Thursday, September 13, 2018

Trump Lies About Everything, All the Time, and his Base Doesn't Care

Young Hannah Arendt
There is a discussion on Crooked Timber, which Brad DeLong summarizes as "the more empirical reality tells the Trumpists to mark their beliefs to market, the more desperate they are to avoid doing so."  Lots of things Trump says are "just fucking ridiculous" notes John Holbo. He suggests that Trump's supporters don't want to admit that Trump says things that are "just fucking ridiculous" because they would be ashamed. Alternatively, we might say they lack the capacity for shame about the ridiculous things Trump says because they just don't care.

Trump has masterfully locked in his base. His approval ratings continue to be sky-high among Republicans; eighty-five percent like the job he is doing; seventy-six percent profess to believe Trump is telling the truth all or most of the time; and even among those Republicans who feel Trump regularly lies, 56% still support him.

I doubt we can chalk this up to fear of being shamed for believing "ridiculous things." Trump and his spokespersons have proudly made it a point that they champion a post-truth world: he had "the largest inauguration crowd," they work with "alternative facts."  Trumpers make their own truth.  They have no shame. The Washington Post's tally of Trump lies since his inauguration has topped 5,000. Despite what his supporters tell pollsters, Trump voters must know he lies all the time. They just don't care. It's not that they refuse to "mark their beliefs to market," it's that they profess to make their own market. They embrace Trump's lies and call it the truth. What is truth after all in a post-truth world. Certainly nothing to be afraid of.

Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, and the Palestinians know better.

"What impresses me about Trump," says John Holbo, "is not so much that he can take over the tribe so completely, or that being a member of a tribe means believing what everyone else believes, but that a modern political tribe can be so groupthink lockstep without being (ideologically coherent)."

And Jim Harrison, a commenter, points us to Hannah Arendt and her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. In an interview, reflecting on the conundrum of how a civilized country like Germany could descend into barbaric uncivilized horror in such a short time, Arendt once said that the German people lost their mind, ... for a very short period of time. Trouble is, a lot of damage can occur in a very short period of time.

When we contemplate what Germany's fevered insanity looked like, we could do worse than contemplate Arendt's description here:
“A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think everything was possible and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that the audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
There is nothing new under the sun.  With a mixture of gullibility and cynicism Trump's base is willing to believe everything and nothing. Fox and friends have discovered that they can "make people believe the most fantastic statements" secure in the knowledge that if viewers are given irrefutable proof of falsehood, they will take refuge in cynicism and admiration of Trump's superior tactical cleverness.

The saving grace, for now, is no violence, no paramilitary militias, and a strong democratic resistance.  The truth is out there to be found. 


Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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