By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
In this view, loyalty tests are especially frequent for new hires and at the beginning of new regimes, when the least is known about the propensities of subordinates. You don’t have to view President Trump as necessarily making a lot of complicated calculations, rather he may simply be replicating tactics that he found useful in his earlier business and media careers.
It’s worth noting that Trump’s demand that others lie may derive from a character deficiency, as so is more fiundamental to Trump than either complicated calculations or even useful replicated tactics ever could be.
@PressSec doing a solid, professional job. #reboot
“Knowing what we know now, we can tell WMATA’s numbers were different.” — @presssec”I’m going to stay here as long as you want. … I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship.” — @PressSec
Jim Sciutto @jimsciutto
It’s official: @PressSec now says WH does not claim Trump’s inaugural crowd was largest ever
Marathon White House briefing. #penance #reboot
Jon Ralston @RalstonReports
All press secretaries evade and spin. By standards set through the years, Spicer is doing very well, I’d say. And calling on a lot of folks.
Mike Memoli @mikememoli
.@PressSec can’t leave without taking a question from Goyal
.@jaketapper: “Let’s hope that this @seanspicer stays with us.”
.@GloriaBorger: “We got some serious information out of Sean today.”
Why so quick to praise after the offenses of Saturday’s press statement, and during a still-dodgy Monday effort? (Spicer claimed during this Monday press conference an entitlement that ‘sometimes we can disagree with the facts,’ suggesting that either he’s still cynical over facts or, at a minimum, too inarticulate to say that sometimes we can disagree over which claims are facts.’ Either way, that’s a poor performance, not a ‘solid, professional job’).
It’s possible that Tumulty’s not up to the task, or that she’s been given the task of obsequious reporter so that her newspaper can soften the blow from other colleagues’ serious questions. (Even this second option doesn’t offer much for Tumulty: it’s like arguing that she’s supposed to be bad, or that she’s so bad she’s good.)
No, Karen Tumulty offers no worthy path forward; it’s Margaret Sullivan who has the sound approach to Trump, his administration, and surrogates.
I’ve been critical of Wes Benedict, executive director of the national Libertarian Party (1 and 2), but I’ll say this for him: he’s an unfailing failure. In an email he sent today, Benedict wrote to party members, in part, that
We are all waiting to see what our new president does. No doubt he’ll do a few things Libertarians like. No doubt he’ll do other things we strongly dislike.
Benedict writes to members of his party as a proper noun (Libertarians rather than libertarians) and as though there hadn’t been a campaign, inauguration, protests, etc.: ‘we are all waiting to see what our new president does.’
Oh, brother. Those of us who love liberty have already seen, for month after month, what Trump does: he lies, foments racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, and advocates violence against domestic opponents. He’s a combination of mediocrity, bigot, and liar.
Gessen’s right about opposing Trump’s authoritarianism: it is to be met each day with an increasingly formidable response. We’ll learn as we go, matching him more effectively with each month.
Benedict is free to wait so long as he wishes, and so are the members of his party. Genuine, committed libertarians (including from families within that movement long before Benedict was born) have no reason to delay: we’ve more than enough evidence, from Trump and his inner circle, to justify committed opposition.
(I’ll share a funny story from a local school board meeting touching on this topic. Some months ago, during a discussion of points the district wanted to make sure were in print, a school board member saw a local stringer in the audience, and called out to him, ‘did you get that?’ Locally, whether in print or online, most local publishing is publishing-as-stenography. Significantly, local reporting in this area is access journalism, designed to give officeholders an unquestioned say in exchange for an interview.)
It’s possible – one hopes – that through digital publications the national press will find new life in a battle for solid reporting in opposition to an authoritarian administration. (I subscribe to quite a few solid digital publications, and am always on the hunt for more. One can and should criticize weak publications and while firmly supporting inquisitive ones.)
But there’s a local angle in all this: the local press is weak & dysfunctional, living in fear of both dissatisfied advertisers and aging, give-me-happy-news readers. They’re to timid to take a firm stand on Trump, for or against.
On the biggest national (and international) story of our time, the local press is too timid to say much at all. It’s head down, eyes averted, for them.
That makes their work this year even less significant than it was last year. They were already stumbling about, but Trump’s rise demands someone who can walk, determinedly, in a particular direction. They can’t do that.
Trump didn’t set out to make the local press even less significant, of course, and yet, he’s done just that. Those who’ve bet on hyper-local have made a bad bet. (Local affairs through application of national standards was always a more sound approach.) Trump divides all America in ways that force stark choices, and an anemic local press lacks the vigor, let alone the courage, to address the fundamental topics of our time.
Anna Rascouët-Paz relates an explanation (from someone who worked in a past administration) for Trump press secretary Spicer’s repeated lies about inaugural crowd size. It’s spot on:
For more on a disinformation strategy based on insisting that nothing is knowable, seeThe Russian Conspiracy on Behalf of Conspiracy Theorist Donald Trump (“there is a coherent pattern to the discourse he has promoted. It is a comprehensive attack on empiricism. He spreads distrust against every institution, so that the only possible grounds for belief is trust in a person. The suspicion he spreads against every institution protects Trump from accountability.”) andFor Mr. Trump, It’s STEM, Schwem, Whatever… (“he insists that the truth is indeterminable whenever he wishes to evade responsibility for his own lies.”).
In these next months ahead, one should expect that the Trump Administration will do what it can to make statement after statement, in part to impress hardcore supporters and in part to shock and awe opponents.
This is likely to be a focus throughout 2017, with small towns affected as much as big cities. Small, rural towns will offer the Trump Administration the advantage of many collaborators who will aid federal authorities, and many residents who will identify neighbors as targets for deportation. Almost no one in these places will say a word in public opposition; outspoken residents will hail deportation as a necessary part of Making America Great Again.
We’ve a long campaign in opposition ahead, just beginning, and in these early months we can expect loss after loss. Those who expect as much – who see this with clarity – will succumb to neither shock nor awe.
Tragic although these moments will be, it is not how this conflict begins, but how it ends, that should occupy one’s efforts.
Trump wanted to show the world how hard he was working on his inauguration speech, so he published a photograph. The picture is what one might expect from him: the overly-serious stare, the odd writing instrument, the apparently-unused tablet, turned so one could see if he’d written even a word, and the gaudy-but-suspicious-looking setting).
“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents.
As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.
I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary — held upside down.”
In a confirmation hearing, one might face tough questioning, and those tough questions might – understandably – trip up a nominee. What shouldn’t happen, to someone of normal ability and proper preparation, is to stumble over simple, straightforward questions.
That’s what happened to Trump nominee for secretary of education Betsy DeVos: she stumbled (indeed, almost threw herself to the ground) over direct questions that a capable nominee could have answered: (1) about her wealth, (2) about the difference between growth and proficiency, and (3) about guns in schools. A more capable nominee could have managed these questions easily; she’s not that nominee.
Sen. Sanders asks about DeVos how she became Trump’s nominee:
Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”
DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”
How she should have answered: Avoid answering with ‘would be that possibility’; begin with a detailed list of accomplishments in the very first words of her reply, e.g., “There are x contributions that I’ve made to education in this country, and I can list and describe them all, in order, to you now…”
Sen. Franken asks DeVos about the difference between growth and proficiency (where proficiency is hitting a benchmark and growth is about progress from one level of ability to another):
DeVos: “I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery, so that each student is measured according to the advancement they’re making in each subject area.”
Franken: “Well, that’s growth. That’s not proficiency. I’m talking about the debate between proficiency and growth and what your thoughts are on that.”
How she should have answered: DeVos should have known – and made clear she knew – the difference between the two ways to measure progress; contending that she was just clarifying Franken’s question doesn’t mitigate the obvious truth that she didn’t see the distinction between the two. (Franken clearly does understand the difference, so she’s not clarifying his words, she’s making her own error). She either truly doesn’t know the difference, or lacks the intellectual ability or composure to comprehend a question in a formal setting.
Sen. Murphy asks about guns in schools:
Murphy: Do you think guns have any place in or around schools?
DeVos: That is best left to locales and states to decide. If the underlying question is—
Murphy: You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?
DeVos: I will refer back to [Wyoming] Sen. [Mike] Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.
How she should have answered: Anything but this. Referring to a senator’s remark about wildlife doesn’t help here. Candidly, she would have been better off contending that guns were useful to defend against Martians: at least she might have been able to later say that she was joking.
Contending that guns in schools are needed to defend against wildlife is world-class buffoonery. A defense, if any, would have to talk about human threats and emphasize limitations to assure those possessing guns were well-trained. The problem here is that there are very few parents who will accept that well-trained means someone other than a police officer. She would have been better off to advocate for more police; even then, there are legitimate concerns about the quality of police training in communities that hire poorly and skimp on training costs.)
Her position is a hard political one to hold in any event, but talking about grizzlies is simply embarrassing.
Trump promised America that he would hire the “best people“; in DeVos he’s picked someone either too dim or too lazy to represent herself adequately, to a level that the vast majority of her fellow citizens easily meet each day.
We’re early in the formation of a grand coalition in opposition to Trump, but however long the task, that effort should focus on the top: Trump, his inner circle, principal surrogates, and media defenders. All in all, that’s a small group on which one may concentrate.
There will be endless tactical debates about how to reach this voter or that one, to shrink Trump’s room to maneuver here or there. These discussions will be well-meaning (as they’ll be directed at Trump’s political ruin), but they shouldn’t be our principal focus.
A focus on Trump, key aides, and those who defend him in the media will accomplish three things: (1) assign responsibility where it is most deserved, (2) allow concentration of resources, and (3) speed a separation of Trump from ordinary people who are mere marks in his long confidence game.
Blaming those he’s conned is a sideshow. (There’s a necessary exception for the very few who are of the alt-right; they deserve, in-and-of-themselves, obloquy whenever one has the time.)
If Trump breaks politically, it will come from the case against him, and his present supporters will by turns break away (or in any event will have nothing left to support). In this way, his remaining supporters won’t be able to support him adequately in the end. He’ll stand or stumble despite them.
If Trump should meet his ruin (and he will), it will come from a relentless case against his mediocrity, lies, bigotry, character disorders, and authoritarianism. One needn’t ask why people support him now; it’s enough to show him again and again as unworthy of support.
Now, there are alliances to build, and a case to make, against Trump and those in his circle.
From columnist Dusty Nix of the Ledger-Enquirer, a comparison of Obama and Trump:
Barack Obama is everything so-called conservatives have, at least since the dismal dawn of the Moral Majority, told us a political figure should be: a dedicated and loving faith-and-family man, personally beyond reproach, publicly untainted by scandal or corruption. The man who succeeds him in five days is everything the same people have told us we should abhor and loathe: repulsively crass, gleefully promiscuous, serially adulterous, spiritually indifferent (at best), morally void and demonstrably corrupt.
One can guess that libertarians have had principled objections to Pres. Obama’s administration, yet for them all I’d not change a word of this comparison of Obama & Trump.
The work that awaits, as part of a grand coalition of millions of Americans, has only begun. Much is uncertain, and there are sure to be many difficult moments ahead. It is, it seems, for those opposed to Trump the regrettable but necessary work of our time to declare our views, and to act diligently each day on them.
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.
We’ve a long, difficult slog ahead, but occasionally a bit of humor will make the journey easier. Mark Hamill, who was the voice of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series, has recorded one of Trump’s many unhinged tweets as though Trump were that comic book villain:
Donald Trump insists that he uses ‘the best words‘ and that he will only hire ‘the best people.’ Turns out, some of those best people have found the best words not of their own expression, nor even of Trump’s, but of third parties from whom they have liberally plagiarized:
Monica Crowley, President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s pick for a top National Security Council job, plagiarizednumerous passages in her Ph.D. dissertation, Politico Magazine has found.
An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution. In some instances, Crowley footnoted her source but did not identify with quotation marks the text she was copying directly. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all.
Gessen has more recent observations on Trump as an authoritarian that are compelling. Her principal observations (published yesterday) seem sound.
On Trump as authoritarian:
“What we’ve learned in the last few weeks is the kind of government Donald Trump is building: it’s a Mafia state,” Gessen continued. “In a Mafia state, the patriarch rules as in a family. He doesn’t need to spell things out — he expects intuitive obedience, and there are penalties for not intuiting his wishes. He’s going to choose people based solely on loyalty and family membership. If they get their positions through merit, they wouldn’t owe everything to him. It’s not his ultimate goal to destroy freedom and democracy, but you have to, if you want to steal as much as possible, especially if you have such a thin skin.”
On Trump as confidence man:
Many commentators have focused on Trump’s unpredictability, but to Gessen’s mind, “He already has a long and consistent public record as a real estate magnate. We already know he has a history of institutional racism, that he is a bad-faith partner. Contractors are stiffed by Trump, workers go unpaid. He’s entered into a contract with American voters and he’s going to stiff them too, because he always stiffs people.”
On the challenge from authoritarian rule:
“I’m not aware of any aborted autocracies in modern history. Democracy is an aspiration, and it is defenseless against people who use it in bad faith. America’s advantage is that it has an incredibly rich cultural environment, a vibrant public spirit. Can we learn from other countries’ mistakes? The only thing to do is the exact opposite of what Germans, Poles and Hungarians did, which is to wait and see. We must panic and protest, presumptively assume the worst.”
I’d not use her word panic, to be sure, but would substitute something like relentless opposition. Still, I take her point: we can expect a long, painful conflict against a disordered authoritarian, unsuited for leadership of a free society, and likely unwilling to relinquish power once he assumes it.
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!”).
Here’s the text of Trump’s three tweets, combined:
 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….. Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….”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!
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.)
Surowiecki makes a few follow-up remarks to his tweet-stream of yesterday. First, Surowiecki is not saying that college makes whites more liberal: “I’m actually not saying anything about education making people liberals. I understand why college-ed. whites voted for Romney.” (6:03 PM – 5 Jan 2017.) On the contrary, he contends that “I don’t agree with them [Romney voters]. But I can see why they did it. Romney was a rational, experienced politician who would protect their interests.” (6:06 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)
It’s Trump’s better than expected showing with college-educated voters that surprises Surowiecki: “Trump is irrational, has no experience, ran an avowedly racist and nativist campaign and acted horribly toward women” (6:08 PM – 5 Jan 2017) “[s]o yes, I did assume that would make him much less popular with college-ed voters, who have a lot invested in keeping the system stable.” (6:09 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)
But Surowiecki acknowledges that some college-educated communities did abandon Trump, and Trump fared poorly with them as the press expected: “This seems exactly right. In places like Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs, college-ed whites did abandon Trump.” (6:54 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)
Surowiecki’s tweets from yesterday seem right to me: (1) Trump did predictably well with non-college whites, (2) college-educated voters aren’t necessarily more liberal, but they are stability-oriented, even so (3) Trump did better than expected with college-educated white voters, but (4) still did (predictably) poorly in some college-educated white communities (e.g.,Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs).
There are no local data to show how college-educated whites (here I mean those already graduated) in the Whitewater area voted. It’s an interesting question: did they vote for Trump in relatively-low numbers like college-educated whites in the suburban areas Surowiecki lists, or did college-educated whites in this area vote for Trump in greater-than-expected numbers?
I’ve written before that Whitewater seems a community divided by college and non-college educated residents. See, One Degree of Separation. They are, though, perhaps not so divided in their votes (or as different as they might wish to think) this last election.