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Lies, Lies, Lies, yeah

I hate to be a gripeypants about people criticizing Donald Trump, but Jeet Heer in the New Republic wrote a piece called Trump’s Lies Destroy Logic As Well As Truth that has got so far up my nose I can’t get it out without blogging. So here: Mr. Heer is just wrong.

His thesis is this: we (that is, I think, the media, vaddevah dat means) must not stop at fact-checking Our Only President-Elect’s actual statements, but must show that they are logically incompatible, one with another, such that they couldn’t all be true. He compares OOP-E’s statements to kettle logic as a rhetorical technique. And it is worth acknowledging that the man is not consistent. This is, however, best seen in his flat denials that he said things that he did say, and was filmed saying—that is, in his lies, checkable lies subject to verification, rather than deduced from logical inconsistency. The fact that his comments are not logically consistent is neither the most important thing about them nor the most rhetorically persuasive refutation of them.

Particularly—and this is what got up my nose—when it isn’t true. Mr. Heer brings up two and only two specific cases. The second is foreign policy and Iraq: “Trump has variously said that he opposed the Iraq War before it started; that he opposed Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq; that America should have taken the oil; that he opposes putting more boots on the ground; and that America should re-invade Iraq.” These comments come at different times, though. There is nothing logically inconsistent between having said in 2003 that we should not invade Iraq, saying in 2009 that we should stay, saying in 2012 that we should not increase our troops there, and saying in 2016 that we should re-invade (to fight ISIS). There is no logical contradiction. There are lies—he did not, in fact, publicly state opposition to the invasion in 2003. There are bad policy statements, terrible policy statements and impossible policy statements. But there’s no logical contradiction between them.

The first, and the reason for the article, is a series of tweets about the election. In them, Our Only President-Elect claims (a) that a recount would not change the outcome of the election, (2) that there were millions of people who voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, and (iii) a popular vote election would have been easier for him to win than the one we actually had. Mr. Heet claims that there is an obvious contradiction in these three points, and for the life of me I can’t see one. Would the putative illegal votes not be counted in a recount? If they did, would they necessarily change the outcome of the election, that is, Donald Trump becoming President? If not, then what is the contradiction? The other one is even stranger— according to Mr. Heet, “saying that Trump is already the real popular-vote winner flatly goes against saying he would have been the popular-vote winner if that had been his goal.” But clearly the total vote was not the goal; the goal was electors. Mr. Trump is saying that in the counterfactual situation, he would have used tactics that would have resulted in him getting more votes that Ms. Clinton got, including the putative illegal ones. This is not a checkable statement, of course, but it isn’t in logical contradiction to the other.

The problem with the statements isn’t that they are inconsistent, it’s that there were not millions of people voting illegally. The lie is the problem. The problem is the lie. Well, and terrible policies are also a problem, and terrible policies are more likely because of the lies. It’s not the logic, it’s the lies and the terrible policies that result from the lies.

Mr. Heer claims that kettle logic is more dangerous than lies, citing the aforementioned invasion of Iraq back in 2003. Only he fails to show how the various arguments for the invasion were logically inconsistent—the problem, at any rate, was that they were lies, and terrible policies resulted from them. Their internal consistency or lack thereof had nothing to do with it. Proving—I should that put that in scare quotes, as “proving” that there was some logical inconsistency between the lie that the Ba’athist government was a clear and present danger, the lie that they were supporting Al Qaeda or were otherwise involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the lie that the vast majority of Iraqis wanted the United States to bomb the shit out of them just makes the arguer look like an idiot. Mr. Heer is not an idiot, by the way; but this argument sure makes him look like one.

Why am I so worked up about this? I mean, fundamentally I’m on Mr. Heer’s side—Our Only President-Elect lies in a way that is different from the way that we expect politicians to lie, and we need to be able to talk about that in some clear way. He is trying to make a clear way. I just think it’s the wrong way, and a way that makes him look like an idiot. And, I suppose, I think it makes me look like an idiot as well.

Look, I do think it’s fairly simple. I spent several years asserting that the reason for the Republican Party’s devastating unpopularity was their cascade of failures. I may spend the next several years asseverating that the reason the Administration’s policies are so terrible is their cascade of lies.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I wouldn't consign the "the Republican Party is unpopular because of their many failures" mantra to the dustbin of history just yet. As they appear, as a party at the Federal level, to have not a single idea that will be actually helpful to anyone not a member of the 1%, I don't see how they can implement any policies they intend without creating what the general public will experience as failures. If they sit on their hands, then they won't fail, but otherwise, they are primed for it. That doesn't mean they won't consolidate their hold on power further, as they have strategies for doing that which operate quite independent of popularity, but their failures will create difficulties for them.

Would it be better to say that the reason the Administration lies all the time is because their policies are terrible, rather than the other way around?

There's a big difference between effective campaigning and effective government. In the former, you are competing against the statements of your opponent, and lies work as effectively as statements of truth.

Government doesn't work that way, because the windmill you tilt against is reality itself. You can't lie away a bad current account deficit, you can't pretend that the unemployment figures are wrong and your specially prepared different ones are right, and you can't make jobs or Mexican walls or an expanded but somehow cheaper military out of thin air.

Trump's supporters are about to find that out, as Trump doesn't do what they thought he'd promised to do, and in some cases won't even try (jailing Hillary - already gone, building the wall - unlikely).

There'll be an attempt to somehow blame that on someone else, but the Trump voters in cloud-cuckoo-land are still going to be able to look over the landscape and wonder why they haven't been Made Great Again. And then they'll start to compare Trump's statements with reality ... which I wish they'd done before the election.

Martin—welcome! I do hope you're right about disillusionment with Trump. I feel I should bring up that Donald Trump, as a candidate, clearly believed (or claimed to believe) that unemployment and other BLS numbers (f'r'ex) were faked for political purposes by the President. It seems likely to me that he does believe it and will require it, and then we'll see what happens. Will the BLS and other departments refuse to release phony numbers? Will they refuse to release data that is outright fake but will massage the numbers to the extent they can? Or will they release real numbers to the best of their ability, and if they do, what will the President do about it?

I expect, as I always expect when the Other Party is in charge, that deficit spending will increase rapidly, which I'm not actually against in the short term and will have the effect of making a "cheaper" military out of thin air, or even make other useful projects actually happen. If we do in fact have lots of highly visible infrastructure work (paid for with borrowed money) combined with great (but fake) unemployment and trade numbers… well, we'll see. I hope you're right.

Chris—An ordinary Administration lies because their policies are failing. My expectation is this one will fail because it's based on lies. If you are taking action against a non-existent crime wave, that's not going to be a big success. Or if you act on the lie that Russia is only killing ISIS in Syria, or if you act on China's currency manipulation being the opposite of what it actually is. I mean, I don't think actual Conservative policies are likely to be successful, but I have no idea what this administration will do or how or why. Because it could seriously be based on anything, true or not.

One thing to keep in mind for us all—the practice of purchasing buildings and then increasing their height by renumbering the floors is one that Donald Trump found very remunerative. That's the kind of lesson he is taking to the White House. That's a very different kind of lying than Dick Cheney or Lyndon Johnson engaged in.


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