Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Bullsh*t as a Political Strategy

The startling revelation by Trump surrogate and CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes that "There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts" has made the rounds by now. Discussing the President-elect's claim that he won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton when the three million votes for her by illegal aliens are subtracted from her total, Hughes explains (sort of):

“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”

Remarkably, Hughes was seconded by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky:

“You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”

Senior advisor and latest Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was even more blunt. “He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior." He won, so none of this factual accuracy stuff matters. If three surrogates back Trump's claim, we can presumably conclude this is now policy.

Meanwhile, back in the reality-based community, Politifact.com rated Trump's claim "Pants on Fire." The Donald has been nothing if not consistent since announcing his candidacy for President, racking up 70% Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire ratings (339 public statements rated). Politifact reports that this level of dishonesty is unprecedented in any political figure they have ever covered.

We really should have seen this coming (not to brag, but some of us did). As Maya Angelou said, "when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."  In Trump's best-selling book "The Art of the Deal" he gave us fair warning in describing his favorite sales technique--"truthful hyperbole."

"I play to people's fantasies. It is an innocent form of exaggeration--and a very effective form of promotion." I get the feeling that Donald Trump's "truthful hyperbole" is "innocent" for him; the rest of us, not so much.

The saddest part of truthiness as a political ethos is we have seen how this movie ends. Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind wrote about something similar at work in the Bush administration.

"The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Suskind's Bush adminstration aide was later identified as none other than Karl Rove.

Sooner or later in the office of the President of the United States, truthiness collides with objective reality (you know, the real kind). George W. Bush left office in January 2009 with two failed wars, a crashed economy, an exploding budget deficit and an approval rating in the low 20's amid widespread doubts about basic competence.

At the time, much was written about Bush's, ah, creative relationship with factual accuracy. However, as Politifact notes, Trump makes W. look like Abraham Lincoln. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

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