Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Trump Diaries 29 November 2016: Systematic Mendacity & Complicity

I call upon the woman who wrote about "Men in Dark Times" to aid us now. The woman is Hannah Arendt. Today her words are those of a guardian angel, a prophet.

I've been thinking a great deal about how one would reply to a post that contends that the "systematic mendacity" (Hannah Arendt's term) of Donald Trump is the equivalent in quantity or quality to any statements by Hillary Clinton that might be considered false. Reading such a contention makes me wonder: should I enter into an argument that a circle is not a square, that the leaves on the summer trees are not blue, and that witches didn't cause my last case of the flu? One must conclude that someone making such a contention is either a nihilist or a fool. Number 1 on a list of 10 "Hillary Greatest Hits," for instance, is the contention (presumably false) that she is named after Sir Edmund Hillary. Really? Who could possibly give a damn? Of course, there is also the usual Benghazi nonsense and other alleged falsehoods; maybe some are accurate, I don't know, but none interesting enough to investigate. But put aside the rather fascinating yet crazed continuing (post-election) infatuation with Hillary Clinton, a "has been" for political purposes, the pressing issue is how one can claim to find moral equivalency between her and Donald Trump? Is it a purposeful deception, truly nihilistic, that attempts to bring down the system by a cynical and concerted effort by making all players seem equally corrupt? (This is certainly what Putin & others of his ilk would like to see; leaders of any autocracy would.) Or is it an unwilled blindness?

But because of Trump's mendacity and that of many of his followers, this "systematic mendacity," is so widespread, it gives me pause. By allowing repetition of contentions that I believe so outrageous and fundamentally at odds with any reasonable concept of reality that I could honestly engage, do I become complicit by allowing a repetition of such a lie? I believe that free and open discourse is a public good in which we should engage. But I am not the government, which is bound by law (1st and 14th Amendments) to remain neutral in the competition between "ideas" (yes, very broadly defined). If I repeat something that I believe false--not just wrong as an opinion--but fundamentally false--do I have a moral obligation to just say "no" to it? The answer, I must conclude, is "yes."

The sad fact of our world is that a lie repeated often enough becomes a "true." Indeed, with Trump's recent tweet about "millions who voted illegally," I gained a fundamental insight: Trump believes in word magic, and in a sense, he's right. A lie repeated often enough becomes "true" to enough of the gullible and the complicit to alter reality. One may have thought that reason defeated magic some time after the Salem witch trials, but perhaps not. A new type of word magic has arrived, in a more deceptive, alluring form, that proves no less lethal.

Hannah Arendt coined the term "systematic mendacity" as a part of her attempt to describe the Nazi regime, and specifically as a part of her attempt to understand the phenomena of Adolf Eichmann. I think that she would say, as would Orwell, that when words and the truth upon which they rest lose their meaning and dependability, we are in a corrupt regime. All of the nonsense, blather, puffery, and pandering that I've heard in over 55 years of following American politics, nothing rivals the shameless and unprincipled mendacity of Donald Trump. There is no peer, no rival, at his level of mendacity in my political lifetime in the United States, at least on the national level. That so many are willing to give him--and who gave him--a pass on this is truly frightening.