What Trump Just Said is Not a Lie…

1984 how many fingers

Stuart Lyle

How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

If that quote sends shivers through you, then you know it’s provenance, George Orwell’s 1984.  “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston,” says the interrogator, while ostentatiously holding up 4 fingers, “if the party says that it is not four but five…?”

Those in Donald Trump’s orbit all know the answer.  Whether they believe it or not, they know that any doubt they openly express could lead them to be crushed for their disloyalty.

And that’s the essence of a Trump lie… it’s not lie at all.  He’s pushing the boundaries of reality as a method of both holding his followers in his thrall for, believe it or not, “telling it like it is,” and for easily identifying the disloyal among them.

Matt Yglesias has a more direct name for what Trump is doing. He’s not lying, he’s “bullshitting.”  In a recent essay, Yglesias uses the term in an academically well-defined way:

When Trump says something like he’s just learned that Barack Obama ordered his phones wiretapped, he’s not really trying to persuade people that this is true. It’s a test to see who around him will debase themselves to repeat it blindly. There’s no greater demonstration of devotion.

And, of course, Trump thrives on that devotion.  As have dictators throughout the ages.  Yglesias references others who have documented the extraordinary usefulness of bullshitting in the hands of an accomplished bullshit artist.  He retells Václav Havel’s discussion of the greengrocer compliantly putting up a propaganda poster in his shop window as not a way of expressing true belief in the poster’s content, but in showing his loyalty to the regime.

We can diligently count the lies or, more politely, “untruths” that eminate from the White House as the Washington Post does.  But if they are not really lies, but an ongoing loyalty test, then don’t expect exposing the lies for what they are to have any impact at on the current political dynamic.

9 thoughts on “What Trump Just Said is Not a Lie…

  1. In the present political climate in the US, the phrase and concept “post-Truth age” cannot be cavalierly dismissed. An alarming percentage of our populace, at least according to public opinion polls, are all too eager to repeat preposterous untruths via social media. Oh, what Mark Zuckerberg hath unleashed upon the world with the platform he originally launched to try to embarrass the women college students who’d spurned his advances!! Yes, Truth (there’s that word again!) is way stranger than fiction!!

  2. “A truth that’s told with bad intent
    Beats all the lies you can invent”
    — William Blake

    In other words:

    “All Cretans lie.” — Epimenides of Knossos (himself a Cretan)

    Truthful Cretan Liars

    I lied when I said that I spoke the truth,
    And I speak the truth when I say that I lied.
    I come from a land where they think it uncouth
    To utilize language that hasn’t yet died
    Because they prefer to sell War to their youth
    While shedding fake tears at the Peace they’ve decried.

    I tell you for sure that I mean what I say,
    And you must believe me ’cause you’ve got no way
    To know if from paths straight and narrow I’ll stray
    Whenever I want what you’ve got on your tray.

    I merely speak noises which I have observed
    Make people do just about any damn thing;
    While, still, for my own inner self I’ve reserved
    What I really mean by the sounds that I sing,
    Leaving up to my listeners what they have deserved
    For thinking they know why the words soothe or sting.

    My lies I support with true evidence scant;
    But since I regard you as one potted plant,
    I’m sure that you’ll swallow my self-serving rant
    Even though it consists of discredited cant

    I truthfully lie, and as falsely speak true
    While reason and ethics I ceaselessly flout.
    I’m Jabberwock captain of one hopeless crew
    Who followed me in where no one can get out.
    So breathe in the smoke that I’ve exhaled at you
    And lie down, saluting, the true lies I spout.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2010

  3. Before Donald J. Trump was elected president, he was just one of tens of thousands of very wealthy people who — unlike illiberal plutocratic and/or theocratic very wealthy people who lust for power in order to restore the world to its rightful feudal order with them as lords — lived mostly above both all the rest of us as well as legal norms enforced upon the 99+%, and was indifferent to everything which did not directly impact his own particular sense of personal well-being. This time period included the nearly score of months he was a presidential candidate, right up until ~ 9 pm EST on 16 Nov 2016.

    All of that time Trump presented no threat to America, its citizens (other than business associates/Trump employees/investors in Trump enterprises), other nations/citizens (same exceptions previously noted apply here), or world balance of power/trade.

    A danger associated with Trump, during this time period, did exist, but its scale was vastly underestimated. That danger was the number of truly delusional citizens unable to recognize what Trump is. More frightening even than that, though, is that this vast group — nearly one half of the population of America — voted for this man because they see in him something which resonates because it also exists within themselves.

    What attributes does the current POTUS possess, I would like them to answer on videotape, that they would advise their children or grandchildren to emulate?

    But as sorry a lot as that bunch is (they remain loyal cult members this far along into the conman’s blatantly obvious scam, one he not only does not try to conceal but actually publicly boasts about, they cannot be accused of blind loyalty after being personally shit upon as members of Executive Office staff. Yes, they stay loyal after being shit upon at a substantial remove, due in no small measure to inability to recognize the motivated reasoning which (in combination with an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance, a natural outcome of isolation within the conservative media ideology sphere) locks them into position within Trump orbit.

    But at least those loyal follower dupes haven’t been publicly blamed for Trump incompetence, then terminated from an appointed position as if they failed, it was they fucked the dog, not the Buffoon in Charge whose name I surely do not need to mention but whose initials are Donald J. Trump; and their termination for cause is not only justified, but public hero Trump instigating a fix for a problem. The Fixer in Chief.

    I refer to White House and Executive branch staff, who slavishly remain devoted to POTUS as they watch fellow employees as they are axed, publicly humiliated, discarded and forgotten by our prez. Except for those occasions when it is convenient for him to dredge up that particular past and trash ‘em in the media all over again. Yet they remain loyal even then, and scores if not hundreds/thousands more eagerly await the opportunity to fill a vacated position after the axe is wielded yet again.

    What attribute does Trump possess which keeps a certain type of person devoted no matter what? He hasn’t sent anyone to labor camps or up against a wall, blindfolded and with a cigarette, at least that I know of, but I have little doubt he would do so a la Stalin, at similar scale and with identical absence of remorse, or any feeling whatsoever. I think Stalin had goals other than solely self aggrandizement, though, so there is maybe that difference between the two.

    • Actually, I’d have to say “enthusiasm” to join Team Trump in high positions has cooled considerably. It looks like the former generals and admirals have wised up after what happened to their brethren predecessors in The Big House! And the “quality” of the current crop of appointees? I find William Barr, for example, to be stunningly incompetent in his seedy mission. Yeah, incompetence in being a bad guy. Quite an achievement!

  4. sorry is this is a duplicate post as my first attempt is not showing up.

    I have to disagree with the article. BS is Lying and when a major leader uses it as a tactic to manipulate people’s understanding of reality is a sinister lie. To try to differentiate the 2 seems more like an intellectual exercise instead of a meaningful analysis of what is happening. And Trump did not invent this ploy. Reagan did the same when he invented the concept of the Welfare Queen to gain support for trashing poverty programs and the value of programs to support the poor. Bush/Cheney did this on a subtle but mass level when they pushed individualism and narcissism in order to trash the last vestiges of humanistic values as a cultural norm. This has morphed into Trumps America First, Me first, Me Me Me…… All leaders who support control of power in the hands of the few (and all of ours are like this) have used this tactic to change public thinking/belief systems.

  5. Choose to believe or choose to doubt:
    Live in the cave or find the way out …

    Optional Orthodoxy

    What can you say? It doesn’t matter.
    The words don’t slay, but they can flatter
    Those who’ll see the killing done;
    First, for profit; then, for fun.

    Sure the bullshit sounds opaque;
    Hard to fathom, hard to take.
    Sense of it, one cannot make.
    That’s the point: sell Fear with Fake.

    Disbelief you must suspend
    From the start until the end.
    Just imagine that you see
    What’s not there and cannot be.

    Then suppose the noise you hear
    Makes you think of words unclear.
    Sounds suggestive of a thought,
    Vague and strange but cheaply bought.

    Black and white at first, just movement.
    Next, add sound, a real improvement.
    Color, then, completes the scheme:
    TV “real” and life a dream.

    Just absorb the staged impression.
    Then come back for one more session.
    Then another, then one more …
    See? For you, that’s what’s in store.

    Love Big Brother? Well, you should.
    Just don’t look beneath the hood.
    Take on faith our lies? A plus!
    Soon we’ll turn you into us.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

    • I suggest, with completely straight face, that there must be a correlation between the gullibility of Americans in the political arena and the truly alarming percentage of the “adult” population–and here I have to confess the reported figure slips my aged mind, but it IS alarming–that is astounded by the “news flash” that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way around!! Need one say more? Okay, I will. With tongue at least partly in cheek, I’ll propose that the average European during the Dark Ages was about on a par with today’s average American in ability to understand the reality of the world around her/him. Peasants resented the cruel exploitation they were subjected to, and sometimes rose in arms against it. Americans? They just say “Thank you, Boss! Please screw me harder!”

      • “To entrust affairs of state absolutely to any man is quite incompatible with the maintenance of liberty; and so it is folly to choose to avoid a small loss by means of the greatest of evils. But the perpetual refrain of those who lust after absolute dominion is, that it is to the essential interest of the commonwealth that its business be secretly transacted, and other like pretences, which end in the more hateful a slavery, the more they are clothed with a show of utility.” Baruch Spinoza (1670)

        Or, as I would put it in vitriolic veteran verse:

        Woeful World

        Welcome to the World of Woeful
        Greetings from the dirt and death
        Stay awhile and savor slaughter
        Exhale now your final breath

        Hear the lies like lurid laughter
        Sparkling poison comedy
        See the snake-oil salesmen slurring
        Pitches for their “remedy”

        Pay no heed to bloody bungles
        Never once demand to know
        Why we still employ the vapid
        Expectations set so low

        Reach should not exceed the grasping
        Crony crooks who count their sums
        None should wonder at the wicked
        Something that now this way comes

        Karma works through all intentions
        Bad ones drive the good ones out
        So it comes as no surprise when
        Ruptured ducklings start to pout

        Not the rapture long envisioned
        By the ones now left behind
        Voting in the kind that robbed them
        Hasn’t cured the addled mind

        Now betrayed by honest trifles
        Factoids joined beneath the ken
        Down where lizard language festers
        Atavism conquers men

        Swayed by dark emotion rampant
        Arguing from ignorance
        Proving fallacies by dictum
        Sophistry beguiles the dunce

        No defense through education
        Chartered homeschools dummy down
        Uncle Jim-Bob’s paranoia:
        City slickers come to town

        Back through centuries of struggle
        Abstract danger always near
        Like Caligula on steroids:
        Let them hate, just so they fear

        Going backwards from prevailing
        Onward to beginning soon
        To the rear advancing daily
        Losing Mars to gain the Moon

        Two legs bad and four legs better
        Animals all equal now
        Pigs and men conspire at cheating
        One another any how

        Hope abandoned here on entrance
        You who would not read the sign
        Falsehoods you have swallowed freely
        Truth you’ve chosen to malign

        Now you’ve got what you had coming
        What the duped so often get
        Ripped off by the reigning monarch
        “Winnings” from a lousy bet

        Glad to have you join the party
        Here no exit will you find
        Woeful World indeed you’ve purchased
        With this contract you have signed

        Didn’t read the fine print, did you?
        Mephistopheles feels proud
        Once again his whispered promise
        Vanished in a bloody cloud

        Iraq-Nam now has you stymied
        Having done the dumb deed twice
        Seems you thought the dry and damp heat
        Had some bearing on your vice

        You won’t look into the mirror
        You project your ebbs and flows
        Others who are not your problem
        Can’t save you from what you chose

        If we want to stop, we’ll do it
        Otherwise we’ll stumble on
        Wrecking both ourselves and them who
        Will not play our puppet pawn

        World of Woeful, what a wonder!
        Who but we would waste away
        Life and prospects for the future
        Now, in our own blind today?

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2007

  6. In college economics courses, our professors taught us the three kinds of lies:

    Lies, Damned Eyes, and Statistics

    I cannot speak your name for I despise
    Those noises that a caring mind decries

    You’ve told as many contradicted lies
    As any tiny man of greater size

    Your Congressmen begrudge the French their fries
    And think a cheap word truth and honor buys

    They dine like fatted porkers in their sties
    With “freedom” grease upon their shirts and ties

    They stain their fingers purple to reprise
    The vote in lands your army occupies

    About the world you’d rather fantasize
    Than entertain a fact when it replies

    You try to talk just like the other guys
    And pose with flags and moms and apple pies

    Yet through transparent glass the truth descries
    The tawdry, tacky trade your crony plies

    To nurse your pride the Pentagon supplies
    Another squad of foolish young GIs

    So once again today a soldier dies
    The blood that soaks his clothes congeals and dries

    Above his fallen form his spirit flies
    At home his mourning mother sits and cries

    Amid the rubble piles of bodies rise
    Yet still your moving mouth the truth denies

    So this I say to you, sir: Damn Your Eyes!

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006

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