Yves here. This post makes some important observations about how the Trump Administration is going to unprecedented lengths to promote some of its narratives, such as scrubbing Federal websites of inconvenient warnings and data.
However, it is also important to recognize that mainstream reality to at least a fair degree is a social/political construct. Consider also this assessment from Jacobin (hat tip martha r):
Since Donald Trump’s victory in November, liberals have felt a profound sense of loss. After decades of defining the relevant facts and truths for others, they find themselves in a world that seems to have given up on factuality itself. As an exasperated Huffington Post contributor :
The greatest problem of our future is not political; it is not economic; it is not even rational. It’s the battle of fact versus fiction. Sadly, a Trump victory illustrates that we are no longer able to distinguish between the two.
In “The Fallacy of Post-Truth,” we recommended a healthy dose of skepticism toward this narrative. arguing that liberals who decry our post-factual age are really mourning the end of an era in which their statements of fact and value stood relatively undisputed. The age of truth never existed; the ruling class has always defined what counts as fact and fiction.
But even if you agree with this point, you might insist that Donald Trump — inaugurated at the half-empty and totally packed Washington Mall on January 20, 2017 — still profoundly threatens scientific fact and ethical truth.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, criticizing our work in LA Review of Books, seems to think so:
. . . the authors take their one-sided judgement too far by ignoring the “fact” that a fascist onslaught against truth is not a mere advancement of liberal misrepresentation, but its antithesis. A radical assault on democratic values by a fascist regime is not a worsening of liberal pretensions but a radical distortion of social reality and ethical values.
This argument shares many features with liberal nostalgia: both suggest that a firm affirmation of truth and values will defeat the grifter-in-chief. But if fact-checking and moral outrage couldn’t stop the lying pussy-grabber from winning the election, how could they remove him from office?
Liberals’ favorite tactic — correcting their opponents on moral, factual, or procedural grounds — not only doesn’t work, but it also reveals their strategic incompetence. We can only confront Trumpism once we recognize it as a symptom of American political culture, that must be attacked on a political terrain.
No doubt, Trump’s election marks a rupture with previous administrations. But what kind of rupture? As we argued in the prequel to this text, many of the characteristics of the new “post-truth era” have been part of American politics — and all politics — for a long time.
By Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua. Originally published at TomDispatch
The Trump administration seems intent on tossing recent history down the memory hole. Admittedly, Americans have never been known for their strong grasp of facts about their past. Still, as we struggle to keep up with the constantly shifting explanations and pronouncements of the new administration, it becomes ever harder to remember the events of yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.
The Credibility Swamp
Trump and his spokespeople routinely substitute “alternative facts” for what a friend of mine calls consensus reality, the world that most of us recognize. Whose inaugural crowd was bigger, Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s? It doesn’t matter what you remember, or even what’s in the written accounts or photographic record. What matters is what the administration now says happened then. In other words, for Trump and his people, history in any normal sense simply doesn’t exist, and that’s a danger for the rest of us. Think of the Trumpian past as a website that can be constantly updated to fit the needs of the present. You may believe you still remember something that used to be there, but it’s not there now. As it becomes increasingly harder to find, can you really trust your own memory?
In recent months, revisions of that past have sometimes come so blindingly fast that the present has simply been overrun, as was true with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. First, the president ordered up some brand new supporting documents from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. These were designed to underpin his line that Comey was fired on their recommendation — for being “unfair” to Hillary Clinton. Then, even as his surrogates were out peddling that very story, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that, “regardless of [Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.” And he explained why:
“And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”
Which rationale for Comey’s departure is true? Both? Neither? What is “truth” after all?
When the need to ask such questions occurs once in a while, it’s anomalous enough that we notice. We have time to remark that someone or various people in this story — Sessions, Rosenstein, the surrogates, Trump himself — are mistaken or even lying. Fortunately, in the case of Comey’s firing, journalists are still reporting the lies, but what happens if the rewrites of our recent history begin to come so fast that we stop keeping up?
During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson was famously said to have a “credibility gap.” People, including journalists, had stopped believing everything his administration said about one very important topic: the war. Trump doesn’t have a credibility gap; he’s tossed us into a credibility swamp. We’re all there together swimming in a mire of truth and lies, with the occasional firecrackerthrown in just to see if we’re still paying attention.
If the age of Trump doesn’t end relatively soon, the daily effort to sort out what happened from what didn’t may eventually become too much for many of us. Memory fatigue may set in, and the whole project of keeping the past in focus shelved. In that case, we might very well start to give up the concept of citizenship altogether and decide instead to just get on with our own private uninsured, underpaid, and overworked lives.
Sometimes it’s easier to simply adjust to an ever-changing official version of reality than to keep up a constant, unrewarding struggle to remember. This was the phenomenon George Orwell described so unforgettably in his dystopian novel 1984. His hero, Winston Smith, becomes aware that the sole party that runs his country incessantly rewrites the past to its own liking and advantage. In fact, he realizes that “the past not only changed, but changed continuously.”
Like most inhabitants of the mega-state of Oceania, it wasn’t that Smith couldn’t accept such a reality. He could. What he couldn’t shake was a nightmarish sense “that he had never clearly understood why” the Party needed to do it. “The immediate advantages of falsifying the past were obvious, but the ultimate motive was mysterious” to him. That “ultimate motive,” he eventually realizes, is to so destroy people’s hold on memory that they come to believe that truth genuinely is whatever the Party says it is.
”In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable?”
Does President Trump know what he’s doing? Does he know that, in a more chaotic fashion than Orwell’s “Big Brother,” he’s grinding away at American memories, threatening to turn them into so much rubble? It’s hard to say; he appears to be incapable of either self-reflection or planning, indeed of acting in any way except on impulse. He does, however, seem to know in an intuitive way what works for him, what gets him things he wants, as he has his whole professional life. He’s called his method “truthful hyperbole.” And regardless of what he himself understands, there are certainly people around him who do grasp all too well the usefulness of that “ultimate motive,” of convincing the public that facts are not all that stubborn after all.
The Memory Hole
Supplying alternative facts is one way of destroying memory. Erasing real facts is another.
In Orwell’s 1984, there was a slot in the wall at the Ministry of Truth where Winston Smith worked, a memory hole, into which inconvenient documents could be fed to be consumed forever by a huge basement furnace. There are, it seems, plenty of memory holes in Washington these days.
Since January, the Trump administration has been systematically removing from federal websites inconvenient information on subjects as diverse as climate change and occupational health and safety, and replacing it with anodyne messages. Take, for instance, this one, which you get when you search the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for the term “climate change” and click on links that search turns up:
“This page is being updated.
“Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator [Scott] Pruitt. If you’re looking for an archived version of this page, you can find it on the January 19 snapshot.”
If you do click on the link for that January 19, 2017, “snapshot,” you can still (for now) see what the old climate change portal of the Obama era looked like. At the top of the “snapshot,” however, is a bright red notice announcing:
“This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to www.epa.gov. This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”
The government has now entered full-scale climate change denial mode. Information of just about any sort on global warming has been or is being memory-holed in a wholesale fashion at other agency websites as well. The Guardian, for instance, reports that, in the part of the Department of Energy’s site addressed to children, “sentences that point out the harmful health consequences of burning coal and other impacts of fossil fuels have gone.” At the State Department, references to President Obama’s Climate Action Planand a recent U.N. meeting on climate change have similarly been expunged.
However, it’s not just government pronouncements on issues like climate change that are being sanitized. Actual data is disappearing from government websites. The federal government collects vast amounts of data, much of it the results of studies it has funded. Some agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, are required by law to retain data they collect, but they are not required to post it. This means basic information and the results of scientific research, once available online, are now only available through a Freedom of Information Act request. Of course, you have to know that the information exists in the first place in order to request it.
One result of hiding such data is that scientists citing U.S. government webpages as sources in their own work are now finding that the references they’ve pointed to have disappeared. Arctic researcher Victoria Herrmann describes watching her citations dissolve into thin air:
“At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the Internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.”
Herrmann was able to find some of her missing articles using the Wayback Machine, an internet archiving project. But as Herrmann points out, “Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.”
It’s not just environmental information that’s been tossed down the memory hole. Concerned about the health and safety of workers or animals? The Washington Post reports some things you won’t find anymore on federal sites:
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, has dramatically scaled back on publicizing its fines against firms. And the Agriculture Department has taken offline animal-welfare enforcement records, including abuses in dog breeding operations and horse farms that alter the gait of horses through the controversial practice of ‘soring’ the animals’ legs.”
Sometimes information only hangs around for a brief moment, before sliding down the memory hole. That’s what happened to an advertisement for Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, which was masquerading as an entry on Share America, which the State Department calls its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.” The page appeared on the website of the U.S. embassy in London.
Someone must have realized that using the State Department to advertise the President’s private club was not a great idea. Conflict of interest? No problem. It’s down the memory hole.
Nor is it just government websites that are being reworked in a distinctly Orwellian fashion. Recently, the Trump 2020 reelection campaign (yes, it already exists) quietly removed many 2016 campaign documents from its website. The Washington Post’s Avi Selk describes some of the missing press releases, among them the one that reproduced Trump’s full interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in which he so infamously insulted Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke out against him at the Democratic Party convention, and his wife, Ghazala.
Similarly, links to Trump’s “New Deal for Black America,” released a week before the 2016 election, now bring up a dreaded “404 – Page not found” message on the Trump-Pence website. Whatever that “deal” was, it’s evidently no longer on offer, nor is it even to remain in the historical record.
The same memory hole has also evidently devoured a December 2015 press release announcing that “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Fortunately, versions of that particular statement were repeated often enough in enough places that lawyers have been able to continue to use it to argue against the president’s executive orders banning the entry of people from seven (now six) majority-Muslim countries.
The Trump administration’s memory holes have swallowed up more than documents and data. People have also disappeared — if not from the world, at least from their government positions. We still remember former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey, but who remembers Ponisseril Somasundaran or Courtney Flint? They are among the scientists recently dismissed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors. Among their duties was to give advice on environmental regulation. They are to be replaced, according to agency spokesperson J.P. Freire, by people “who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community” — that is, representatives of polluting industries.
The United States of Amnesia
Gore Vidal coined the expression “the United States of Amnesia” in a 2004 book about George W. Bush’s America. The particular instance of amnesia Vidal highlighted with that phrase was the failure of those then waging the “war on drugs” to remember the disasters of the prohibition of alcohol sales in the 1930s, and the ensuing corruption, gangsters, and smuggling rings that came with it.
His larger point, however, was that, in general, American historical memory is short. Thirteen years after Vidal’s book appeared, and with a new Republican administration ascendant, it seems that this country is in danger of sinking ever deeper into a state of amnesia. And can there be any question that, in a distinctly Orwellian fashion, the new administration is doing everything in its power to hasten that process? As the Trump administration prepares for a new “surge” on the perpetual battlefield that is Afghanistan, we’ve conveniently forgotten how little the last one achieved. We’ve forgotten how deregulation led to the Great Recession, as the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded in 2011. “The greatest tragedy,” that panel wrote, “would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.” Yet the Republicans in Congress can’t waitto repeal Dodd-Frank, the law that restored a semblance of regulation to the world of commercial banking.
The fifth-century African bishop St. Augustine was probably the first western thinker to pay attention to human memory. In his Confessions, Augustine observes that it is memory — the ability to bring into present awareness past experiences and the ability to recognize the difference between past, present, and future — that makes us self-aware beings. He described the “vast hall of my memory,” where “I meet myself and recall what I am, what I have done, and when and where and how I was affected when I did it.” It is on the basis of memory, he added, that “I reason about future actions and events and hopes, and again think of all these things in the present. ‘I shall do this and that,’ I say to myself within that vast recess of my mind which is full of many rich images, and this act or that follows.”
If Augustine was right and memory gives us our selves, allowing us to “reason about future actions and events and hopes,” then a political regime that seeks to destroy its people’s memory is an existential threat.
In that case, the first act of resistance is to remember who we are.
Who is the “better” liar – Trump or Obama?
When there is outrage in the establishment over Trump’s use of “carnage” – it is the lock step universal establishment “lie” that this system does well for most “deserving” people. Obama’s lies are well stated, well crafted, well designed to promote, defend, and support the status quo – i.e., 40 years of depredation upon the middle class and ignoring the poor and the implicit assumption that this should continue…
Trump lies are transparently self interested (Trump believes its a fair election only if Trump wins….) and simple.
Neither’s lies are “better” – they are just different. The lies of Obama supporting “universal” coverage and Trumps promise that “no one” will not have health care are bizarrely, freakishly, and grotesquely mirror images – but both remarkably identical in what they promise but ALSO fail to do
right on! I remember Yves commenting yrs ago that tho all politicians lie, obama was the worst in her lifetime. But obysmal is cool, smooth, trump is scatty, hysterical: it’s all in the presentation, folks
Jazz figures prominently in both Obama and Trump. The rest of the country wants to listen to other types of music with more recognizable melodies and harmonies. How much of that is self-directed, or a wish for lullabies or a desire for continuity of a sort in a world increasingly improvised?
The fact that we are talking about the degree of mendacity to which either POTUS adheres, and not the fact of the normalization of the deceitfulness itself shows how well and truly f—-d we are.
Take the red pill or take the blue pill; both are placebos.
What seems to be at play here is how much Trumps’ self interest aligns with the publics’ interest. He had better get back to basics. “It’s the economy stupid.”
Not going to happen. The whole point of mendacity on the political spectrum is financial gain by those who live in the upper income stratosphere. The game is to calm the rubes and let them believe their political savior is listening to their prayers and about to deliver their Mercedes Benz parked out in front of a McMansion. If you keep the rabble calm the looters can continue robbing them blind, which is the whole point of the exercise. No one gets within reach of the political levers without promising bounty to the rubes and looting opportunities to the elite. Trump’s genius is in generating drama to distract his base while his team of professional looters cleans them out. Obama just had a different strategy of dangling shiny things in front of his base. Knowing what distracts your voters is a key political competency.
MAGA = “Hope and Change”.
Trump being Trump, it’s all playing out faster than it did with “No drama” Obama.
And it’s not so much that both Trump and Obama are liars, though they are. The party establishments cannot deliver on either MAGA or “hope and change,” because (a) delivery isn’t in the interest of the factions that control either party, and (b) isn’t in collective interests of the factions that control both parties. I’m not sure what the Republican equivalent of the Democrat “fighting for” (i.e., showing virtue, but never winning) might be, but I’m sure there is one.
>I’m not sure what the Republican equivalent
The time may have already come where the Rethugs have won too much, which is a slow-moving, but in motion for sure, disaster for virtue-signaling.
This seems to be the Democratic Party’s hope.
May 26, 2017 at 1:40 am
As NTG (NotTmothyGeithner) says, we only really have one party….
My opinion is that American governance is based on the WWE model, where to have a hero to cheer for, you HAVE to have a villain** – the two “opponents” always discuss their “fight” prior to the show (which is to make the owners richer, which is of course no different than what the country does….), and party together afterwards.
**how else to explain Mitch McConnell, other than he revels in playing a villain???
Most of the religious right issues. They exist in this odd political space where “virtue showing” gets the evangelicals and fundamentalist catholics out to vote, but fully winning on them would spark a severe backlash. Plus, I don’t think their donor class actually wants victory on any of those. A lot of those issues are, deep down, anti-market, and it’s cheaper for the donor class to get their daughters’ and granddaugthers’ abortions in the states, rather than having to fly them to Europe like in the old days.
What our political system has become really good at is completely distinguishing the role of running for President (or really most any office) from the role of being President. With no parliamentary check, political platforms that are completely meaningless, media-driven campaigns, etc., it has become normal for politicians to say and do anything to win elections and then “do the normal” (serve corporate masters) once in office.
Both Obama and Trump were excellent candidates, really talented at selling an “elect me” narrative. Hillary was just awful, not willing to lie on principle for some things ($15/hr min wage, single payer) but more than willing to transparently lie on other things (opposition to TPP).
The Bernie way (process if not person) is the only way forward – guiding ideology, consistent, long-held positions, a record consistent with policy positions. Otherwise it is hard to see how we will not always be governed by the “used-car salesperson” type of politician, which seems to be virtually all of them.
Or, as Matt Stoller has written:
Lord O had a well oiled propaganda machine that ‘connected’ the ones that wanted to believe in ‘hope and change’. Every move was carefully planned to polish his image. Trump has a totally uncoordinated message, aided and abetted by the incompetents that he picked. But most of all the people have been duped to believe in identity politics which pays no mind to what the people’s needs are.
Obama’s prevarications started well before his Inauguration. The curating (that loathsome word) of all of his school records early in the process was initiated by someone that was above O’s pay grade at that time. As such details about his school performance dribbled out from NOC sources, there still wasn’t much to assess. People desirous of more detail were left filling in their own blanks or dropping the subject and moving on, nothing to see there, folks.
Let me see if I got this right. We are being screwed harder than ever by Trump et al, and you guys wax nostalgic about how badly we were screwed by Obama, as if presently we aren’t being screwed at all.
Well, guys, with Trump, the difference is that the velvet glove is off the Golden Dick, and we are in for the screwing of our lives. And most of the screwing under Obama was done by Republicans, while the Democrats, including Obama, were pretty much just the distraction. The real powers want you to blame the wrong people, Obama may not have done much good, but your comments here show he, and the Dems and ultimately the government, are serving their purpose as fall guy, while Trump and his rich cronies loot the government, the country, and ultimately our rights.
Over 9 million families lost their homes under Obama. Many if not most of those foreclosures were avoidable.
Obama got rid of habeas corpus.
Obama expanded the surveillance state.
The top 1% captured over 90% of all of the income gains from the recovery.
Obama supported international climate change treaties too late in his Administration to make any difference save for legacy-burnishing.
This is a pretty hard record to beat though I will concede Trump will try.
As Lambert likes to say, “The Republicans tell you they will knife you in the face. The Democrats tell you they are so much nicer, they only want one kidney. What they don’t tell you is they are coming for your other kidney next year.”
Obama was elected to do NONE things cited above. Trump was elected to do ALL of things cited in the above article,i.e., try to make the Federal Government disappear. And therein lies the difference.
Obama and Clinton lied all the time. Trump lies maybe 85% of the time. The 15% of the time he tells the truth won him the election.
The Democrats can only redeem themselves if they admit they’ve over played their hand when they had a hand to play and now when they don’t.
Reminds me of the time in ’08 when I, a registered dumbocrat for forty years exactly that year, received a call from the Obama campaign to donate money and support his re-election. I told the caller that unless and until Obama came out against SCOTUS’ Citizens United decision there would be no support from me. The caller stated that Obama loathed Citizens United. It took me quite a while to stop laughing at that statement; the caller was not amused and again reiterated what she believed was her candidates position on that issue. I told her that Obama, in fact, loved dearly and directly benefited from SCOTUS’ decision.
Needless to say, we had a bit of a tussle and parted ways.
There is no discernible difference between the two “show” parties. They represent the same squillionaires and no one else.
Well, Obama is clearly the better “liar,” and that is why I think he was a far superior President than any other in my lifetime (I’m 51).
The original post is discussing sophisticated perspective, that I largely agree with, about the distinction between the construction of “consensus reality” and totally unhinged, blatant lying we have with Trump.
What Trump is failing to do is adequately manage the “consensus reality” needed for effective governance. This is a primary requirement of the Presidency! It is not optional.
For whatever reason, humans have to have a simplified representation of reality, from within which they (we) can proceed with our life. We can’t even handle the streams of information coming into our own mind, without heavy cognitive filtering, both conscious and unconscious.
When you think about every human mind doing this same thing, it becomes clear, to me at least, that some kind of “consensus reality” has to be actively constructed and maintained, in order that society doesn’t quickly devolve into chaos.
I don’t like this aspect of social reality, but I don’t see any way around it.
I am, however, somewhat old fashioned, and I do believe that there is something called “objective reality.” I do think their is a relationship between the two types of reality. Essentially, what I think is most optimum is the constructed, psychological, reality we need as people to function, be composed of mostly elements of true, objective reality.
You can see that a lot of the unsavory distortions involved in crafting of our “consensus trance” are essentially heavy filters of objective reality. This is why we in the “Global West,” react far more strongly to terrorist attacks on the populations we think of as “US” as opposed to “THEM.” The weighting is quite lopsided, it could probably be roughly calculated: one of our innocent children being killed equals 500 of their innocent children being killed.
This is sad, but is part of the human condition. Where it becomes pathological is when the distortions are not simply based on highly selective views of reality, but are instead based on actual, factual, untruths. Lies of commission are worse than lies of omission.
Ethical people do lie, but they squirm when forced to make lies of commission, and will try to achieve their goals in a way that minimizes the amount of overt lying they have to do.
The US Presidency requires a lot of lying. Of both kinds. My sense of Obama was that he had a unique ability to lie with apparent conviction, and was perhaps less troubled by it than a “normal” person would be. But I don’t think he liked it, and I think it was clear within himself what was true, and what wasn’t. But he could “compartmentalize”,” as they say. I don’t think he got confused, our felt the need to convince himself that a lie really was the truth.
This is a somewhat…um…sociopath quality, and I’m sure Obama recognized this in himself. I read an interview with him, where he described it as being a kind of “reptilian” part of his mind. And he recognized that this sort of detachment would be a good temperament for a President.
Hillary did not have this ability, and even though I voted for her, I always saw this as a dangerous aspect of her personality, if she were in a position of authority. I don’t think Hilary had that sociopath ability to detach from being forced to tell a lie for political reasons. I do think she was in touch, more or less, with objective reality. But the danger was that her discomfort with needing to lie were cause her to convince herself that the lie she needed to tell for political reasons was actually true!
This could cause her to lose touch with objective reality, so instead of holding her nose, and selling a bunch of weapons to Saudi Arabia for base, vernal reasons of politics, power and money, she would try to convince herself that the Saudis are our true alies in the glorious struggle for justice and human rights.
This discomfort with being forced to recite bullshit with conviction wound up making everything she said sound mealy mouthed, and “politcal.” Basically, she sucked at being a “retail politician.” But she would still have been world’s better than the evil clown currently living in the Oval Office.
Trump is at a whole other level of mendacity: he combines a sociopath’s disregard and lack of emphathy for others, with a narcissist’s pathetic need for affirmation and adulation, and a grifter’s instinct for bullshiting his marks, just enough to pull of the con.
Unfortunately Trump’s instincts have managed to land himself in a position where his shortcomings are painfully obvious to all around him. In his increasing desperation, he seems to be becoming confused, and simply unable to deliver on any of the few policy ideas he had that might have actually helped his supporters.
In fact, he seems to be doing the exact opposite of what he said he was going to do, and is instead letting the delicate system of our government tear itself apart, as different factions are stepping up their games to fill the power vacuum.
It’s still early in the Trump administration, so I would not say the “verdict is in”, but so far he seems to be shaping up as one of the all time worst US Presidents.
Trump is obviously gifted in certain ways, but he is lacking both a good heart, and political acumen. The contrast with Obama is stark.
The US Presidency is more or less an impossible, no-win job, and Obama managed to finesse it as well as anyone could.
What I think “progressives” forget is that most people in the US do not hold progressive views. However self evident it may be to your average lefty that his progressive, egalitarian values are, obviously, morally superior to all others, such people are a distinctly weak political faction in the US. The President has to contend with vast forces of individuals and institutions that hold quite distinct views, in order to govern at all.
May 26, 2017 at 8:07 am
I think you have a very good analysis.
One thing I disagree with:
“The weighting is quite lopsided, it could probably be roughly calculated: one of our innocent children being killed equals 500 of their innocent children being killed.”
We’ve done that experiment – a bear in a hot tub gets far more news coverage than hundreds of civilians blown up as “collateral damage.” The only question is if the number is 5,000 to one, or 50,000 to one, or 500,000 to one. Based on the child mortality that occurred in Iraq when sanctions were applied in the Clinton administration against Iraq, I definitely believe the ratio is the highest number….
On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) appeared on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.” Albright wrote later that Saddam Hussein, not the sanctions, was to blame. She criticized Stahl’s segment as “amount[ing] to Iraqi propaganda”; said that her question was a loaded question; wrote “I had fallen into a trap and said something I did not mean” ***; and regretted coming “across as cold-blooded and cruel”.
Michael Kinsley’s definition of a gaffe: When a politician inadvertently speaks the truth….
Albright’s phrase “regretted coming across as cold-blooded and cruel” and not BEING cold-blooded and cruel….
Interesting, insightful comment. I have a disagreement.
Well, not quite. He could have ordered his U.S. Attorneys to enforce the nation’s financial laws, and prosecute offenders whether they were rich bank executives or not. He let the rich bank executives off the hook, and reinforced the valid perception that we have two sets of laws, one set for the privileged, and another set for everyone else.
“The US Presidency is more or less an impossible, no-win job, and Obama managed to finesse it as well as anyone could.”
I get sick of the “US Presidents can’t really DO anything, so don’t blame Barry. Indeed, now that Trump is the President and doing ALL these things, Praise Barry’s ‘consensus sustaining’ weightlessness.” I mean, think of the illogic wrapped up here!
Yes, lots of really good points. But I think you over-think things here:
Yes we make most decisions either by habit, instinct or very superficial analysis, and then rationalize afterward. This is because the “problem” with objective reality, which I agree does exist, is that very, very much of it is truly random, inconsistent, irrational, hard to make sense of, etc. (The single word that I think best describes the world is absurd.) So to find meaning in the world and our lives, we all have a strong desire to “make sense” of the world and our place in it. Which involves “processing” massive amounts of cognitive dissonance in ways that “work” for each of us.
But there is no need, and indeed I would argue no possibility, for anything remotely representing a “consensus reality.” Perhaps one could argue there have been times in history when such reality has existed (though since history is written by the winners it is really hard to know). I have spent lots of years studying “industrial society,” which was perhaps as close to a consensus world-view as anything we have had in the U.S. in the last hundred years. Yet the “consensus” was always and everywhere challenged even during the 20 or so years (roughly 1947-1967) when one could argue it was a dominant worldview. And in retrospect, the notion that industrial society provided anything like a consensus worldview is laughable. (For starters, the consensus didn’t really include women, or minorities, or really anyone in the south.)
What really good politicians are able to do (Obama, Bill Clinton, Reagan in my lifetime) is to communicate in such a way as to allow people with divergent worldviews to read their own approval into the candidate. Clinton was amazing in being able to straightforwardly lie – say one thing to one group and another thing to an opposing group. Obama and Reagan operated more with vague rhetoric that allowed different people to read different things into the message. But I think that that by itself is not necessarily sufficient – they both really succeeded by following a perceived failure (Carter, W) that they could run against.
Trump’s “problem” was that he won by making very specific promises that he can’t keep. So his only real option at this point is to try to cast the Dems as “failed.” (One bit of luck he has is that the Dems do a great job of embodying failure.)
Back on point, I would argue that there are specific moments in time when the general rules don’t hold, when it is the entire system is perceived to have failed, and people are willing to elect “outside-the-box” politicians or politicians with OTB programs. In other words, at certain times anyway, we don’t require a “positive consensus,” just a negative one. 1932 was one, 2009 was another. Given that no real problems have been “solved” since 2009, it is possible we will stay in such a zone until our FDR (or Mussolini or H-man) arrives.
I find this letter of St Augustine to be one of the most heart warming/helping bits of information I have ever come across. He is talking about Lucid Dreaming, which is the direct experience (I can smell, taste, feel while I am dreaming) of other realities.
I find these sorts of “My precious TRUTH (really pov)” diatribes annoying. Our “Truth” is shaped by our times (AD 2017 vs AD 415), what TV/internet we watch, what we are interested in (Manga?), race, religion, socio-economic…. I agree with some of what she is saying, some I do not agree with. so what? I can attest that time (old age) changes many of the “truths” of young-age.
In infinite time and space, everything that you can imagine MUST exist sometime, somewhere.
Letters of St. Augustine. Letter 159, AD 415
“3. I will narrate briefly, however, one fact which I commend to your meditation. You know our brother Gennadius, a physician, known to almost every one, and very dear to us, who now lives at Carthage……. had sometimes, as he himself told me, doubts as to whether there was any life after death……… there appeared to him (Gennadius) in sleep a youth of remarkable appearance and commanding presence, who said to him: Follow me. Following him, he came to a city where he began to hear on the right hand sounds of a melody so exquisitely sweet as to surpass anything he had ever heard. When he inquired what it was, his guide said: It is the hymn of the blessed and the holy. What he reported himself to have seen on the left hand escapes my remembrance. He awoke; the dream vanished, and he thought of it as only a dream.
4. On a second night, however, the same youth appeared to Gennadius, and asked whether he recognised him, to which he replied that he knew him well, without the slightest uncertainty. Thereupon he asked Gennadius where he had become acquainted with him. There also his memory failed him not as to the proper reply: he narrated the whole vision, and the hymns of the saints which, under his guidance, he had been taken to hear, with all the readiness natural to recollection of some very recent experience. On this the youth inquired whether it was in sleep or when awake that he had seen what he had just narrated. Gennadius answered: In sleep. The youth then said: You remember it well; it is true that you saw these things in sleep, but I would have you know that even now you are seeing in sleep. Hearing this, Gennadius was persuaded of its truth, and in his reply declared that he believed it. Then his teacher went on to say: Where is your body now? He answered: In my bed. Do you know, said the youth, that the eyes in this body of yours are now bound and closed, and at rest, and that with these eyes you are seeing nothing? He answered: I know it. What, then, said the youth, are the eyes with which you see me? He, unable to discover what to answer to this, was silent. While he hesitated, the youth unfolded to him what he was endeavoring to teach him by these questions, and immediately said: As while you are asleep and lying on your bed these eyes of your body are now unemployed and doing nothing, and yet you have eyes with which you behold me, and enjoy this vision, so, after your death, while your bodily eyes shall be wholly inactive, there shall be in you a life by which you shall still live, and a faculty of perception by which you shall still perceive. Beware, therefore, after this of harbouring doubts as to whether the life of man shall continue after death. This believer says that by this means all doubts as to this matter were removed from him. By whom was he taught this but by the merciful, providential care of God?”
In the book 1984, the authoritarian state kept alive the idea of a resistance called “The Brotherhood”.
This was to entrap what they called “thought criminals” and otherwise maintain control of dissidents.
Well to Democrats and to many if not most liberals, Putin is the new Goldstein. You can now watch the “Two minute Hate”, just tune in on MSNBC or CNN.
It reminds me more of those “terror” arrests, where some disgruntled person is prodded to believe he/she is working with some govt named terrorist group, but all along its the FBI providing the weapons, etc. Those “stings” …..
It also makes me think of the DNC organized resistance….
I don’t watch the cable news anymore. I may quickly flip to check it out if there’s a weather event or something else huge. I wouldn’t go to the tv news to learn about foreign affairs.
Wasn’t there a case awhile back where the FBI did so much to recruit and assist a would be terrorist in the planning of a terrorist act that a Federal Judge asked”why isn’t the FBI being charged for co-conspiracy?’
All told its alarming how many of the aspects of the superstate(Oceania) appear to exist today:
1. Endless War(the war on terror in our world, the wars with Eurasia/East Asia in 1984)
2. Stratification of the classes(1% vs 99% in Our world. Inner and Outer Party vs the Proletariat in 1984)
3. Surveillance State(NSA abuse in our World, Big Brother in 1984)
4. the Common enemy(Emanuel Goldstein in 1984, Putin in ours. Before that it was Bin Laden–remember how the media absolutely had to air every videotape Bin Laden made after 9/11 and provide round the clock coverage? Making him into a genuine boogeyman much like Emmanuel Goldstein.
As a side note regarding Goldstein those who read the book 1984 would note that the evil monstrous Goldstein would advocate for things such as : Freedom of Speech and Press, Human Rights, the Dignity of man, Democracy and Freedom. Monster indeed. Power of Propaganda to make good things bad and bad things seem good. Think of the Propaganda that extols virtues of Nafta, free trade and trickle down while blithely ignoring its victims.
Other things as well….just a few thoughts I have that alarms me.
A very few, Thomas Frank, Tucker Carlson and Patrick Cockburn report the truth. But, the reality is that corporate media, government, technology and innovation serve to transfer wealth to the rich. They no longer serve to make society better.
Cultures under predatory stress revert to their tribal myths. A Bible Museum is being built where I waited for a Metrobus years ago in DC during a thunder snow. Science is being silenced because liberal democracy was flushed down the toilet starting 40 years ago with the Reagan/Thatcher counter coup. The tragedy is that Democrats scapegoating Russia for their 2016 election loss is just as crazy and dangerous as the Republican know-nothing dismissal of science and climate change.
Lying, distorting the truth, misrepresentation have become the stock in trade of ALL elements of America’s Elites. Yes, Trump is worse. But, so are his enemies with their LSD- like Russia-gate nonsense.
Sadly, the US is decending into a culture where reality is a question of pure expedience. And not enough citizens simply care about this mess.
But when was this case? Trump is uniquely awful, but the US foundational myths and self image are far from the the genocidal, imperialistic, exploitive, real foundations of the nation.
I don’t think the US is all bad, but our leaders have long projected a national story at odds with reality. I like a lot of the Founding Father’s ideas and contributions to the nation, but it seems most of them conducted themselves in line with the standards of a times, and treated many populations in an evil, almost psychopathic manner.
I think the trend has been for the better in the US, over the last 100 years, or even 200 years.
Can anyone point me to a time when our political leaders were paragons of virtue and truth telling?
In a way, I think the election of Trump is also evidence of social progress. It represents a desire among a certain segment of the population for things that would improve their lives, at the expense of the current “elite.” It’s not a real good outcome, but there is a constructive impulse, behind the apparent paradox of voting a destructive person into power.
The founding fathers… one glance at what they wore reveals that they lived in ideology with a smidgen of truth splattered here and there. And that’s not even accounting for all the wives’ tales that filled their days due to a lack of scientific knowledge.
We think we know a lot today but we are still pretty dumb. One of the reasons why we are going through this today is because a lot of what we do is based on tradition which very often makes no sense. Second we constantly need to delude ourselves to live with ourselves. And we are now 7b suffering from those kinds of heuristics.
Ms. Gordon’s “consensus reality” sounds suspiciously like an elite euphemism for “consensus establishment narrative”. As dutifully forwarded to the MSM and its legions of ‘fact checkers’ to recite from and browbeat the Deplorables with.
(For some reason as I was typing ‘browbeat’ an image of smug elite liberal Urtyp Bill Maher popped into my head – unrelated, I’m sure. /s)
This is something I’ve been pondering, $1.4 trillion dollars later, whether Post-Truth/Fake News actually accelerated into high gear when Colin Powell solemnly declared that the Iraqis were transporting WMD in semi trailers. Curious.
I remember that time well, because it was my first summer of bloggging, playing whack-a-mole with what felt like a disinformation campaign. Of course, later we find out it felt that way because it was that way; stories planted in the mainstream press by the White House Iraq Group.
That was mild, nothing, compared to what we’re seeing now.
Ps. Many thanks for continuing to fight the good fight in such an uphill struggle.
What?! Colin Powell’ speech at UN was a maximally destructive act of political propoganda, that led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. We are still in that same war!
The Iraq war was a strictly voluntary affair, and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of the Bush administration.
What do you going on now that is worse than that?
So, the Whig Party is playing the long con and staging a comeback? I was wondering about the next Deep State maneuver.
I think the number when you factor in VA disability costs, lifetime medical, and associated costs is closer to 6 to 7 trillion and ongoing for the Muslim wars that were started with Operation Desert Storm. Don`t forget Osama was upset over arrogant infidels occupying their holy land. Was that not what 9-11 and the prior attempted attacks on the WTC about? The readers here, rightfully upset, seem to be closer to the end of their lives than the beginning and probably many remember the `60s. I work with many of the new generation and they are oblivious to the past. Demographically, many are children of immigrants and they see the military as an opportunity…..not a drag on society. From my perspective the last time a nationally cohesive movement came together was the Viet Nam era. And the universal draft is what drove Americans together. We don`t have such a thing now. What would it take? Just as I saw Obama as the last chance for a black president (demographics are not going to work in the future and our next minority president will be Hispanic) I saw Bernie as the last chance for a new deal idealist. Hillary, unfortunately, spoiled that chance. Her behavior was unforgiveable….she sacrificed her country for her ego.
Did Trump create an organization able to do all that in this relatively short amount of time? Or did Trump activate an organization already in existence who already had those capabilities?
If I were to estimate which of the above is more probable then my guess would be that the Trump administration is using tools already in place but due to lack of practice the result isn’t very good. If so, then give it time and practice and what we’ll see those tools being used a lot better.
Luckily the press hates him so they might actually fulfill their role as guardians of the truth rather than mouthpieces for the currently powerful.
Don’t hold your breath.
The Press only wants some melodrama so they can capture eyeballs. Right now when they play Trump’s outrageous speeches or report about his silly tweets, the people seem to like watchingreading their worthless news. They catered to Lord O’s lies and now they have Trumpie who they can use.
Nope, all they want is the emotion of opposition, not the reasons why. Look at their coverage of all of the town hall meetings where Republicans had to hear it about Health care.. they report that people we’re angry at the changes. Not what the changes are, or the alternatives (as was mentioned by Lambert a few times, they edit out mentions of Single Payer).
Or #Resistance.. nothing to rally around but the resistance itself. What are the alternatives? What are we resisting exactly? It’s all emotional.
You do know, of course, that emotion is part of all our activities including reasoning about what is real or not. These are not two separate things in our being but they work together, sometimes one might be stronger than the other but they are always both available. Try to imagine a human being that could only be emotional; or a human being only being “reasonable” and without emotion. These beings would be kind of freakish. Emotion is not lesser than reason because they work together. Some people try not to be emotional or they think of emotion as a weakness to be avoided. These two abide together.
I used to have a 1957 Larousse dictionary in which there were one or two pages showing the clothes throughout the times. I was fascinated and remember thinking to myself: “What were they thinking, why would they wear such clothes?”
The reality is that in 100 years, future generations will look back and think the same thing about us.
Our Western life styles are based on ideologies that are completely out of touch with nature. This means our lies need to get bigger and bigger to keep our system going.
Despite the excesses, I really thought our absorption of the deeper philosophical lessons of deconstruction, poststructuralism, Foucault, Derrida, et al., was finally making us grow up. Alas, the discourse around fake news is making truth small again. (Which could be a slogan for someone.)
Way, way overdone. The big destruction of history is to link to an archived copy of the previous administration’s EPA page and to remove what someone put up when it became clear it was a conflict of interest? So we should want prior administrations removed entirely and for them to promote conflicts of interest? Granted, Clinton specialized in conflicts of interest and wholesale revisionism, with the cover of the majority of the media, but that didn’t make it good or desirable. Honestly, there are so many problems with Trump, I can’t help but wonder if this is an apologist article, designed to distract from the real problems by ginning up mountains out of molehills in order to allow Republicans to discredit the critic.
“Be here now. Remember.”
Upon reflection, I find Obama worse than Trump. Obama was elected for change and because he was not George W Bush. He even won the Nobel Prize for First President Who Was Not GW Bush. Unfortunately, Obama achieved nothing, changed nothing, and was generally impotent. He was charming and developed into a fairly skilled politician, but he maintained and worsened many of his predecessors’s policies. For his failure to stop torture, murder, rape, and kidnapping and his failure to address the evil cesspit that is Wall Street, he earns strong negative marks which largely outweigh any other trifling thing he accomplished.
Trump, on the other hand, is worse than Obama (note the facile contradiction I introduce as a literary device). But Comb-Over never promised anything…at least not consistently. Anyone from New York or Northern New Jersey knew Trump to be a narcissistic asshole, so nothing he does is shocking or disappointing. Trump promised bullshit, hate, incompetence, more hate, more incompetence, and plenty of airy propaganda. And he has delivered in full. So Trump gets top marks for being true to his vision and true to himself (and always himself).
We should create the position of King under the constitution and offer to coronate Donald. He would accept and we could move on with our lives.
I think, actually, that Obama is worse, because he and his minions somehow brainwashed such a wide swath of the American [and perhaps international?] public into believing in his “greatness.”
Look at how difficult it is now to raise the issue of Obama’s failings, the degree to which his inactions led to Trump’s election, the inability to focus on the changes needed in the Democratic party.
Obama was bad not just for his myriad horrid actions, but for the “troops” that will continue for years to defend him and them.
The author is contradicting herself. She’s presenting the Trump administration as an Orwellian flusher and distorter of memory and history, but then nearly every example is followed up with a “However,” showing that the Internet has retained such information. The current reality is the exact opposite of 1984, it’s easier than ever to disseminate information that undermines the ruling party. Embarrassing photos or news stories no longer sit on dusty microfilm, squirreled away in the basement of a college library. Now anyone can google it. Every hypocritical tweet Cheeto Benito made in years past can be brought up to show how he’s violating his own moral code.
The important wrinkle here is that the Trump supporters seem to be completely blase about these examples. It’s beyond denial, they simply don’t care if he lies or obfuscates. Which runs into Jacobin’s observation that the factual/moral/procedural arguments don’t work. Ironically, Trump supporters’ loyalty is about something that the liberals are supposedly all about: identity. Not ethnic, gender, or sexual (although those may tangentially come into play), but a national, American identity, built around their ideal of what, as the hat says, made (or makes) America great. The mythos that Trump has built around himself has tapped into that identity: singular business leader, extroverted, speaks his mind, doesn’t hem or haw or think too long about anything, is all about bringing jobs and manufacturing and building great things again. Of course, most of these things are pure image; Trump’s business management teams and shareholders have to regularly save him from himself, has no qualms outsourcing and offshoring his labor. But once again, the mythos is more important to the voter than reality.
The problem is that the liberals and Democrats haven’t challenged the mythos, nor put forward a compelling alternative. All they have to offer is technocracy for technocracy’s sake, meritocracy detached from any sort of vision or mission: “Hi, we’ve got the right resume and background, went to the best schools, quantified the most data and put it on a chart (because everyone knows that things become more true when you express them on a Cartesian graph), so vote for us.” Decades of triangulation have rendered any coherent message out of their politics. They’ve allowed themselves to become a blank slate that the right can project the worst fears of the right-wing IdPol voters on. Yet they’re too scared to challenge the mythos, maybe out of fear of change, maybe out of convenience, maybe out of being uncomfortable with the implications it would have for the current socio-economic status quo. Either they bite the bullet and pull the bandaid off, or they fade into obscurity while the right chases the shadows of the past.
The Alinskyite theme in the news media has its analogs in the working world. One of my former bosses was notorious for “correcting” any and all who said something that was counter to her understanding of the world. She took her early lessons seriously and applied them routinely to a staff that saw through the nonsense and went on about living their lives. Just one anecdote, but many exist of that type of attempt at mind control at work or in school.
People have noticed more recently of such manipulations among politicians and the news, where truth became another casualty.
The difference today from the ‘happy days’ of the twentieth century? We (or the NC commentariat) are aware that ‘fake news,’ i.e., propaganda, the narratives promulgated by the elites, exists and is being imposed upon us.
One can argue that the invention of the Internet in the 1970’s and ’80’s is analogous to the introduction of Gutenberg’s movable type. From one Bible in Latin in 1455, to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses posted on the church door in 1519, to Tyndall’s English Bible in 1535, to the start of the English Reformation in the 1530’s, a revolution in the dissemination of knowledge with its subsequent effects on the realignment of Church and States, steamrollered on in less than 100 years. The iron grip of the clergy and nobility on ‘the Truth’ and its interpretation was loosened.
The Internet has further undermined the ability of the State and the Elites to fashion and control a dominant narrative. In a matter of minutes, a statement can be read by people all around the planet; and in a few more minutes, multiple counter-narratives will follow. And we impose our own rules of censorship, by choosing which sites we frequent and which narratives we choose to believe.
Unfortunately, the promulgation of multiple narratives (some of which are ‘truths,’ some of which are ‘lies,’ and some of which are a mishmash of both) does not lend itself to promoting unity. As old institutions and the belief systems they espoused are discarded and new ones struggle to arise, we probably have to look forward to decades of ferment and unrest.
As has been noted here many times this – famous – quote from Antonio Gramsci speaks to your last para:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”
The list of morbid symptoms just gets ever longer.
The Internet facilitates dissemination of trivialized factoids masquerading as news. The torrent of nonsense overwhelms current human ability for processing, leading some to distractions presented by the entertainment industry, and others to half-truths or platform pushing by the media, while some just punt and play video games or watch sports or shop. Public engagement seems to have declined as a result of information overload.
Hey Democrats – Trump voters want something(s). If you want to sell them, think about offering what they want – within reason. As a rank progressive, I cringe at the Democrat whining and revulsion at the “insanity” of Trump voters. It’s so pathetic. I wonder how anyone could vote Democrat until Democrats learn to fight without denigrating the other and promulgating stories of cheating by the Dark Empire. Sad.
All campaigns should come with a black box warning: You are about to enter an “Extreme Reality Distortion Field.” “Proceed With the Utmost Caution.” Or: “Enter At Your Own Risk.”