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Democracy, smothered in lies

July 16, 2018

Before Trump held a rally in Montana, he spewed out a string of lies. Then in the campaign rally, he lied more. He went to the NATO summit. And lied. His lie that Germany gets most of its energy from Russian gas was especially egregious, since gas comprises less than 20% of Germany’s energy mix. After the NATO summit, he congratulated himself. And lied about NATO allies’ commitments on spending.

As I previously have posted, Trump’s lies align him with his followers, and assure them he is theirs. Fact-checking his lies consume the media and push aside more important news. His lies shape what his base believes. Lies are how he rules. His economic trade war is founded on his power to block imports that threaten national security. Not only is that absurd regarding any import from Canada, Trump has made quite clear he is pursuing his own economic agenda. In times past, that flagrant abuse of power by a president would generate scandal and Congressional hearings. Under Trump, it is par for the course.

Trump didn’t create a populist political movement built on lies and conspiracy theories. Fox News and Breitbart and Alex Jones did that. Trump just saw the opportunity to ride it to power. Philosophers and journalists are writing books on that assault on veracity. I found it interesting that Mike Cernovich, one of the more mendacious pundits on the right, is consciously postmodernist: “Look, I read postmodernist theory in college. If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative.”

A curious thing is how the lies keep working and long survive their exposure. The faux scandal around Uranium One never made sense. It has largely dropped from the right wing news, since the whistle-blower they promised turned out to be a dud. But it still wanders around like a zombie in right-wing forums, and Trump still burnishes it in his tweets.

People sometimes lie, including I suspect every president past. Habitual liars are different. For them, lies are not the conscious exception but the routine disregard. This is the first time in US history that we have had a habitual liar for a president. And the first time that a political movement built around conspiratorial thinking has gained national power. Does that threaten the future of our democracy? Ezra Klein argues that we have faced worse internal threats. He certainly is correct in pointing out that our past is not nearly as unspoiled as many want to believe it. Michiko Kakutani, focusing on the nature of the current problem, is not so sanguine. I am loathe to predict.

According to The Star, trying to count, Trump is lying more now than ever before. I’m not sure how one weighs lies.

Short of violence, nothing is less civil than telling a constant stream of lies. Trump’s incivility is amplified by Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, and others who take the job of pretending that he isn’t doing just that. Having brought us cultic government, no Trump supporter can plea for civility, turn around and claim to care about honesty, or pretend concern for government corruption. If you ever gave a smidgen of credence to Pizzagate or the right-wing nonsense around Uranium One, you need your bullshit meter adjusted. And perhaps, to figure your way out of the cult.

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