Thursday, June 2, 2016

Donald Trump is not a liar. Really. Keep reading...

For obvious reasons, I have spent a lot of keystrokes discussing Trump's dishonesty, and I have casually referred to him as a liar (also, as Tony Clifton).  Colloquially, that is appropriate, but it is worth taking some time out to observe that there are technical, philosophical definitions.

Harry Frankfurt's book, On Bullshit, distinguishes between liars and bullshitters as follows:  liars accept the importance of objective truth, and actively want to encourage a false belief.  Bullshitters don't care at all about truth.  They simply say whatever benefits them at the time, without any concern for truth.  To liars, reality is relevant but to be subverted.  To bullshitters, reality doesn't matter.

As a minor aside, aren't postmodernists just the worst?

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about falsehoods these days, and the falsehoods that are most aggravating to me, and to many others in my specific, narrow profession, are the transparent falsehoods.  The more transparent the falsehood, the more it indicates a complete indifference to truth.  Which brings us to Donald Trump.  From birtherism to Trump University, what stands out about him is just how brazen his falsehoods are.  And for that, it is worth a trip down memory lane to discuss how Donald Trump wound up the Republican nominee.

In March of 2011, Donald Trump was being interviewed because Donald Trump loves nothing more than attention for Donald Trump.  He claimed to have "just a little" doubt that Obama was born in the US.  Here is the full quote:

"Let me tell you, I am a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country. The reason I have a little doubt, just a little, is because he grew up and nobody knew him. When you interview people, if I ever got the nomination if I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten. They'll remember me. Nobody ever comes forward. Nobody knows who is he until later in his life. It's very strange. The whole thing is very strange."

The important thing here is that Trump wasn't anywhere near going full birther.  He was trying to sound careful, cautious, and like someone who just always maintains healthy skepticism.  His problem was that the birth certificate issue had been resolved long before then.  Trump simply didn't know because he never thinks or does research.  He was just talking out of his Trump.

The problem was that since the issue really had been resolved, the only way to avoid admitting that he was "talking out of his Trump" (trademark pending) was to go full birther.  Did he really believe that Obama was born in Kenya?  No.  Did he care where Obama was born?  No.  He was just trying to avoid acknowledging that he never thinks before speaking.  Then, he got a positive reaction from Republicans.  So he kept doing it.  And now he's a major party's presidential nominee.

The important thing, from Frankfurt's perspective here, is that Trump doesn't care at all where Obama was born.  This is the general pattern for what Trump says.  He says whatever is convenient at the time with no regard for truth.

As I said, what makes Trump so disconcerting for intellectuals is his complete disregard for the concept of truth, and the transparency of his dishonesty.  But from an philosophical perspective, we should keep in mind that, in technical terms, Trump is more of a bullshitter than a liar.

So there you have it.  If you want to understand Donald Trump, read Harry Frankfurt.  Today's recommendation for a great book.

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