Postmodern Trumpism

If Trump lied, he would not be as dangerous as he is as a bullshitter. Frankfort writes, “By virtue of [not paying attention to the truth], bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are. . . . Through excessive indulgence in

[bullshit]

, which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person’s normal habit of attending to the ways things are may become attenuated or lost.”

There may be many causes for Trump’s bullshit—his narcissistic ego may be the prime reason, but there is at least another one. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Those of us concerned with the truth should give up the notion that Trump will learn what is true and what is not and that the falsehoods will decrease over time. As long as Trump continues to talk about things he knows little to nothing about, the bullshit will continue.

The real issue is not why Trump excretes so many falsehoods, it is why so many people accept, even desire, his bullshit. This is where postmodernism comes in. In a postmodernistic world, we don’t have to go to the trouble of ascertaining what is true because what matters is what is true for me. Many of his supporters surely know that what Trump says is not only false but errant bullshit, but he says what the Trumpistas want to believe. The important thing is that what he says feels true to his audience. And if it feels true to them, then it is true. Postmodernism, once a leftist phenomenon, has found its zenith in a conservative world.

The appeal and power of accepting falsehoods because they feel right, because they are true for me, should not be underestimated. We might think that when everybody has their own truth individuals are separated from each other and the world is atomistic. It is true that in the postmodernist world I don’t have to engage with those who hold other truths and I can remain segregated from them, but believing in falsehoods also brings people together. What Lawrence Wright, in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, wrote about a new religious movement has broader applicability: “Belief in the irrational is one definition of faith, but it is also true that clinging to absurd or disputed doctrines binds a community of faith together and defines a barrier to the outside world.”

Wright’s insight helps explain our modern world. Many who believe that we should distinguish truth from non-truth in order to formulate policies and action have their own faith in rationality. They are surprised that as the breadth, depth, and frequency of Trump’s bullshit became increasingly apparent that Trumpistas have not fallen away. These rationalists see the falsehoods as a negative for Trump, but in fact they are a source of the president’s strength. His falsehoods have produced a feeling that such utterances must be true, ought to be true, are at least emotionally true. As a result, they have bound his supporters together, helping to define a needed barrier with the rest of society.

Something like this postmodernism has also affected some who do not support Trump. I have several friends, not Trump supporters, who have said that whatever you think about the president, you have to concede that he has kept his promises. I begged to differ, although a bit more forcefully than that. I referred them to the factchecking website Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter which tracks 102 promises made by candidate Trump in 2016.  It reports that he has kept 18% of his promises, broken 17%, compromised 11%, and the rest are “stalled” or “in the works.” This hardly indicates that he has kept his promises unless keeping less than one in five looks like a promise-keeper to you.

But all promises are not equal. Perhaps he has kept the important ones. All may not agree on what should fall on this list, but Politifact’s list of Trump’s top five promises concludes that only one has been kept, and that was to suspend immigration from terror-prone places. Two are rated as compromises: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class” and “The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax.” (These ratings raise the question: Can you compromise a promise or is a compromised promise a broken promise?)

The other top Trump promises, according to the fact-checkers, were to repeal and replace Obamacare and to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Politifact lists both these promises as stalled. That begs the question of how long a promise can be stalled before it is broken. But whether the stalled characterization is correct, it seems clear that these promises have not been kept.

Even so, my knowledgeable and non-conservative friends say that Trump has kept his promises. When confronted with the information showing that he has kept few of them, my friends reply that the specific things he promised do not really matter. The attitude he projects about immigration, Obamacare, taxes, and the like show that he is keeping his promises. My friends are really saying that the truth of promise-keeping does not matter as long as it feels as if promises have been kept. How post-modern of them!

(Concluded January 15)

Postmodern Trumpism

If Trump lied, he would not be as dangerous as he is as a bullshitter. Frankfort writes, “By virtue of [not paying attention to the truth], bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are. . . . Through excessive indulgence in

[bullshit]

, which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person’s normal habit of attending to the ways things are may become attenuated or lost.”

There may be many causes for Trump’s bullshit—his narcissistic ego may be the prime reason, but there is at least another one. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Those of us concerned with the truth should give up the notion that Trump will learn what is true and what is not and that the falsehoods will decrease over time. As long as Trump continues to talk about things he knows little to nothing about, the bullshit will continue.

The real issue is not why Trump excretes so many falsehoods, it is why so many people accept, even desire, his bullshit. This is where postmodernism comes in. In a postmodernistic world, we don’t have to go to the trouble of ascertaining what is true because what matters is what is true for me. Many of his supporters surely know that what Trump says is not only false but errant bullshit, but he says what the Trumpistas want to believe. The important thing is that what he says feels true to his audience. And if it feels true to them, then it is true. Postmodernism, once a leftist phenomenon, has found its zenith in a conservative world.

The appeal and power of accepting falsehoods because they feel right, because they are true for me, should not be underestimated. We might think that when everybody has their own truth individuals are separated from each other and the world is atomistic. It is true that in the postmodernist world I don’t have to engage with those who hold other truths and I can remain segregated from them, but believing in falsehoods also brings people together. What Lawrence Wright, in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, wrote about a new religious movement has broader applicability: “Belief in the irrational is one definition of faith, but it is also true that clinging to absurd or disputed doctrines binds a community of faith together and defines a barrier to the outside world.”

Wright’s insight helps explain our modern world. Many who believe that we should distinguish truth from non-truth in order to formulate policies and action have their own faith in rationality. They are surprised that as the breadth, depth, and frequency of Trump’s bullshit became increasingly apparent that Trumpistas have not fallen away. These rationalists see the falsehoods as a negative for Trump, but in fact they are a source of the president’s strength. His falsehoods have produced a feeling that such utterances must be true, ought to be true, are at least emotionally true. As a result, they have bound his supporters together, helping to define a needed barrier with the rest of society.

Something like this postmodernism has also affected some who do not support Trump. I have several friends, not Trump supporters, who have said that whatever you think about the president, you have to concede that he has kept his promises. I begged to differ, although a bit more forcefully than that. I referred them to the factchecking website Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter which tracks 102 promises made by candidate Trump in 2016.  It reports that he has kept 18% of his promises, broken 17%, compromised 11%, and the rest are “stalled” or “in the works.” This hardly indicates that he has kept his promises unless keeping less than one in five looks like a promise-keeper to you.

But all promises are not equal. Perhaps he has kept the important ones. All may not agree on what should fall on this list, but Politifact’s list of Trump’s top five promises concludes that only one has been kept, and that was to suspend immigration from terror-prone places. Two are rated as compromises: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class” and “The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax.” (These ratings raise the question: Can you compromise a promise or is a compromised promise a broken promise?)

The other top Trump promises, according to the fact-checkers, were to repeal and replace Obamacare and to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Politifact lists both these promises as stalled. That begs the question of how long a promise can be stalled before it is broken. But whether the stalled characterization is correct, it seems clear that these promises have not been kept.

Even so, my knowledgeable and non-conservative friends say that Trump has kept his promises. When confronted with the information showing that he has kept few of them, my friends reply that the specific things he promised do not really matter. The attitude he projects about immigration, Obamacare, taxes, and the like show that he is keeping his promises. My friends are really saying that the truth of promise-keeping does not matter as long as it feels as if promises have been kept. How post-modern of them!

(Concluded January 15)

Snippets

One More Reason to Celebrate

Hooray! Hooray!

The first of May;

Outdoor screwing

Begins today!

Anonymous

 

A portion of a museum had erotic ceramics from cultures that predated the Incas in Peru. I wondered: “Surely they did not refer to it as the missionary position.  What did they call it?”

 

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

 

The president and his panderers say we need a border wall to stop both the flow of illegal immigrants and illegal drugs from Mexico. However, once the people and drugs cross the Rio Grande, they are not stopped. If we are telling Mexico that they must do more, we should be saying the same to Texas. The drugs and people seem to traverse the Lone Star State rather easily. The undocumented and the heroin go right past Houston and San Antonio and Dallas and find their way to St. Louis and Fargo and Chicago and Des Moines. It is as if Texas is a sanctuary state without drug laws. If we are going to come down hard on Mexico, perhaps we should say that Texas has to stop this illegal traffic or we will build a wall on its northern border.

 

“Seek simplicity and distrust it.” Alfred North Whitehead.

 

As a part-time resident of the Keystone state, I was interested in the news report that by a 191-6 vote (the story did not say of what body), Pennsylvania had adopted as its official amphibian the Eastern hellbender, a salamander that can grow to two feet in length, and also goes by the increasingly intriguing names of mud devil, lasagna lizard, and snot otter. The vote was lopsided, but the report said that the hellbender had competition for this trophy from the Wehrle’s salamander, which is named after the late naturalist R.W. Wehrle, of Indiana, Pa. This doubled my knowledge of Indiana, Pa., residents. Jimmy Stewart was born and raised there. I am convinced that this brief news report contains the seed of many jokes, but I haven’t come up with any, so I am posting this, I must admit, so that I can write “lasagna lizard” and “snot otter.”  Let’s do that again: lasagna lizard; snot otter.

 

As I passed a group of toddlers on the sidewalk after some rain, I heard the teacher calmly state, “It is your choice whether you walk in any puddles.  But first think about whether that is a good choice.”

Unsolicited Advice for House Democrats (concluded)

Of course, President Trump and the Democrats do not agree on the border wall. As I write, the federal government is partially shut down because of this issue. If the stalemate does get resolved without a Democratic commitment to Trump’s vision of a border barrier, the House Democrats should address the issue. They need to emphasize that a wall is not an end initself, or at least it should not be. Instead it is a means to better border security. Democrats should be stressing that they believe in good border security, and that the Republican screed that Democrats believe in open borders is, to put it politely, bunkum. Democrats need to make clear that they oppose the wall because it is not a good way to get better border security.

This is yet another area where House Democrats should hold hearings. Make evident the shortcomings of the wall. The cost, of course, should be stressed as well as the likelihood of cost overruns.  Any connections between the members of the construction industry who hanker for a piece of the wall-building action and the Republican Party should be highlighted. The wall’s impact on wildlife, streams, ranching, hunting, and fishing should be explored. Eminent domain, often reviled by conservatives and libertarians, will have to be used to get the private lands needed for the wall. Have those costs gone into the projected budget for the wall? How long will the court proceedings take? How many “jack-booted thugs” will be necessary to remove ranchers and homeowners from their lands?

A wall has intuitive appeal for increasing border security, and hearings should show that such simplistic thinking is wrong. Knowledgeable people should testify about the limited effectiveness of a wall. Witnesses experienced in border security should be presenting ideas that lead to better border security—methods that are cheaper, more efficacious, less harmful to the environment, less invasive of property rights, and more humane.

The hearings should produce a bill for better border security that the House can pass untethered, once again, from other issues. Perhaps the Senate Republicans will kill the proposals, but even so, the House passage of sensible border security measures helps the country by presenting competing ideas to the public, instead of a myopic focus on the wall. It should be good for the Democrats by giving a concrete (pun intended) proposal showing that Democrats care about border security but are also mindful of wasteful costs and other harms. And Democrats should also remember that a sizeable number of Republicans have not supported the wall. Maybe a coalition across the aisle can be fashioned to improve the country. Another novel idea.

And perhaps Democrats could start to tackle with solid, non-political hearings issues that politicians reflexively want to avoid but should be aired for the country’s sake. For example, how many know that the number of IRS auditors is now 9,5110, down a third from 2010 and that the rate of IRS audits has dropped 42 percent? These numbers are not surprising because the IRS budget has fallen by $2 billion. Politicians don’t want to go on record in favor of more audits, more IRS enforcement, but someone should be pointing out that corporations and the tax-cheating rich are the prime beneficiaries of lesser IRS enforcement. The government collects less money than it ought to, and the tax burden on the less wealthy increases. Serious, nonpartisan House hearings could try to explain these and many other realities to the country—realities that have gotten lost in the morass of political backstabbing.