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Hullabaloo


Sunday, February 05, 2017

 

"that they should believe a lie"

by Tom Sullivan

Supporters told pollsters they liked Donald Trump for telling it like it is. Except that was never true. What Trump supporters like is he tells them what they want to hear. They don't want the truth. He tells them lies. They don't want facts. He feeds them disinformation. His administration dishes out propaganda, the kind Cold Warrior parents warned about.

Trump is a legend in his own mind. Even he doesn't really believe it. He requires constant auto-reinforcement and adulation from those who surround him or he throws a Twitter tantrum. But that's personal pathology. The societal one is more concerning. So is his party's.

Two years ago, Heather Cox Richardson writing for Salon spoke about the Republican abandonment of truth for utility. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attempted to write the search for truth out of the University of Wisconsin's mission statement, replacing it with “meet the state’s workforce needs.” She traced the impulse back to William F. Buckley’s 1951 “God and Man at Yale" in which he proposed that The Enlightenment had led western civilization astray, in the mid-twentieth century, specifically, towards the New Deal.

Richardson wrote:

Rational argument supported by facts did not lead to sound societal decisions, Buckley claimed; it led people astray. Christianity and an economy based on untrammeled individualism were truths that should not be questioned. Impartial debate based in empirical facts was dangerous because it led people toward secularism and collectivism—both bad by definition, according to Buckley. Instead of engaging in rational argument, Buckley insisted, thinkers must stand firm on what he called a new “value orthodoxy” that indoctrinated people to understand that Christianity and economic individualism were absolute truths. Maintaining that faith in reasoned debate was a worse “superstition” than the Enlightenment had set out to replace, Buckley launched an intellectual war to replace the principle of academic inquiry with a Christian and individualist ideology.
By the ascent of George W. Bush to the presidency, Buckley's view had won:
As Movement Conservatives took over the Republican Party, that ideology worked its way deep into our political system. It has given us, for example, a senator claiming words he spoke on the Senate floor were “not intended to be a factual statement.” It has given us “dynamic scoring,” a rule changing the way the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the economic impact of tax cuts, to reinforce the idea that cuts fuel economic growth despite the visibly disastrous effects of recent tax cuts on states such as Kansas. And it has given us attempts in Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado to discard the A.P. U.S. History framework and dictate that students learn instead the Movement Conservatives’ skewed version of the nation’s history. Politicians have always spun information to advance their own policies. The practice infuriates partisans but it reflects the Enlightenment idea of progress through reasoned argument. Movement Conservatives’ insistence on their own version of reality, in defiance of facts, is something different altogether.
Now Donald Trump is a president. A Republican president. With this walking bundle of pathologies, the descent into alternate reality returns and the slope is even steeper. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insist we should accept the White House's "alternative facts" over the evidence of our own eyes. And who, for instance, will ever forget the Bowling Green Massacre she fabricated?

What's more confounding is how many Americans — Americans — buy into the kind of Soviet fantasy they once railed against.

Mikhail Iossel writes for The New Yorker that even Soviet citizens knew better than to believe the kind of propaganda Trump and his coterie spew daily. But in the name of making America great again, Trump's supporters (the older ones, anyway) embrace what they once feared:
... Everyone knew that they, the Soviet people, lived in a veritable funhouse of a giant isolated world unto itself, in the parallel reality of that endless hall of crazily distorted mirrors. People were not fooled, to put it mildly. Still, there was nothing they, including myself and everyone I knew, could do with or about that understanding. There was no place for them to take it, to pour it out on. Being exposed to constant, relentless irradiation by that funhouse reality, forever aswim in a sea of lies, had made people lethargic and apathetic, cynical and fatalistic, dumbfounded into mute infantilism, drunkenness, and helpless rage in the meagreness of their tiny private, personal worlds.
Lethargic, cynical, fatalistic, etc. Hardly how Trump fanciers fancy themselves, but beware. Believe the lie, become the lie. What's different is how amateur-hour similar propaganda efforts are here at home. No one is fooled.

"This American Life" took a skeptical look at the Trump travel ban over the weekend. They interviwed Benjamin Wittes, a national security expert from the Brookings Institution. Wittes wrote a scathing review of the Trump executive order, calling its purpose malevolent in addition to "the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction." Specifically, Wittes calls out the thinly veiled lie at the heart of it. Wittes writes:
What’s more, the document also takes steps that strike me as utterly orthogonal to any relevant security interest. If the purpose of the order is the one it describes, for example, I can think of no good reason to burden the lives of students individually suspected of nothing who are here lawfully and just happen to be temporarily overseas, or to detain tourists and refugees who were mid-flight when the order came down. I have trouble imagining any reason to raise questions about whether green card holders who have lived here for years can leave the country and then return. Yes, it’s temporary, and that may lessen the costs (or it may not, depending on the outcome of the policy review the order mandates), but temporarily irrational is still irrational.

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.
Then you lie about why you're really doing it, not because anyone will believe the lie, but because it's company policy, as I once read about a meeting between a dissatisfied customer and a regional manager for GM:
"He was lying to me. I knew he was lying to me. He knew I knew he was lying to me. But he lied anyway, not because he had anything to gain from the lies, but because it was company policy."
And so it is with the Trump administration. I once believed the Bush II administration represented the apotheosis of Movement Conservative ideology, but I was wrong. Trump has discovered an even lower circle of hell.

The interview with Wittes brought me back to the voter fraud propaganda I referenced yesterday morning. Voter fraud is code speak the way Lee Atwater used "forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff." Promoters of voter ID laws and other voting restrictions don't give a damn about election integrity. They're not really concerned that masses of invisible people are voting illegally undetected. That's the thinnest of window dressings. They're angry that the "wrong kind" of people are voting at all. But believers in "telling it like it is" won't admit to the lie.

Trump and those supporting his travel ban aren't as afraid of terrorist violence as they are of foreign Others encroaching on their turf. Trump's travel ban, like voter fraud, is another institutionalized lie. No one is fooled. Like the Soviets before them, they don't even care if nobody is fooled. Lying is company policy.