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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

He who lives by the lie

There's been a great deal of consternation, bordering on despair, about Donald Trump's tendency to tell brazen lies, and the willingness of many of his supporters to believe those lies (or at least to not care that they are lies). Here, for example, is Damon Linker (note: I've been critical of Linker recently, but consider him one of the best observers of our current political troubles): "Donald Trump's true lies"; excerpt:

Trump and his de facto allies in the fake news business aren't trying to propagandize the country with a coherent counter-truth that stands in opposition to a reality of indisputable facts that can then be marshaled to puncture and dispel the official disinformation campaign. On the contrary, they're acting in ways that deny the distinction between truth and lies altogether, transforming the public sphere into an anarchistic free-for-all permeated by a constantly churning swirl of claims and counter-claims, with no authority able to establish or maintain the standing needed to debunk any of it. You have your truth (InfoWars) and I have mine (The New York Times), and who's to say which is right? The dissidents from past totalitarianisms were able to puncture ideological lies by appealing to a common truth that was concealed or obscured by propaganda. But in the world Trump is working to build — a world of epistemological chaos, in which every party and faction has its own "truth" and a slew of media outlets to spread and promote its distinctive set of "facts" — the greatest impediment to the unlimited exercise of government power will have been removed, or at least badly degraded.

Me: I agree with all of that, and perceive the same danger Linker does. But I also see a ray of hope. Political leaders and movements that disseminate and thrive on lies ultimately collapse when they come upon some aspect of reality that they couldn't perceive or comprehend from within their own bubble. Hitler might well have won the war if he hadn't driven away (or worse) so many Jewish and other scientists who knew something about the emerging science of nuclear physics. The Soviet Union, for all its military power, spent its final years desperately trying to clamp down on samizdat that could be transmitted by fax machines. North Korea proved its adeptness at information warfare with the Sony hack, but remember it did so out of fear that some comedy could undermine its rule.

Donald Trump lives by the lie; his political career will die by the lie. At some point, even some of his more credulous followers will realize they've been had; that he's made them pathetic and absurd; and they will be angry. At some point, his indifference to reality (he can't even be bothered to get regular intelligence briefings) will leave him unprepared for some situation--perhaps some crisis created by foreign leaders to test him. He can deny global warming all he wants, but the streets of Miami already flood at high tide and his own coastal properties cannot be protected forever by walls, let alone by blather. There seems to be no bottom to the lack of intellectual integrity of some of Trump's enablers, such as Newt Gingrich, Ph.D., but others will jump ship when they see the shoals approaching. (Actually, Trump would be foolish not to see Newt would jump ship, out of expediency, not integrity.)

Things can get a great deal worse before they get better. But truth will out. The question is when.

UPDATE: See also "Trump’s Lies Destroy Logic As Well As Truth," by Jeet Heer.

UPDATE: For a professional fact checker, the Trump years should be interesting.

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