Monday, October 22, 2018

Lying Is The Message

Marshall McLuhan taught us to be metaphysicians. Don't just be reactive to the content of what is said or shown; instead, sit back and look at what's happening. The text is not the only information transmitted by the communication. Look also at the implication of what is transmitted and how it is transmitted. Look at the affect (not “effect,” “affect.”)

I continue to be amazed at the amazement of commentators on Trump's lying. I was amazed myself at first at Trump's shamelessness as he lied, and put it down to how he had learned to conduct his business as a flim-flam man. I thought that he didn't realize that he couldn't get away with it on the more visible stage.

Then I thought that he found out that he actually could get away with it, just as he had gotten away with it in business, so why not continue? It was like there was a bug in the system, that it didn't catch lies, and he was taking advantage of it. Amazing, but understandable.

But now I've gone one step further in my understanding. It's not just that people believe him. Some do, but lots of other supporters don't. But not only don't those who know he's lying not mind, they even rather enjoy it. That's the amazing thing.

Trump is not stupid; he's ignorant, cruel, sociopathic, and many other terrible things, but he's not stupid. What Trump has figured out, and I agree, is that lying itself works in his favor. Lying isn't a bug, it's a feature.

Why is it working as a feature? Trump is contemptuous. He is contemptuous of morality, of ethics, of compassion, of experts, of respectability, of science, of truth, of women, of the poor, of pretty much everything except money. Lots of people in our society are resentful, and they can find many targets to express their resentments. All societies have these elements; it's always there waiting to be exploited. You could even say that the success of societies could be measured by the percentage of the population harboring significant resentments. The most troubled societies in the most troubled times are the most vulnerable to those who would mobilize resentments. We are apparently at one of those most vulnerable times.

When Trump lies, when he glories in his lies, when he struts with his lies, he says to the world, “Fuck you! Don't tell me what the truth is, I'll tell you what the truth is! And I'll have millions of people shouting with me, so you can shut up with your truth, with your pretensions that you know better, that you are better and more elite than I am, that your rules rule, that you can tell me what to do. Just fuck you!” The resentful feel as one with him as he struts his contempt.

So, the WaPo can tote up the lies – they are amazing, I have to admit, how does he do it? – and commentators can still protest at them, as they should. But I am amazed myself that we don't hear people who have figured it out, who understand that it's a feature not a bug, and who understand it's one of the keys to the visual Presidency, a Presidency based on appearance, on aggression, on strutting, on pretension.

Lying with impunity, and being celebrated for it, is the dream of every miscreant schoolboy. What a triumph!

Budd Shenkin

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