Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Just the facts, ma'am

Via Charlie Pierce, the President of the United States:

“They came to me three days ago and they said, ‘Sir, we’d like you to sign this order.’ What is the order? ‘We need 5000 judges on the border,’ I said, ‘Judges? What other country has judges?’ I said, ‘How many do we have now?’ They didn’t even know. So we have thousands of judges and now we’re going to have 5000. Now I’ve done a good job with judges – Judge Gorsuch [Goobers scream with delight], Supreme Court justice. And we have many judges, we will set the record I believe, for the most judges appointed, which is a very important thing…But they come up and, ‘Sir, we need 5000 judges.’… So we put a judge like on the bench, federal, it takes us weeks. It takes us a long time to get the judge. We’re talking about one person here.

Here they want 5000. I said, ‘Where are you going to find 5000 people to be judges? How many do we have now?’ ‘I don’t know the number.’ They don’t even know the number even though they’re in charge. Nobody knows the number. We have thousands of judges already…I said, ‘I don’t want judges. I want ICE and Border Patrol agents.”

Is this a pack of lies?  Clearly.  As Mr. Pierce puts it (complete with links!):

As it happens, there have not been 5,000 judges in the entire history of the federal court system. There are only a little less than 900 judges working in the federal system now, so we do not have “thousands of judges already.” And the phantom “they” are wrong about how many judges we have handling these cases now. Congress has authorized 484 of these judges, and less than 400 are presently working. This whole passage is one bald-faced non-fact after another. 
But is Trump telling lies?  The NYT says "No":

The word “lie” is very powerful. For one thing, it assumes that someone knew the statement was false. Another reason to use the word judiciously is that our readers could end up focusing more on our use of the word than on what was said. And using “lie” repeatedly could feed the mistaken notion that we’re taking political sides. That’s not our role. Of course, even when we don’t say “lie,” we try to make it very clear to readers if a politician says something false, and to present the evidence showing that the statement isn’t true.
It's the first line of the definition that stops me.  Is Trump not telling lies if he thinks its true?  This is not an argument confined to the august pages of the Gray Lady.  Andrew O'Hehir over at Salon is actually in agreement with it.  But where the NYT doesn't want to get caught making judgments (and all the opprobrium that would elicit from the GOP and the tut-tutting of the political elite over such incivility (tut-tutting which would include David Axelrod, cementing his reputation as National Scold and School Marm).  O'Hehir doesn't want to bother with the question because there's nothing transactional about it, or at least not transactional in a way that guarantees the outcome he wants to see:

Sanctimoniously declaring that the president lies all the time and that it’s shocking and scandalous, although accurate, isn’t going to convince anyone of anything or make good things happen. There is literally no one in the United States of America who is likely to change their minds about Donald Trump on that basis.

To some degree that’s even following Trump down the troll-hole: His followers either believe that everything Trump says is true and everything the media says is fake news, or understand that he’s a blowhard and bullshitter who gets the libtards’ undies in a bundle and love him for it. In either case, standing there with a ledger counting up all the things he says that are false or misleading or simply not nice is playing an assigned role of schoolmarm in a drama Trump is directing.
So we shouldn't have said Trump was telling lies when he described the nature of his policy (which was not a policy) regarding the detention of minors accompanying their parents across the Mexico border.  We should not have said everything the Administration said about that policy and its effects and even its necessity, was pure moonshine, because none of Trump's supporters were swayed away from him.  Well, except for most evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Bishops and a lot of Republicans in Congress, including some like Ted Cruz who have introduced bills to stop the policy-that-was-never-a-policy.

Because, you see, Donald Trump won by 78,000 votes fortunately placed in the right states where voter turnout for Clinton ran low enough to let the unthinkable happen (even the Trumps didn't think it would happen) and now he is Emperor for Life even though his approval rating has never been above his disapproval rating and hasn't really budged in the 500 days he's been in office (it has, at best, wobbled) and even though his Presidency is inspiring even Democrats in Texas to run for office and expect to win (I have never seen so many Democratic candidates try to so hard to win elections since the Gov. Miz Anne was in office) than have done so in literally decades.  None of that matters because we cannot reach the goobers (as Mr. Pierce calls them) who cheer for the absolute fictions that spew from Trump's mouth the way vomit spews from someone who's had too much to drink.

Does it matter that the President makes up facts that are convenient for him?  Yes, it does.  Does it matter that we call these non-facts "lies"?  Yes, it does.  It doesn't matter that we can't convict the President of civil fraud (knowingly misrepresenting facts to get others to rely on it to their detriment); what matters is that we be able to discern what color the sky is on the President's planet.  He tells lies because he can't, or won't, distinguish truth from falsehood; because he prefers what he want to be true, be true, and he can't be bothered with the fact he is always wrong.  He lies with impunity, he lies with alacrity, he lies whether he considers his statements lies, or not.  There is no implication of culpability in saying Trump lies; what he knows to be true is ultimately unknowable.  Even the Hebrew Scriptures understand that:

The heart is deceitful above any other thing,
desperately sick; who can fathom it?
I, the Lord, search the mind
and test the heart,
requiting each one for his conduct
as his deeds deserve.

(Jeremiah 17:9-10, REB)

Does it matter if Trump is deceiving himself?  Why?  The fact is, he is deceiving us.  He is telling lies, even if he thinks he is speaking a deep truth.  It is not his heart we need to judge; we can settle for his conduct.  And his conduct is that of a liar, who tells lies because it is more convenient for him than the truth.

Surely, by now, that's not even a judgment; it's simply a statement of fact.

1 comment:

  1. I was too depressed and disgusted to comment on this yesterday. The NYT has long been a fraud. It will report things as news that will temporarily inconvenience a Trump but as long as he's the official . . . I can't bring myself to call him "president" . . . the old drab will not oppose him by telling the truth, that he's an habitual even compulsive liar without a shred of moral inhibition against lying.

    They never gave Hillary Clinton any such psychological benefit of the doubt, though there was certainly more reason to believe the various "scandals" they invented or promoted were believed by her to be legal BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL LEGAL.

    It's a brothel, a high market one but a brothel, still.