Sunday, January 29, 2017

Disinformation from the White House and the disorientation of America

When the President of the United States claims that few is more than many - and gets away with it - you know that our system of government, and indeed our democratic society, is facing a clear and present danger.

The NY Times reports on Lyin’ Donnie’s falsifications and fabrications in ‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past

As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: “Believe me.”

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.

All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after another. PolitiFact, a website devoted to checking the veracity of claims by public officials, published 12 “of the most misleading claims” Mr. Trump made during his first White House interview. The Chicago Tribune found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he claimed two people were shot and killed in Chicago the very hour President Barack Obama was there delivering his farewell address. (There were no shootings, police records showed.) The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.” (The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days in office.

Trump’s lies are just as much instruments of governance as they are instances of his narcissism.

Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals. Mr. Trump’s habitually inflated claims about his wealth, for example, fed his self-proclaimed image of a business genius even as they attracted lucrative licensing deals built around the Trump brand.

Steve Schmidt, who helped manage Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s cascade of falsehoods was “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy” in the United States. Mr. Schmidt said that when he heard Mr. Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway defend the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, he thought of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

“In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.”

Mr. Lewis argued that the president’s untruths were a deliberate strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the enemy of his administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the media,” he said.

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker also connects Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America.

When Trump repeats the ridiculous story about the three million illegal voters—a story that no one who knows, that not a single White House “staffer,” not a single Republican congressman actually believes to be true—he does not really care if anyone believes it, even if, at some crazy level, he does, sort of. People aren’t meant to believe it; they’re meant to be intimidated by it. The lie is not a claim about specific facts; the lunacy is a deliberate challenge to the whole larger idea of sanity. Once a lie that big is in circulation, trying to reel the conversation back into the territory of rational argument becomes impossible.

The thing is - just about everything Trump says is a “lie that big” so we continue to live in a state of disorientation void of rational argument.

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