Thursday, June 29, 2017

On Trump and Bullshit

Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt says (per Ezra Klein) is to be distinguished from lies because the liar wants to convince you that what he says is true, while the bullshitter just uses words as a means to an end.

However, in the observation of George Constanza, it's not a lie if you believe it to be true.  This, for example, is not bullshit:

This from the same man who's spokesperson claims the VA has been reorganized and reformed in just 6 months, a feat that Hercules wouldn't be able to accomplish.  It's a lie, of course, because the real world simply doesn't work that way.  You might as well claim we sent a manned mission to Mars and got it back home since Trump took office.  It's not even bullshit.  They don't want to persuade anyone.  They just want to make the claim and move on.

Trump likes to claim women bleed in public.  He has a fixation on it, almost akin to the ancient prohibition on women going out in public during times of menstruation because blood belongs in the body, and it's release by an otherwise healthy person is "unclean" (corpses oozing blood were unclean for much the same reason).  It's grotesque and childish, but it isn't bullshit.  Trump doesn't want to persuade so much as attack.  It's the attack that matters.  Recall on the campaign trail he spoke about how harsh he would be towards China.  Then he took office, and all that tough talk went away.  He bashes the processes of legislation in the Congress, then he meekly accepts whatever outcome there is, including the possible failure to repeal and replace Obamacare at all:

"This will be great if we get it done," Trump said. "And if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like. And that's okay, and I understand that very well."

That's not bullshit; that's indifference.  I suppose you could argue he talks tough in front of adoring crowds to "persuade" them to applaud him; but that's pretty weak tea.  Trump doesn't talk to persuade; Trump talks because Trump believes his lies.  He talks to crowds who believe his lies because it makes him feel good.  The man traffics in conspiracy theories.  That isn't bullshit; it's indifference to the complexity of truth.

Is this the way a "bullshitter" behaves?  Or even adults?

“This is a president who fights fire with fire and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by the liberal media,” [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders told Fox News.

“Look, I don’t think that the president’s ever been someone who gets attacked and doesn’t push back. There have been an outrageous number of personal attacks, not just to him but to frankly everyone around him,” she said.
"Everyone around him."  So the President speaks for his staff, and his staff speaks for the President.
And it's a lot easier than than facing reality.  This, by the way, is what Mika said:

“Let’s say someone came into NBC and took over NBC, and started tweeting wildly about people’s appearances, bullying people, talking about people in the competition, lying every day, undermining his managers, throwing them under the (bus) — that person would be thrown out,” she continued. “It’s just not normal behavior. In fact, there would be concerns that the person who runs the company is out of his mind.”
Clearly an outrageous personal attack to which the only response is to talk about bleeding facial scars.  The appropriate response to a claim of "tweeting wildly about people's appearances" is to....tweet wildly about people's appearances.  Or, as we used to say in 5th grade:  I know you are but what am I?

We were too clever for bullshit, even then.

Turns out, some U.S. Senators are not children, either:

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