Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump's America: State of Lies

Donald Trump deflects, distracts and exaggerates, but he is best known for his straight out lies. He has proven to be a master of the double-down. When he is caught lying he just lies some more. Even before he took office the New York Times wrote a piece titled, "Trump, Trapped in His Lies, Keeps Lying. Sad!". It is indeed sad, but the understandable outrage at his repeated deceptions misses the point.

Dishonest Don's malfeasance will live in infamy, however, his mendacity serves a darker end-game then most people realize. The unreality king lies to muddy the waters making it hard for casual observers to understand the issues, and that is the point.

The liar-in-chief has repeatedly deceived the American people and his own staff. The spin king lies about his business, he lies about his policy positions and now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he lies about his philandering.

Trump's lying quite likely started shortly after his birth.  Since then he has lied about his education and his achievements as a private citizen. He continued to lie as a candidate for president, he lied as president-elect and kept on lying after inauguration day and throughout his first year and a half in office. There is every reason to believe that he will keep on lying until the very end.

Forrest Trump may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but he has shown a commitment to subterfuge never before seen in the Oval Office. He may be a snake oil salesman but he is also the most accomplished charlatan the world has ever known. In his book the 70 year old sociopath-toddler dubbed his deceit with the equally deceptive moniker "truthful hyperbole".

Many expected that Trump's presidency would be defined by subterfuge. Washington Post Media Columnist Margaret Sullivan, correctly predicted that Trump’s presidency would be a "hellscape of lies and distorted reality." Just days after the fraud of fifth avenue declared victory Politico warned that democracy was in the cross-hairs.

Trump told dozens of lies on the campaign trail and according to the Washington Post he lied more than 300 times in his first hundred days in office.  In his first six months Trump is reported to have lied 414 times. By August the Washington Post claimed that Trump lied more than 1000 times and by May 2018 Trump is reported to have made 3,251 false or misleading claims. Even members of his own party, including Bob Corker, have called Trump a liar. Corker said Trump is an, "utterly untruthful president".

Given his propensity for dishonesty it should come as no surprise that Trump has not kept his campaign pledges. A Huffpost article lists at least a dozen broken promises and Robert Reich reviewed 20.

To support his alternate reality the golden wrecking ball is waging war against those who could expose his lies, namely science and the free press. Shortly after declaring victory Trump floated the idea of not having a White House press office, doing no press briefings, closing down the White House press room, and only having a single pool reporter covering the president. In March 2017 Trump barred media outlets that did not give them favorable coverage and then in May Trump said he was going to end White House press briefings altogether, because "it is not possible" for his staff to speak with "perfect accuracy" to the American public. On July 25th CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins was barred from attending an Open Press event in the Rose Garden because the Trump administration did not like the questions she asked.

The only way we can face this well honed turpitude is by judiciously confronting their lies in all their forms.  Fact based reporting is our best weapon against corrupt, self serving politicians. The press is key and journalists know what they have to do. They have learned how to fight fake news and how to cover Trump

Despite this administration's efforts there is reason to believe that mainstream media is winning the war.  As of April 2017 Trump saw a 17 percent decline in the number of voters that believed him. Although his lies have accelerated, a June Public Policy Poll (PPP) reveals that more than half of Americans believe mainstream media while only a bit more than a third believe Trump. According to another recent poll, 61 percent of Americans think Trump regularly has trouble telling the truth. Americans do not appear to be as gullible as the commander and chief would like them to be.

Nonetheless, the sheer volume of deceit is hard to keep up with and that is a central component of Trump's strategy. As explained in a Politico article, Trump's lies are meant to confuse: "When we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false, statements, our brains pretty quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything." This is sometimes called cognitive load and it is how the nation's chief deceiver short circuits the truth. To posit a message he wants to impart he simply repeats the lie endlessly to create something called illusory truth.

Trump obfuscates in many ways. He commonly says one thing than does another. This allows him to portray himself as somewhat moderate while ultimately reverting to a far more partisan position. Gun safety and DACA are but two examples. He often says two diametrically opposed things in close succession or all at once. His comments about Charlottesville illustrate this point, "there are fine people on both sides" the new furor infamously said after neo-Nazis clashed with demonstrators. However, there is no better example than his relationship with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

Multiple branches of US intelligence have repeatedly made it clear that under Putin's direction, Russia meddled in the election in 2016 to help elect Trump.  Putin's pet initially dismissed this assessment then under pressure he seemed to change his mind. Since then Benedict Donald has flip-flopped on this issue many times.

Trump recently ignited a firestorm of controversy when he stood next to Putin in Helsinki and said, "he sees no reason why Russia would meddle". When faced with bipartisan criticism he offered yet more double speak. Reading from a script he claimed that instead of using the word "would" he misspoke and used the word "wouldn't". However, the boychurian candidate immediately went off script and added, "could have been other people also".

Although his staff tried to re-frame his comments the meeting with the press ended with Trump saying "no" in response to a question about Russia's ongoing meddling. However, this is at odds with the bipartisan consensus that the Russians continue to meddle as we head into the midterm elections of 2018. 

Captain Chaos also likes to control the narrative by co-opting the criticisms leveled against him. He accuses others of the very thing he is guilty of.  He rails against "fake news" when he is its leading purveyor.  While on the campaign trail Don the Con accused the Democrats of collusion with the Russians and he was also fond of calling Hilary a "crook". Most recently he has suggested that Russia may be trying to hack the midterm elections to favor the Democrats.

When Hilary called Trump "Putin's puppet" during a debate Trump responded with the rapier wit of a 9 year old saying, "your the puppet". Trump acts like a disturbed child and a bully, unless he is in the presence of Putin, then he cowers like a chastened school-boy. Most Americans are troubled by his subservience and they object to his overt pandering. According to a recent poll 64 percent of Americans think Trump is not tough enough on Russia.

It may be months before we learn what Putin has on Trump. Whether it is money from Russian oligarchs or a pee-pee tape, the world is reeling from his supplication. Whatever form of coercion is at play undermining the truth is a vital component of this strategy. Putin's control over the leader of the free world is ultimately meant to sew discord and breed chaos.

As President Obama explained in a speech commemorating the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandala, authoritarian populist leaders reject objective reality and put self serving false narratives in their place. Obama sounded the alarm about the dangers of disconnecting policy from the facts.

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers the best example of policy un-tethered to the truth. Under Trump's leadership, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt declared war on science and he obfuscated to justify policy positions like opposing the Paris Climate Accord and the Clean Power Plan. Although the science proving anthropogenic climate change is clear, Pruitt referenced pseudo-science to cast aspersions on the overwhelming body of evidence. Pruitt's contempt for science was part of his strategy to execute a politically motivated policy agenda that panders to polluters.  

Trump shares Pruitt's aversion to science. He is the only president in modern history who has opted to do without a science advisor and his disdain for science precludes informed policy.

Disparaging science makes it easier for politicians to line their pockets by making policy decisions that serve industry. This is particularly true of the fossil fuel industry. Elected leaders have been complicit with big polluters through campaigns of disinformation that have caused people to question the veracity of climate change. This deceptive message gets amplified by conservative spin masters and after time the lie assumes the air of a legitimate point of view.

Dictators have long understood the power of using contradictory information to muddy the waters of reality. Successful despots undermine the prevailing narrative and replace it with a countervailing narrative that suits their political ends. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth."  In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler described a propaganda technique known as "the big lie". These deceptive techniques bear a striking resemblance to Trump's application of truthful hyperbole.

Trump's immigration policy and his remarks in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy have led many to conclude that Trump is a fascist carnival barker.  However, his thinly veiled racism is about more than just contempt for certain ethnic groups. Trump along with his White Power advisor Stephen Miller have crafted an immigration policy that recapitulates an age old formula of social control. Vulnerable minorities have been singled out and vilified by countless regimes throughout history. Stoking fears causes people to coalesce around hatreds that unify a political movement.

The Trump administration does not deserve all the credit, Republicans have been playing this game for years, albeit with more subtlety. Long before Hair Trump was the Republican nominee, the GOP was working to marginalize voting blocs that represent a threat to their hold on power. We see evidence of this in both voter suppression and gerrymandering (aka redistricting).

Trump may be the predictable endpoint of Republicanism but not so long ago the GOP was doing everything in its power to keep the gossamer-skinned bully from being the nominee. Now they are working with the rabble-rousing demagogue to achieve their own destructive agenda. They have already succeed in killing climate action and passing a tax-scam. Their next big agenda item will see legislation that will include massive cuts to social security, medicare and medicaid.

There is no doubt that much of what the riptide of regression says is driven by pathological narcissism, however he is also advancing a sinister agenda.  Trump's former chief advisor Steve Bannon is a leading advocate of this dystopia and although he no longer works for the president, the influence of his ideology remains.

Trump lies first and foremost to serve his ego, but this two-bit Caesar's obfuscation is also tied to a devious plot to sabotage democracy. The goal is to kill the basic idea of truth so that false self-serving narratives can flourish. He has already succeeded in undermining domestic and global institutions that have served peace and prosperity since the end of the second world war. If his lies prevail they will replace western liberal democracy with an authoritarian rule that will kill the basic freedoms we take for granted.

Related
The Importance of Fact Based News to Combat Trump's Lies
Trump's Litany of Lies Captured on Video
Why Trump Hates Traditional Journalism and Loves Digital Media (Videos)
Trump Battles with CNN over the Existence of Reality
How Conservatives Use Fake News to Control the Narrative
Trump and the Darkness of Post-Factual Media
Fake News is Serious but so are Efforts to Combat it
The Science of Storytelling: Making Facts Matter in a Post-Factual World
The Media Prevents Trump from Escaping His Lies
How to Fight the Trump Administration and Fake News
Trump's Denial of Reality Makes Him Putin's Puppet
Trump's Trade Wars and Love for Despots: Why Environmentalists are Not the Only Ones Who Should Fear the Rise of Populism

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