Conway’s, and Trump’s, Post-Empirical Lies

Lawrence Downes describes Kellyanne Conway, and Trump, correctly as bald-faced liars, in Trump, Trapped in His Lies, Keeps Lying. Sad! They’ve a certain kind of lie, though: one that rests in the idea that nothing’s outwardly determinable, and that, in fact, there are no discernible facts. See, along these lines, For Mr. Trump, It’s STEM, Schwem, Whatever… (Trump “insists that the truth is indeterminable whenever he wishes to evade responsibility for his own lies”).

Here’s Downes describing Trump and his doppelgänger Conway:

Mr. Trump’s mouthpiece, Kellyanne Conway, went on TV on Monday to defend her boss. “He has debunked this so many times,” she said, casually contorting the meaning of “debunked.” (She meant “pathetically denied.”)

“Why is everything taken at face value?” she said. “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

This is where things got really weird. Ms. Conway’s quote is a glimpse into the heart of darkness that a Trump presidency portends. She wants us to swallow Mr. Trump’s reality without question. To accept only what he says now — not what he said then — over the evidence seen and heard by our own eyes and ears. She wants us to overcome the dissonance by looking for the “truth” in his heart.

They’ve both a post-empirical dishonesty: the truth for them cannot be observed, cannot be measured, although they and the circumstances they describe are both within the same created order. Some liars will point to flimsy facts, etc.; Conway and Trump often don’t bother to point to anything tangible at all.

They’d not deny (presumably) that trees, cats, and people can be observed and measured; they’d say that those events and circumstances that might refute their own political claims retreat from measurement, to be found (conveniently for them) in their own hearts.

For Conway this may be a lucrative sophistry; for Trump it’s likely characterological.

Trump: Three Tweets, Three Lies

Summary first, from Greg Sargent, on Trump’s three lies in three tweets:

To recap: Lie No. 1 is that thousands of U.S.-based Muslims celebrated 9/11. Lie No. 2 is that the disabled reporter’s original story backed Trump and that the reporter backtracked on it. Lie No. 3 is that Trump didn’t mock that disabled reporter (in fact, he flapped his hands around frantically after saying, “you gotta see this guy!”).

Last night Meryl Streep spoke at the Golden Globes. Donald Trump responded to her with three tweets, and as Sargent demonstrates in the analysis below, Trump’s three tweets contain three lies. See, Meryl Streep called out Trump’s bullying and lies. Trump just hit back — with still more lies.

Here’s the text of Trump’s three tweets, combined:

[1] Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..[2] Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….[3]”groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!

Sargent replies:

Here Trump is telling two lies about a third lie. A quick review: Trump’s mockery of a disabled reporter came after he claimed “thousands and thousands” of Muslims living in America celebrated 9/11. Kovaleski had written an article just after 9/11 that claimed law enforcement “detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” Under fire for his falsehood about celebratory Muslims, Trump cited that article to push back, even though an “alleged” “number” is hardly proof of “thousands.” In response to that, the reporter put out a statementsaying he did not witness Trump’s version of events. But Trump cited that statement as proof that the reporter had dishonestly backtracked on a story that backed Trump’s position (a lie Trump repeated in Monday’s tweets). That’s how Trump’s mockery of the reporter arose: He waved his arms and mock-quoted the reporter saying “I don’t know what I said!” (See Glenn Kessler’s extensive anatomy of the full story.)

Sargent’s post on this is excellent, and the only change that I’d make is that his recap should be a summary at the beginning of his post. On content, though, he’s assessed Trump nicely.

(One additional point: Trump says he doesn’t care about media celebrities, but that’s false, too: it’s what he is, and he can’t stop watching others who are.)

For Mr. Trump, It’s STEM, Schwem, Whatever…

In response to a question about whether state-sponsored hacking against an American political party should go unpunished, Donald Trump grew expansive, giving his typically thoughtful perspective on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and (even) epistemology:

“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer [sic] has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

So much for contemporary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – why bother with STEM when ‘nobody knows exactly what’s going on’ anyway? Perhaps one thought that science and technology made America the most advanced country in all the world, indeed, made her a world-historical place committed to study and exploration.

But then, Trump knows because he knows that no one knows – under his view, our problems aren’t just educational; honest to goodness, a theory of knowledge, itself, is pointless.  It’s one big muddled scene.

Casting this last point as Trump’s attack on epistemology gives him too much credit, of course.  Saying nobody knows what’s going on has a more practical value for Trump, and is merely a pose: he insists that the truth is indeterminable whenever he wishes to evade responsibility for his own lies.

We’d best hold to our educational pursuits in spite of Trump’s suggestion, and hold as tightly to the conviction that in so many matters, truths – and the lies contrary to them – are determinable.

The Post-Truth Crowd

Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN political commentator and the political editor of Right Alerts, blithely declares that we’re in a post-truth era, where facts don’t exist apart from opinion:

“It is an idea of an opinion. On one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies but on the other half there are many people who say, no, it’s true….

One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts – they’re not really facts….

Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There are no such things, unfortunately, as facts.

So Mr Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth.”

One encounters this on Twitter frequently.  Consider the following exchange I had there recently:

Adams: Inner monologue replaces epistemology: Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally

Chutzpah (Deplorable) [his handle, not my description]: Quoting NYT defeats your purpose and makes it fiction. Journalists should prove #trump wrong not just yell falsehoods.

One sees three things here: (1) Chutzpah (Deplorable) believes that although Trump can assert what he wants, it’s not Trump’s burden of proof to confirm Trump’s own statements, (2) nothing in the New York Times can be right, and (3) it’s supposedly clever to defend Trump (whose most rabid Twitter followers include a cadre of anti-Semites) while using a Yiddish term and describing oneself as deplorable.

The big issue is that ‘Chutzpah (Deplorable)’ and his ilk (Russian trolls, nativists, etc.) think that those who assert have no obligation to prove their own contentions – it’s others who have to disprove them.  This is convenient, because by that standard if they spew twenty baseless claims per hour, they’ll tie up the discourse with no greater effort than the time it takes to make up stories.

This is an attempt to overturn millennia of reasoning by shifting the philosophical burden of proof.

Likewise, although the frequency of baseless claims during the national campaign seems new (and cumulatively vast), it’s not new at the local level, where many communities have listened to glad-handing excuse-makers for years, even as conditions decline.  See Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One.

Locally, it’s often a choice between whether one believes small-town officials & their sycophantic defenders or one’s own lying eyes.

A fact-free perspective is now a national problem, one that its defenders present as fact that there are no facts, the truth that there is no truth.

We’ll be years fighting this, but better to fight now for a few hard years, rather than many lost decades.