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Lyin' (media) King: Trump as a dry-drunk Foster Brooks and Tommy Flanagan the Pathological Liar

Trump truly believes that as POTUS* he is doing 13,000 times over, shtick like Tommy Flanagan, the Jon Lovitz character on SNL That addiction to falsehood is evident in each campaign rally, and has leaked into nearly every public appearance as Trump’s desperation features even into the nonverbal choice of wearing a suit to his appearance in Afghanistan. Propaganda affect/effect.

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“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction… and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist” –Hannah Arendt

The corrosiveness of official lying has long been the subject of philosophers. Hannah Arendt, writing about the Pentagon Papers and the corrosive effects of falsehoods back in 1971, called “the right to unmanipulated factual information” basic, one “without which all freedom of opinion becomes a cruel hoax.” But it’s important to note that when it comes to the Trump presidency, there is so much more to the strategy of degrading public discourse and debasing the facts than anything as simple and straightforward as mere lying. Political scientist Kelly Greenhill has aptly termed Trump’s assault on the truth “extra-factual information,” pointing to “distraction, threat conflation, normalization, and repetition” as among the methods he employs to make facts anything but what they used to be.

For Trump, lying is but the tip of the iceberg and in this he reflects far more than his own predilections. He reflects as well our moment, our age. George Orwell, that prescient 20th-century observer, warned in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” about one key aspect of such a lying mindset: the way “lack of precision” in language can pose a danger to society and to political stability.

When it comes to imprecision today, the dangers couldn’t be more real. In fact, the strategies employed in Washington to confuse and mislead the public have subtly eaten away at the country’s collective mindset, creating fertile ground for Trumpian-style lying to successfully take root. In many ways, the focus on Donald Trump’s blatant and persistent lying only serves to obfuscate other no less destructive methods of deceiving the public that preceded him into the White House and helped create the conditions that make the president’s lies so destabilizing.

Consider just six ways in which, in this century, imprecision and cloudiness have come to define American political discourse.

  1. The Recasting of Language: The gutting of the customary uses of language and the substitution of new, imprecise replacements has, as Orwell warned, set the stage for lying and duplicity to multiply. 
  2. Uncertain Numbers: Numbers, which otherwise might seem so precise, have similarly been used to create a sense of imprecision in Washington.
  3. Willful Ignorance: Hiding or ignoring facts has been yet another tactic integral to the deception of these years. 
  4. Withholding Evidence: In addition to ignoring facts and embracing ignorance, withholding evidence has been one obvious path to blunting awareness. 
  5. The Destruction of the Record: A fifth tactic meant to confuse and enable governmental lying in these years has been the destruction of the facts themselves. Worse than linguistic sloppiness, omissions, and willful ignorance has been the actual destruction of potentially incriminating documents. (We, of course, only know about examples of this that have come to light.)
  6. Spreading Conflicting Facts: Trump and his team have added a new layer of confusion to all of this by making the spreading of contradictory stories a normal part of everyday life in Washington.

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Similarly, paid advertising dollars are seen as more significant than actual press coverage. MSM amplifies the lie.

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