subterfuge.

The Oxford English Dictionaries named “post-truth” its word of the year in November 2016, right before the U.S. election.

Citing a 2,000 percent spike in usage — due to Brexit and the American presidential campaign — they defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Ideology, in other words, takes precedence over reality.

When an individual believes his thoughts can influence reality, we call it “magical thinking.” When a government official uses ideology to trump reality, it moves into the realm of propaganda.

Consider Trump’s decision not to cancel a pair of political rallies on the day of a massacre in Pittsburgh. He said it was based on the fact that the New York Stock Exchange opened as usual the day after 9/11.

That isn’t true. The stock exchange stayed closed for six days after 9/11.

So, was this a mistake? A lie? Trump didn’t seem to treat it as such. In fact, he repeated the falsehood later the same day.

When a politician is caught in a lie, there’s usually a bit of sweat, perhaps some shame, and an expectation of consequences. But not for Trump.

After commentators pointed out to him that the stock exchange was, in fact, closed for several days after 9/11, he merely shrugged it off, never bothering to acknowledge — let alone correct — his error.

Why would he do this? Is Trump adopting the methods of authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin?

The point of a lie is to convince someone it’s true. The point of post-truth conduct is domination. It’s an assertion of power.

As journalist Masha Gessen and others have argued, Trump lies not to get someone to accept what he’s saying, but to show he is powerful enough to get away with it.

He has asserted, “I’m the President and you’re not,” as if such high political office comes with the prerogative of creating his own reality.

This would explain why Trump doesn’t seem to care much if there is videotape or other evidence that contradicts him. When you’re the boss, what does that matter?

Should we be worried about this flight from mere lying to post-truth?

Even if all politicians lie, I believe post-truth foreshadows something more sinister. In his powerful book “On Tyranny,” historian Timothy Snyder terms “post-truth” tantamount to “pre-fascism.” It is a tactic seen in “electoral dictatorships,” where a society retains the facade of voting without the institutions or trust to ensure any actual democracy.

The authoritarian playbook is characterized by erosion of public institutions and consolidation of power. You do not need to convince someone that you are telling the truth when you can simply assert your will over them.

From The Conversation, an online repository of lay versions of academic research findings found at https://theconversation.com/us. Used with permission.



This article fits the three West Coast Governor’s to a tee. All three will do whatever it takes to assert there power over people. Newsom, Inslee and Brown are the three worst Governor’s in America. Not one of them listen to the taxpayers. I know this was written about President Trump but it fits those three way better. Thank God Brown can never be Governor again. She has been asked to speed up the unemployment debacle, complained about the Federal government endlessly but wants their money and refuses to drop the CAT tax. The environmental issues are more important to Kate Brown than the people that live in this states welfare.

Don Dix

From the article -- 'When a politician is caught in a lie, there’s usually a bit of sweat, perhaps some shame, and an expectation of consequences.'

When 'caught in a lie' (which is frequent), politicians don't seem to 'sweat' at all. Their team of 'apologists' immediately jump into action (and they all have such a team). Denying the obvious, deflecting the facts by others, and claiming such are 'taken out of context' is the sworn duty of these teams. It's always 'my side' against 'your side', and the finger-pointing is constant and predictable -- keeping the partisan divide alive and thriving.

'Shame'? In order to 'feel shame', one must first a have a conscience. Those that actually have a conscience never get anywhere in the world of politics -- one must be ruthless and never look back.

'Consequences' are hardly in play at all. Usually by election time, voters are so misdirected with everything but the actual truth, it's back to partisanship and party-line voting for many. The politician counts on exactly that response.

When any politician explains any questionable statement or action, the truth is obscured by 'the political double-speak' -- talking in circles and never addressing anything near the subject of untruthful comments or mistakes -- it has become an art, 'acting', in it's purest form. Using the term 'I misspoke' has become the go to explanation, and that statement usually ends the inquiry into the search for the truth, even though it isn't 'settled'.

One thing is for sure -- politicians count on the naive to never question, only fall in line because the alternative is the 'other side'. We can do better, but chances are we won't!

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