Post-Truth Nation

December 20, 2016

nuclear-tweet

This is the fundamental danger of Donald Trump: he’s set himself on a path of normalizing chaos. Trump’s success is a tale of façade. Everything we know of him is superficial —as lies in fact are superficial. Falsehood’s erected like a stage set backed and supported by temporary bracing. It’s meant to look true for cameras, not to house veracity (and DT does love cameras). Facts however are fundamental. Truth is fundamental, and being unsure of what the facts are does not make them less factual. Not knowing what the facts are is actually a definition of ignorance.

But let’s be clear, DT is not the first political liar. Lies are systemic in politics, how else could you come to represent a population as varied, erratic and self-interested as humans? There’s never a perfect consensus in policy solutions or even the reality of existing conditions. Ideas and opinions form a gamut. They run up and down scales like broken chords —like discordant arpeggios. They exist in all categories of human philosophy and politics. So, politicians have for centuries crafted careful lies as an expedient means to ends: as tools on paths to power to maintain temporary accord and avoid chaos. Hardly anyone likes or benefits from chaos. Constitutions are written and ratified to avoid chaos. Constitutional law (flawed as it may be) exists to avoid chaos, but law must be founded in fact. The normalization of mendacity and ignorance is a first step on the stampede to chaos.

But, regarding lies, the difference between where we were before the DT campaign and where we are now is that DT has taken us a long way toward normalizing factlessness and fabrication. Before, there was a general sense that lies were unacceptable and that if caught in a lie some consequence ensued. But DT has proven that lying or fabricating to the brink of The Big Lie (and perhaps beyond) are acceptable tactics and might even be admirable, not only in politics but in one’s personal life as well. He’s convinced a justifiably angry constituency that his lies are not lies and has publicly encouraged his supporters to spread them.

In a recent article political theorist Jacob Levy wrote“…often a leader with authoritarian tendencies will lie in order to make others repeat his lie both as a way to demonstrate and strengthen power over them. Is there anyone who doubts DT is an authoritarian? DT is a full page ad for authoritarianism. And does DT revel in displaying his power —naysayers please raise hands  …not many honest takers?   

Levy continues, “Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”

In fact the danger of DT is how he’s laid the groundwork for disorientation and, eventually, chaos. As philosopher Hannah Arendt commented (referring to the events of the Second World War), “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth, and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world is being destroyed.”

And this is where I part ways with those who want to gloss over the character of the man who will (incredibly) be president, who would avert ears to the content of a campaign full of pretty much nothing but BS, nonsense, blatant lies and calls to arms —at times almost literally. I part ways with them on the basis of DT’s demonstrated character —by what’s come from DT’s own mouth and from his deeds: from the evidence of those he’s stiffed as standard business practice, to those he’s sued into submission because he could, to those he’s groped and mocked, etc. A man’s character is not transformed by the outcome of an election.

There was a “Madman Theory” applied to Richard Nixon during the Vietnam war which suggested that if the president “…appeared to be crazy enough to use nuclear weapons … North Vietnam and the Soviet Union might back down.”Dana Milbank,Washington Post. Well, we’ve seen how that worked out; nearly 59,000 American dead, not to mention countless Vietnamese.

Milbank continues, “But in Trump’s application of the Madman Theory there seems to be less theory than madman. There may be advantages to keeping foes and opponents off guard, but Trump is baffling friends and allies, too. In foreign affairs, unpredictability spooks allies and spreads instability. And unpredictable policy at home has long been seen as toxic for business.” —and, I’d add, national sanity.

For those expecting a different DT than we’ve seen in his campaign and throughout his life, you’ve jumped aboard the chaos wagon. What we’ve seen is who we’ve got, and we can realistically expect that a man who’s gained power by strangling truth to legitimize lies, will not shrink from using lies and tweeted distractions to disorient the nation to the point of intellectual confusion and moral chaos while president. It would not be against his thoughtless nature to initiate mayhem with a nuclear tweet in a moment of pique.

I’d like nothing more than for this to turn out an entirely discredited fear, but there’s too much evidence on the ground (and growing) to dispel it. It’s in the wind, it’s taken root.

by Jim Culleny
12/26/15