Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump's Lies

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- Trump's lies are no big deal, his people say. All politicians lie. But his lying is different. His lies are amazingly frequent, often the opposite to what he himself has been recorded as saying, often obviously untrue.
- How do you think he gets away with telling lies that are obviously untrue?
- His supporters believe them anyway.
- Do they?
- Don't they?
- Trump's lies are different from other politicians' in that they aren't, strictly speaking, meant to be believed. His supporters enter along with him into a world changed by his lying. The dupe of a confidence man wants to believe, wants to enter into a better world, is co-creator of that world. It is not what is being offered that entices, but rather entering in the company of another into a wonderful world where good things are coming. Trump's supporters, buyers of his sales pitch, want to join him in his creation of a fictitious world. The election results include three million fraudulent voters, The biggest inauguration crowd ever. It didn't rain on his swearing in. His predecessor wiretapped him. Belief in these lies is not important. It is not the picture being sold, but the picture-making. The bad reality of rain, doubtful popularity, damaging secrets is transformed by lies into a preferred reality; like the con man he is Trump offers something tangible, a promise of increased wealth and security. But what closes the sale is his supporters' eagerness to identify with him, share in the virtuosity of his transformation of reality.


- The political philosopher Wendy Brown offers a different explanation. About neoliberalism, defined by her as the application of free market economic practices to all areas of life, public and private, she writes:
As neoliberalism wages war on public goods and the very idea of politics, including citizenship beyond membership, it dramatically thins public life without killing politics. Struggles remain over power, hegemonic values, resources, and future trajectories. This persistence of politics amid destruction of public life and especially educated public life, combined with the marketization of the political sphere, is part of what makes contemporary politics peculiarly unappealing and toxic - full of ranting and posturing, emptied of intellectual seriousness, pandering to an uneducated and manipulable electorate and a scandal hungry corporate media. Neoliberalism generates a condition of politics absent democratic institutions that would support a democratic public and all that such public represents at its best: informed passion, respectful deliberation, aspirational sovereignty, sharp containment of powers that would overrule or undermine it.* 
Education, or protection of the environment, is justified only if it brings more productivity. Marriage is entered into only if it is a good investment of personal resources, if it raises one's "human capital". According to Wendy Brown, neoliberalism is responsible for the open lying we see practiced by politicians. Whatever works to do, should be done, even when what is done is against the very principle of free market economic efficiency, for example when the government props up failing banks.
- That was efficient neoliberal action for the class of people in control of the government.
- Exactly. In the free market neoliberal competition for power in politics the bail out of banks is a proper economic result since it represents the success of the interests of the most efficient competitor. The speech of politicians is also judged economically: whatever works to say should be said, whether true or not, despite the fact that lies have to reduce the efficiency of governmental deliberation for assisting the economy. The "open lying" argument draws from both Foucault and Marx. In neoliberalism, the choice of individuals how to live their lives, and how public life should be arranged, and what the state should be responsible for, all these decisions are taken away, replaced by technical considerations of how to manage relations to others: how to present oneself and what to invest in oneself to get a job, how to attract a economically profitable mate. The state itself has no responsibility to the individual, its only function support of the economy. Individuals tied up in these calculations of economic relations to each other risk their very survival if they dare consider how otherwise individual life and public life may be lived, consequently they are no threat to the power of government. That's Foucault. Marx describes the government itself as power struggle between classes, the employed and employers. Like the individuals who can choose how economically to perfect their lives have no choice and no idea how to live other than economically, so workers, having freedom to choose, sometimes, which employer to sell their time to, and which consumer object to buy with their wages, if they have any, are unaware they are slaves. They suffer from the loss of their freedom to choose what and when to produce, who dispose of it to, and how. They suffer from being in an inhuman relation to their employers, from being a mere instrument of another's profit making. In neoliberalism, employees who are slaves to employers in their work lives, in their private lives become slaves to themselves, objects to their own entrepreneurship.**
- Our politicians can openly lie to voters both because all of public life outside of the economic, no longer the object of choice, has become invisible, and because within the economic only the free market is seen, war of the rich against the poor also is invisible.
- That is her argument. Politicians by lying are efficiently selling themselves to voters who know nothing more of life than economic efficiency so don't mind the lying, even approve of it. They are unaware that the total economizing of life increases possibilities of profit for the rich who maximize their own individual life economies by lying in order to take control of government management of that economy of life. Do you still claim that voters knew Trump was lying and willingly went along with him, hoping to be taken with him into the world of political success and its rewards his lies gave him access to?
- They knew he was lying, but didn't believe he was lying to them. They believed, it appears so far rightly, that he would at least try to do some of what he said: his class loyalties didn't let him keep his promise to get bankers out of government, but he did try to ban Muslims from entry to the United States and says he's taken the first steps to build his wall against Mexicans. As acceptable to voters is their own lies in the marketing of themselves in private life, so is acceptable the lies of politicians in the marketing of themselves in the public arena. But there is a limit to their lying.
- Which is?
- Where deals have been made to cooperate within the ties of socially sanctioned roles, lying is definitely not acceptable. Think of a husband's lying to his wife, an employee's lying to his employer. If you still don't believe me take a look at the video*** TV comedian Steven Colbert made of Trump's address to a woman's organization in which sound engineers substituted for Trump's crowd pleasing praise of women's superior intelligence the recording of him boasting about his "pussy grabbing". Trump could, as he said, kill someone in the center of New York and not lose his supporters. He could commit a crime in public life, but he could not get away with offending against the deals that underlie the stability of class relations within corporations, families, or his own deal made with voters in his election campaign.
- You win.

Further Reading:
The Show
Surviving On Miracles
Homework For Serial Killers
Thomas & Little Man
* Undoing The Demos, Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution, 2015
** As employees are instruments to their employers' profits, so each social role, not in the service of some larger good, not in the service of love, beauty, or truth, is an instrument, a facilitator to the practice of related social roles: teacher/student, husband/wife, buyer/seller. That which can be measured for efficiency in serving other roles can be measured for efficiency in earning wages or making profits, and be assigned monetary value in accord with efficiency. The conjunction of specialized role in personal life with slavery in work life is what opened the way for the human species to meet the strange fate of neoliberalism.
 *** Trump Addresses The Women's Empowerment Forum