Friday, February 10, 2017

Andrew Sullivan's New Dish Starts With The Unique Nature Of Trump's Lies

Andrew Sullivan retired his popular blog, The Dish, in 2015.  He's something of a living rebuke to those who want to categorize people.  He's a practicing Roman Catholic, British born American citizen, often labeled conservative, and openly gay among other things.

Today he's marked his public return in a weekly blogpost/column hybrid.

His topic today begins with Trump's lies.  It's not to document them or complain about them individually, but rather to astutely point out that Trump lies differently from other presidents.  Here's a brief excerpt:
I want to start with Trump’s lies. It’s now a commonplace that Trump and his underlings tell whoppers. Fact-checkers have never had it so good. But all politicians lie. Bill Clinton could barely go a day without some shading or parsing of the truth. Richard Nixon was famously tricky. But all the traditional political fibbers nonetheless paid some deference to the truth — even as they were dodging it. They acknowledged a shared reality and bowed to it. They acknowledged the need for a common set of facts in order for a liberal democracy to function at all. Trump’s lies are different. They are direct refutations of reality — and their propagation and repetition is about enforcing his power rather than wriggling out of a political conundrum. They are attacks on the very possibility of a reasoned discourse, the kind of bald-faced lies that authoritarians issue as a way to test loyalty and force their subjects into submission. That first press conference when Sean Spicer was sent out to lie and fulminate to the press about the inauguration crowd reminded me of some Soviet apparatchik having his loyalty tested to see if he could repeat in public what he knew to be false. It was comical, but also faintly chilling.
Let's look at that idea of authoritarians testing loyalty by forcing subjects into submission.  There's a great example of that from Vaclav Havel (the playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia)  in his Power of the Powerless.  I cited it in a 2010 post about TSA requirements on airline passengers.  Havel was talking about how the communists tested the loyalty of shopkeepers.  Here's from History.Hanover's online copy of Power of the Powerless:
"The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment's thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life "in harmony with society," as they say. 

Sullivan goes on to list some of the most recent bald face falsehoods from Trump.  Then writes:
 "None of this, moreover, is ever corrected. No error is ever admitted. Any lie is usually doubled down by another lie — along with an ad hominem attack."
This is, of course, part of Trump's credo, inherited from his mentor Roy Cohn, that I wrote about in post called, "Attack, Counterattack, Never Apologize." 

Next Sullivan tells us the job of the media and others is to challenge every lie, not go on to another question until the lie is acknowledged.  The risk, he says, to American journalists is far less than it was (and is) to those in other totalitarian nations.

Sullivan's next thrust is Trump's mental health.  We would not accept this behavior from someone in our daily life, he argues with an example of a neighbor who tells obvious lies and forces his family members to do the same.  While we can avoid a neighbor, we can't avoid the president.
"There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness."
The emperor has no clothes.

Sullivan then talks about the omnipresence of rulers in autocratic countries and ends with a discussion of the power of faith and the movie Silence.   

Trump is probably used to people in his business 'empire' agreeing to whatever he whatever he says.  We know he has used a mafia like strategy of promises and threats to enforce his view of the world on those outside his empire.

And that's the strategy he's using now as president.

If either one of the houses of congress were not controlled by Republicans, his presidency would have be unraveled already.  Only the courts (of the three branches of government) are standing up to him.  (Which is why the Republicans over the years have been blocking Obama appointments.)  How long can reasonable Republicans hold their noses and support Trump in Congress?

Perhaps the rest of us can propose a permanent monument (as well as support in the next elections) to the first five Republicans in the Senate and the first 25 Republicans in the House to stand up and oppose Trump on a continuing basis.  Maybe a monument isn't necessary.  Maybe we just have to convince them how it will affect how their grandchildren  and history will view them.  It's the first few to break ranks that are the brave ones.  Once the critical numbers are reached, others take much less risk to join them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.