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Friday, January 25, 2019


Defeats for Trump.  The suffering of ordinary people didn't do it.  What made the difference was the threat of delays at Washington National Airport.  I really think the Trump regime is coming unglued.


howard b said...

You know he is going to spin this as proof of his magnanimity and bigness

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Howard B - you are absolutely right. (If I were your editor, I'd substitute "biglyness.") I think tho, his ability to use that schtick is diminishing. It's real clear he lost his play because he finally met up with real political power, lost, and worst of all, lost to a woman who he can't bully and demean. The economic costs have not yet come home to roost, and the political costs to him and the former 'Party of Lincoln' , when all is said and done, will be massive.

Years ago I took a look at the monograph "On Bullshit." The author (memory fails me), a philosopher from Princeton (I think) started off the work with a discussion of terms like hokum and bunk, terms associated with patent medicine shows, the carney, etc, He then dismissed that line of analysis and went off into Wittgenstein, the intellectual posturing of Princeton undergrads and other stuff. He should have stuck with bunk!

I mention this because Trump is the con man who, by playing people and deploying money strategically, typically gets what he wants, or what his narcissism demands. That schtick can't overcome the absolute power disadvantage he had vis a vis Pelosi. When Toto pulled back the curtain, the wizard was exposed and so Trump has been exposed. Sorry to have been so verbose.

Dean said...

Henry G. Frankfurt is the Princeton philosopher.

Charles Pigden said...

I think, Christopher you do Frankfurt an injustice. His analysis is quite acute and applies quite neatly to Trump, – about 50% of the time. Frankfurt’s thesis in a nutshell is that the bullshit artist (as opposed to the liar) says whatever comes into his head that he thinks will serve his turn without bothering to ask himself, let alone to check, whether it is actually true or not. The liar makes claims that he knows or believes to be false, hoping persuade you that they are true. The liar believes that there is a way the world is but that it would be inconvenient for him if you believed it was that way, which is why he wants you to believe that it is otherwise. Thus the liar is tethered to reality in a way the bullshit artist is not. He believes that there are facts which he wants to misrepresent. The bullshit artist doesn’t care about the facts, indeed is hardly aware that might be such things as objective facts, but is solely focused on making the right impression.

Now Trump is both a bullshit artist AND a liar. When he claimed that unspecified former presidents he agreed with him privately about the need for a border wall, he did not say to himself ‘Of course I never had any such conversations but I can probably get them to believe it’. For if he *had* thought something like this, it would surely have occurred to even his addled brain that several presidents were alive to testify against him which means that the lie would be quickly exposed. No, he just said it because it sounded impressive and because it fed his ego without stopping to ask himself whether it was actually true. Now many of Trump’s alleged ‘lies’ are like this, especially the stupid ones. They are not really lies at all, that is things that he says believing them to be false, but simply dollops of steaming bullshit which pop out of is mouth without being processed by an internal fact-checker, for instance his claim that most of the furloughed government employees agree with him about the need for a wall. At other times he is deliberately lying, saying things that he knows to be false in the hopes of getting other people to believe them, for instance that he did not have any business dealings with Russia, or that he did not instruct Michael Cohen to pay off Stormy Daniels etc etc. Frankfurt’s analysis is useful because it makes Trump a slightly less irrational actor than he sometimes appears to be. Once you see that the really dumb ‘lies’ are often not really lies at all but rather specimens of bullshit, then his apparently idiotic pronouncements become a lot more explicable and a little less irrational.

David Palmeter said...

Princeton U Press took advantage of Trump's obvious bullshitting at some point a year or two ago to run a full page ad for the book in the NY Review of Books. I felt vindicated by this because I had read Frankfurt's book when it first came out, and as I watched Trump campaign and begin to "govern," he seemed to be exactly the person Frankfurt had in mind.

DDA said...

payback for 1981: airport shutdowns force trump

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Charles, I am most likely a little too intolerant of Frankfurt's analysis. And thanks to Dean for reminding me of his name.

I am not sure that the distinction you and Frankfurt make is as clear as it seems. I would argue that bullshit is typically well thought out in advance and not off the top of the head. Bull only works if there is a semblance of truth woven into it. Bullshit, like a con man's pitch, includes true and false statements woven seamlessly together. I would argue the pitchman know when he is lying and when he isn't. Trump, of course, is equally comfortable with all forms of lying, after all, he was tutored by Roy Cohn, and inasmuch as he is unencumbered by knowledge and propelled by narcissism, it all comes easily to him.

s. wallerstein said...

I read Frankfurt's book a few years ago and I don't recall its thesis with any precision, so I'll speak from personal experience.

There are people who don't seem to care about the truth of their statements (let's call them "bullshitters"), and tend to say untruthful things in function of their ego, not so much to convince the other person that they are true, but because saying them gives them a certain ego satisfaction. They brag (as does Trump), often about their sexual prowess (as does Trump) and or their business acumen (as does Trump), without really caring whether the other believes them or not, but because just the act of saying something which makes them feel "great again" makes them feel good.