Friday, October 07, 2016

The enduring cost of Trumpism: Big lies and scapegoating are now the official political norm


Here's where you can go to spin The New Yorker's "Trump and the Truth" spin wheel of lies.

by Ken

Here's how this initial version of the "Trump and the Truth" spin wheel (note that it's going to be updated in two weeks) is presented (with, of course, lots of links onsite):
In recent weeks, writers and fact-checkers at The New Yorker have produced a series of reported essays about Donald Trump and the truth. Presidential candidates have always lied, “but sometimes there really is something new under the political sun,” David Remnick wrote when he introduced the series, last month. Trump, the Republican nominee, “does not so much struggle with the truth as strangle it altogether.” Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has had her bald-faced moments. “But, in the scale and in the depth of his lying, Donald Trump is in another category.”

Or, as Margaret Talbot wrote, “Donald Trump lies, a lot—that’s a fact and easy to prove simply by reference to what he’s on the record saying.” Her piece on Trump and the “lying” media, along with the other essays collected here, offers a way to keep track of Trump’s fabrications—“a record,” Remnick wrote, “that appears to know no bounds and certainly no shame.”

Also in the series: Eyal Press looks at Trump’s claim that immigrants cause crime levels to increase; Adam Gopnik writes about Trump’s suggestion that Ted Cruz’s father was a party to the J.F.K. assassination; Jia Tolentino writes about the “Mexican” judge Gonzalo Curiel; Adam Davidson explains both Trump’s flip-flop on the Fed’s interest rate and his attempt to label the official unemployment rate a “hoax”; Jelani Cobb writes about Trump’s claim that “the African-Americans love me because they know I am going to bring back jobs”; and John Cassidy examines Trump’s alleged charitable giving.

Thirty-one days remain before the election. Anything can still happen. This spin wheel contains a Trump whopper pulled from every essay in the series. The topic of each essay appears on the outer ring, and a Trump quote that sums up the topic appears in each wedge, along with a link to the corresponding essay. We will update the wheel in two weeks. Spin with abandon.


Who's more monstrous, the Billion-Dollar Loser or
the Unspeakable Pence? (Or is it too close to call?)

Let me say this for the umpteenth time. Of course pols lie, and always have lied. And I've frequently noted my conviction that the Right officially went off the truth standard in the 2008 campaign season, where I was hard put to find a word of truth uttered by any Republican candidate at any level. It's just that The Donald, whom I think we now might better call the Billion-Dollar Loser, has escalated the practice to a mania, putting no discernable limit on his lies and casting truth and facts as a conspiracy to undermine America's Greatness.

The long-term problem, though, as I see it, is that America's Greatness is coming to consist more and more of the telling of and believing in lies. I've argued frequently that George W. Bush's popularity, when he was so popular that to his admirers any unkind word was considered the hanging offense of "Bush-bashing," was in his ability, or rather eagerness, to tell America the lies Americans wanted to hear. Which, to our common misfortune, was read by all too many Americans as the quality of a guy you'd like to have a beer with, which is of course the bestest quality we could look for in a president. (Personally, I found it hard to imagine anyone i'd less like to have a beer with, without even considering the general indications that, like so many habitual drinkers, he's a really awful, obnoxious drunk.)

And then when Chimpy became unpopular, it was because, while he wasn't lying any less, the lies he was telling once the poop started hitting the fan were not the lies Americans wanted to hear. When his adorers turned on him, they were exercising their God-given right to better lies. And they responded by essentially ghosting him. Once the economy melted down, on top of the ongoing disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the bills for his free-spending neocon rule started coming due, it was as if, to all those people who had been worshipping him, he had never existed -- and wasn't still president of these United States.

It was an awesome performance by the American public, but again, we have to give proper credit to the people who paved the way, going back to St. Ronnie of Reagan, who taught his worshippers that if you don't like reality, you're free to choose any alternative reality you like and pretend that that's reality. And after two terms of Chimpy the Prez's all-lies-all-time governance, the standard was set.

The Billion-Dollar Loser, in addition to making no lie too big or small or outrageous for public consumption, has added another crucial component to our public discourse: the right, even obligation, to blame somebody else, anybody else, for anything you've done. Again, the basic impulse is hardly new. It is, again, the pervasiveness, scale, and savagery of this set of lies that's new. And it seems to be working -- because, again, the Biggest Loser has glommed onto lies that America loves. The only better than a convenient scapegoat for a particular occasion is a convenient scapegoat for every occasion.

Case in point: the emergence of the Unspeakable Pence as some sort of "compassionate conservative," as described by the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza -- a sort of bellwether sucker. DWT readers surely don't need to be told that the Unspeakble One is as monstrous a specimen of political odiousness as our system has produced. But apply a little polish, and set him alongside the monster who picked him as his running mate, and he can be made to look, to a sufficiently gullible public (raise your hands, America!), like a reasonable, principled guy.


Which is to me the real horror going forward, regardless of the election outcome: the perversion of our political discourse to a new and all but irreversible level.

Lately I've been seeing some useful reporting, as part of the new genre of Explaining the Trump Phenomenon. on how the two presidential candidates are viewed in Trump-stronghold areas like what we might call post-industrial Ohio, where the last decade really has been an economic nightmare, and it might be understandable that un- and under-employed people might be blaming any Democrat for their plight and looking for any kind of change.

Under the present degraded standard of discourse, there's no way of fighting back. It clearly doesn't matter that the Billion-Dollar Loser's entire professional career has been built on suckering and taking the fullest possible advantage of just such people. Or that Hillary, in her now-infamous "basket of deplorables" comments, in fact spoke with considerable understanding of just those people, as the other half of the Trump supporters, whose situation unquestionably needs to be addressed.

True, Sonny John himself fell by the wayside, but his
and Miss Mitch's War on America has been a winner.

Since facts no longer matter, it doesn't matter that Republicans have been major architects of those people's legitimate grievances. And since in today's lie-rich and scapegoat-happy discourse, Obama-demonizing has become so natural that no other explanation is required. It doesn't matter, of course, that going back before Day One of the Obama administration, "Miss Mitch" McConnell and "Sunny John" Boehner had already worked out the strategy that congressional Republicans have in fact employed throughout the Obama presidency: making sure that nothing the president tried could happen, or at least work. The cynicism was always stupendous: Their strategy, open and unapologetic, was to make as many Americans as possible suffer as badly as possible, to get them to Vote Right.

There was one aspect of this strategy that might have seemed overly audacious: the assumption that they would never be held to account for the price of their obstruction. Well, it's said that for big gains you have to gamble big, and they've won their gamble. You listen to those people -- not the "deplorables," who have their own agenda, but the victims of a winner-take-all economy -- reflexively blaming all their woes on that [expletives deleted] Obama, and you have to conclude that that gamble has paid off to an extent that even I in my most pessimistic imaginings didn't imagine. "Scot-free" is how the obstructionist have emerged from their Fuck America for Freedom crusade.

Which is a reminder that, even if Hillary is elected, she -- and we -- can expect a level of congressional obstruction that will make these past years look like an era of bipartisan harmony. And we can expect the political gain to accrue to the cynical liars who best understand what lies the American public wants to hear.

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