Wednesday, July 05, 2017

But what are you?

When you're a kid on a playground, your only concern is your standing among your friends, and something really stupid can seem really clever because, to you and your friends, its new and therefore effective.  Take what logicians call the tu quoque fallacy:  on the playground it's introduced as "I know you are, but what am I?"  And it's a devastating riposte, because there is no answer to it (appeals to the rules of logic are as pointless on the playground as they are in real life).  But it soon loses its edge because your friends eventually figure out it's a pointless response, not a devastating one.  It's barely a shield, much less a sword.  It soon becomes the "childish" thing to do, and that's devastating in a world where you are trying to develop more "adult" concerns, like girls (I imagine boys having these foolish arguments; perhaps that is sexist of me, but it's my experience), like jobs, like one's standing in the world.  These allures require you put away childish things, and schoolyard arguments in all their permutations are childish.

So you grow up, you get the girl (or guy, depending on your preference), you get the job, you make a place for yourself in the world, and get old, and all those accomplishments are behind you, and you don't really need to fight for them anymore.  You've reached the place you were going to reach and either the system will take good care of you (golden parachutes and all those perks the lower classes envy), or just awareness that this is all it is, and you adjust to that, but:  you've won the spouse (or given up on that), you've made your place (or settled into what you have), you're pretty much done worrying too much about what the world thinks of you, and you settle back into worry about what your immediate friends, or the crowd you appeal to if you're a public figure, think is good.  Or you become an internet troll.

In both cases, you can end up with a President Trump.

Note these two articles, both about the subject (at least) of a President Trump.  Wikileaks and others are condemning CNN for "doxing" HanAssholeSolo, the creator of the infamous Trump-beating-CNN video.  The Reddit poster with that tag has apologized for his video, apologized to the Reddit thread he posted it on originally, and called CNN to agree with what they reported on him.  He is not complaining about CNN's reporting or claiming he has been blackmailed or "doxxed," and CNN has made it clear they won't reveal his personal information because he is sincere in his apology.

But still Wikileaks and others say CNN is at fault for....doing what Wikileaks does, basically.*  (And now someone has done it to CNN, because it's only fair to doxx somebody who specifically refused to doxx somebody, right?

I know you are, but what am I?

It's the same technique Richard Striner says Donald Trump uses.  Striner notes that CNN and other outlets started calling Trump's conspiracy theories and lies "Fake News," and Trump turned it on them.  Striner details how Trump uses this strategy and how he learned it from Roy Cohn, who learned it during the McCarthy era.  And yes, it is an effective strategy over a short term, as McCarthy found out.  But it is not a strategy that is helping the GOP; or Trump.  Trump's approval ratings continue to plumb new depths, while support for the bill pending in the Senate is down to as low as 12% of the nation in favor of it.  Indeed, the public trusts CNN more than they trust Trump.

We're supposed to be upset because the supporters of Trump, and Trump, are reaching for this "I know you are!" argument, as if it is as devastating as it was the first time it appeared on the playground.  What we don't understand is how repellant this is to most people, and not in a way that benefits Trump or the GOP.  Most people are adults, not superannuated children.  They aren't involved in the minutiae of political debate, where every statement is a minor win or loss in a zero-sum game.  Most people, if they were aware of this story about the poster who created the video Trump tweeted, wouldn't care about the details.  His (her? again, I assume women are better than this; perhaps I shouldn't) name isn't mentioned by CNN and, besides, it's all completely stupid.  What kind of President finds and then posts this kind of thing approvingly?  What kind of President whines incessantly about "fake news" and tweets about CNN and MSNBC so obsessively?  This is not adult behavior, and most people recognize that.

Trump isn't "winning" because he still has a Twitter account and a cell phone.  Wikileaks isn't winning hearts and minds because it lives down to the most hypocritical stance it can take on an fight it doesn't have a dog in.  This is playground stuff and most of us, even the oldest among us (and Trump is now one of those) know better than this.  We aren't impressed:  we're disgusted.  Trump isn't improving with time:  he's shaming us all more and more.

But he's like the kid on the playground nobody wants to put up with, except the losers who think he's clever.  You can't send him home, he's a student in the school.  The Principal can't send him to the office, he hasn't really done anything wrong except be obnoxious.  The problem, ultimately, is not that Trump is cleverly playing the game of "But what am I?"  The problem is that he's the President, and that he's no more capable of doing his job than a six year old on the playground.  His response to the North Korean missile test was not to assert the power of the U.S., it was to threaten North Korea with some kind of reaction from China!

And yeah, maybe we should be talking about that.....

*Julian Assange even went so far as to accuse CNN of committing a felony by NOT reporting the poster's real name.  The internet has indeed made experts of us all.  It even occurs to me that, as Mr. Assange has been accused of numerous crimes and still hides in the Ecuadorian embassy because of such allegations, he, too, is guilty of the tu quoque fallacy.  At least as Professor Striner identifies it, with accusing your enemies of what you are guilty of.  Everybody plays the same (it's the fuel of internet outrage!), but whose estimation of Mr. Assange is really raised by this kind of argument?

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