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Thursday, June 8, 2017


I don't care what your theory is of society, politics, or the universe, I strongly recommend that you watch what is unfolding on television -- the Comey testimony and all -- because when you get to be my age, you will ant to tell young people about it.  This is truly extraordinary.  A former Director of the FBI testifies under oath that he wrote memoranda of his meetings with the sitting President contemporaneously with those meetings because he thought the President would lie about them.

Trust me, folks, that is not normal!

Where will it all lead?  Lord, I don't know.  But you only live once, and I have been fortunate to live through two such political extravaganzas.


Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
I feel like I'm in bizzaro world. For as long as I've been politically conscious I've operated under some basic principles, one of which is "all state actors lie". Ever since Trump was elected the news media, and anti-Trump commentators act shocked and chagrined that Trump lies. Do they think Clinton didn't? Obama? Bush? Reagan? JFK? Nixon? Washington? Jefferson? Which one of these people didn't lie?

How is this 'news'? How is this 'shocking'? Does anyone - be they FBI director, house member, constituent, etc - really think when they're talking to a politician that a lie may not be occurring? I'm no more astonished to tell my future fake kids that Trump is a liar, than any other politician. He's just a bad liar...

Chris said...

One more note, the only thing I find overwhelmingly shocking is that there is a politician that doesn't lie (but still pivots): Sanders.
I look forward to telling the grand kids I'll never have that little detail: once upon a time, there was a man in the state who told the truth.

David Auerbach said...

I think there are different categories of lies, both as to subject matter and distance from the truth (and perhaps, related to subject matter, goal of the lie and intended audience.). And I think the case can be made that Trump differs in these respects from his predecessors. I suppose you could argue that those differences don't make a difference, but that's another matter. (I think of advertisements this way too. Of course they are lying but not so much as to violate certain truth in advertising norms...)

mesnenor said...

Yes, politicians generally tell untruths. But when they do so, they generally have in mind that being caught out in a lie would be a bad thing. And so they lie in subtle ways, about matters that are difficult to verify.

Donald Dump operates completely differently. He lies about the most obvious easily falsifiable matters, and it doesn't matter to him in the least whether he's caught lying.

His background as a politician is in reality TV, first and foremost professional wrestling. In a reality TV context, the content of the show is whatever is said and done on camera. Once something's been said or done, and aired for the audience to see, that is the "reality" of the show. Dump is truly operating beyond truth and lie. For him, there is only kayfabe.

s. wallerstein said...

Bernie Sanders probably lies too. We all do.

However, as mesnenor and David Auerbach point out, Trump seems to break the rules about lying.

First of all, the obvious lies such as his inauguration was the biggest in history. Obama wouldn't have lied about that. Obama lied when he said that his drone policy did not target civilians, but that is ok according to the rules.

Then as David Auerbach says, think of advertising norms. If you read that toothpaste X leaves your teeth whiter than white, that's not true, but it's part of the rules of the game. If the ad suggests that toothpaste X will may you sexier and irresistible to the opposite sex (or your own sex if such is your preference), it's still part of the rules of the game. However, if the ad says that toothpaste X will prevent prostate cancer, then it's violated the rules.

Where do the rules come from? From the same power elite. Trump is an outsider, unlike Obama or Clinton or Bush or Nixon, and is not playing according to the Washington rules.

David Auerbach said...

Back in the day when Volkswagen wasn't a criminal enterprise they had the most cautious advertising slogan possible, i.e., a logical truth: "Nothing else is a Volkswagen."

Chris said...

Ethically I'm an Aristotelian, so while I agree with you Wallerstein that many, if not all of us, tell lies, I don't think all of us are 'liars'. Politicians however do seem to be professional liars, prevaricators, and pivoters. Bernie does pivot, and he occasionally prevaricates, but he doesn't lie regularly (like most decent humans). I can only think of maybe one case where he may have been lying during the campaign but I can't prove it.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I don't think Trump is lying when he says certain things about size of attendance, or his stance on X. I think he's just dumb, confused, has an awful memory, and says what feels right/good. There's no INTENTIONAL deception behind it. I sincerely think he SOMETIMES thinks the crowd size was large, and he SOMETIMES thinks he's doing 'great things', and he sometimes thinks global warming really is fake, etc. But he does also outright lie too. Like all politicians.

The only BENEFIT I see to Trump being president is at least the media and commentators finally have the fortitude to say 'that's a lie', instead of going out of their way to rationalize political untruths. However, I still think I'm living in bizzaro world since this should just be common sense - state actors lie. That's the entire principle behind The Intercepts (and IF Stone's) journalism model. Anyone not operating under that model is unqualified to be a serious journalist.

So again, while Comey broke with tradition today, he only stated a banal platitude.

s. wallerstein said...


Since you mention I.F. Stone, let me cite once again (probably everyone knows this phrase) Stone's comment:

"all governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out".

Yes, there is a difference between a liar and the occasion lying that most of us engage in, for example agreeing with someone whom one does not agree with to avoid an unnecessary and stupid argument.

Chris said...

Right, and I think there is a difference in Trump's forms of lying, in that some are outright lies (I'll drain the swamp), where he knows he's full of shit, and others I think are him saying what appeals to an audience without actually intending to give misinformation, but only preventing his ego from seeing just how shallow and unfulfilled he really is (look at these crowds!).

LFC said...

One difference, as some have suggested above, is that Trump's lies -- and this comparison just occurred to me, I'm happy to say -- are truly Falstaffian.

I refer to the great scene in Henry IV Pt.1 where Hal says to Falstaff (paraphrasing very loosely from memory): These lies are like the person who begets them -- gross, enormous, palpable, etc. (It's the scene in the tavern where Falstaff is bragging that he's fought with and defeated a hundred men, when actually it was just Hal and Poins who put Falstaff and his cronies to flight.)

So Trump for example will hold a press conference and tell lies in the most obviously disconfirmable way -- e.g. about the Paris Agreement -- and not care, if indeed he's completely aware of the depths of his lying...

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Danny said...

Just to be up to the minute, in reference to 'political extravaganzas', there is news about the snap election May called, -- I mean, British Prime Minister Theresa May's gamble in calling an early election. Shock result! Backfired spectacularly! Throwing British politics into chaos!

The result means the Conservatives will need to rely on support from smaller parties to govern, even though there had been those who said Labour's left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was electorally toxic. In 2015 he scraped onto the ballot to become the party’s leader. Last year three-quarters of Labour MPs voted against him staying on in the job, in a failed attempt at a coup. Twenty-one members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet had resigned their posts in protest of the party leader’s handling of the Brexit campaign.

I'm reading that the Brexit vote threatened to further distance Scottish voters, once a Labour stronghold, from the party. But also, the idea here is that Mr Corbyn has always been proud of his socialist record. This does not mean things like the market, or the Western alliance, but instead, think in terms of left-wing policies such as nationalising industries or supporting “national liberation struggles”. Also, I had understood that supposedly, the stories about Mr Corbyn’s associations with the Irish Republican Army have a lot of truth in them.

It's all rather confusing to me, I thought that with the “Brexit” referendum in June 2016, liberal and social-democratic parties were splintering apart. Right-wing nationalism was on the rise. The far right was rising, and the left was a mess.

Danny said...

of course, overall, it was another bad day in politics for Trump.

LFC said...

Well, Theresa May was clearly hurt by the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and the fact that when she was Home Secretary in the previous government she had apparently presided over cuts in police (among other things).

But quite possibly Labour would have done better than expected anyway.