Monday, 23 January 2017

Mastering Trumpian Arithmetic: Why, In The New Political Order, 2+2=5.

The Calculation Of Tyranny: "If Trump’s White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as [their estimates of Trump's Inauguration Day crowd] just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It's gonna get real bad." - The Washington Post
 
ONE OF THE MOST CHILLING ASPECTS of Donald Trump’s political style is its sheer, amoral audacity. Like all the truly great political manipulators, Trump understands that whether or not something is true is a question best left to the philosophers. What matters in politics is what people believe to be true. And, when it comes to persuading people to choose unreality over reality; “alternative facts” to the facts themselves; Trump is a virtuoso.

There are two great literary illustrations (at least) of the Trump Administrations brutal ontology. The first is to be found in the exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,’ Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
 
The other illustration is contained in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:
 
“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five*, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”
 
So, when the White House spokesperson, Sean Spicer, flatly declares the equivalent of 2+2=5 by asserting that Trump’s inauguration attracted more spectator’s than Barack Obama’s; and when Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, justifies Spicer’s behaviour by referencing his use of “alternative facts”; how should we respond?
 
The temptation is to question the sanity of Trump and his team. “Just look at the photographs!” you shout in exasperation. “Are you people completely nuts! Do you think we’re all blind!” But, of course, these are the wrong questions. Because Trump and his team, just like everybody else, can see that Obama’s crowd was way bigger than theirs. Yes, their actions may resemble the behaviour of a terrible two-year-old, but appearances can be deceptive. There is method to Trump’s madness.

The Washington Post has reproduced a memorandum, supposedly penned by a former White House official, which sets forth with chilling clarity what the Trump Administration hopes to achieve with its 2+2=5 strategy.
 
Apart from immediately lowering the expectations of the White House Press Corps (because after Spicer’s opening salvo relations can only improve, right?) the author of the memorandum further argues that the Administration may also be seeking to widen the gap between the one-third of the American electorate who are Trump’s supporters, and the remaining two-thirds who are not:
 
"By being told something that is obviously wrong – that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong – they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here – likely to pay off – is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as ‘fake news’ (because otherwise they’d be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)"
 
The Washington Post’s anonymous author then puts forward another, even more disturbing, explanation for the Trump team’s dysfunctional relationship with the truth. By convincing a large chunk of the American population that truth and falsehood are fundamentally unknowable, the Administration hopes to induce them to disengage from politics altogether.
 
“A third of the population will say ‘clearly the White House is lying,’ a third will say ‘if Trump says it, it must be true’ and the remaining third will say ‘gosh, I guess this is unknowable.’ The idea isn’t to convince these people of untrue things, it’s to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.”
 
The memorandum’s chilling conclusion: “This is laying the groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump’s White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they’ll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It’s gonna get real bad.”
 
Fighting this strategy will require the US news media to demonstrate a measure of tenacity and courage not seen by the American public since the darkest days of the Nixon Administration.
 
Such demonstrations are never easy. As Orwell noted of the Nazi regime in 1943:
 
“Nazi theory [ … ] specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. [ ... ] The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.”
 
But almost certainly not as much as the man currently in command of the United States’ nuclear codes frightens us.
 
* It is possible that Orwell was inspired to use the 2+2=5 metaphor after seeing a Communist Party poster exhorting Soviet workers to complete Stalin’s Five Year Plan in just four years.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 23 January 2017.

20 comments:

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

If this crowd size episode is instructive , I think it will suggest, like the groping/ bragging episode a sad inadequacy rather than a dangerous manipulator. And that might well be the case. I suspect many people who have made lots of money attribute their financial success to an exceptional intelligence and understanding; not realising that their success is the result partly of luck, and mostly of their total dedication to this cause. Whereas most people are satisfied with enough to raise and educate their children , make a useful contribution to their society, and pursue a multitude of interests. So the perception of great wisdom and intellect is an illusion.(delusion).

This could turn out to be Trump's reality, but this makes him more sad than bad doesn't it? A dunderhead in the Whitehouse is a scary thought though. But maybe he's just making the joke that you are telling, for everyone to talk about while he shifts the US embassy in Israel from Tel a vive to Palestine.

We certainly live in interesting times.

Cheers David JS

vol said...

No,no, the photos will be enough. Everyone but the subnormal will believe their eyes, we are prone to believing our eyes -- above even reality -- but most of his supporters will just snigger. But the staff will disgorge what they distinguish as a conscience--more intellectual shame--and start resigning, first ewes into the raceway of a large flock.

Intellectual shame is the great weapon against those who consider themselves the intelligent servants of sellable nonsense.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If this is true, it is indeed chilling. Well firstly the thought of Trump having an actual policy or even a thought is quite chilling. But they don't need to really provide evidence of anything. It's a well-known fact by now, that people who are shown evidence to the contrary of their strongly held beliefs simply strengthen those beliefs. You've only got to see JH. Actually that might be a bit unfair, because he's not the only one, even on this site. We all like to think that we change our minds if evidence to the contrary of our beliefs comes up. I know I have in the past done this, so I have hope that I would do it in the future. But Trump's believers are true believers in the Eric Hoffer mould. It's going to take a lot to shift them. So they going to be blaming Obama for everything that happens from now on for a long long time. Going to be interesting to see how long they can excuse broken promises.

mikesh said...

Trump's statement is not really comparable to the examples from Lewis Carroll and George Orwell since it is falsifiable empirically while the two examples are not (though I think Kant had a different view with respect to 2+2=5).

Actually, I think Trump said that he had more people watching around the world, which would be difficult to either verify or falsify.

Patricia said...

Chris I don't think this is a new thing. Just look at history. We are told what the powers that be want us to believe. I am sure that if Hitler had won the war the recorded 'truths' would be very very different from what we are told now. I do believe that we should always doubt what we are told. We are manipulated at every turn. The people's only strength is to doubt and question every statement that is made whether by the President, Prime minister, the Church or anybody in a position of power/control. But how that can be done when the MSM is owned by private individuals I do not know. They have always been known to use pictures that suit their belief structure whether they relate to the incident or not. Whether that is the case here I do not know.

Andrew Nichols said...

ONE OF THE MOST CHILLING ASPECTS of A POTUS political style is its sheer, amoral audacity.

That's better - and you know it's true. The only things that are different are (1) We have an uncultured trash talking buffoon in the WH. (2) He's gone off script wrt Russia. This pisses off the Deep State who have employed the media and the CIA (The hacking BS) etc to take him on. They dont give a ratsarse about (1).

What an unholy alliance! So called progressives and their normal enemies the Deep State. Maybe they never really were enemies.

The proof of it all will be if they do manage to boot out Trump and "normal" service is resumed. The remaining protesters of (1) will disappear or be marginalised by the Deep State and the BS will go on unabated....and the preps for WW3 will gather pace.

Susie said...

Maybe one could see the size of the Obama crowd as relative to the size of the massive disappointment – betrayal? – of the ‘hope’ instilled at the time.

If so, maybe the size of Trump’s welcome crowd reflects that actually, there isn’t much left to lose, and that this president couldn’t possibly dash anybody’s expectations!

So easy to forget my friend’s comment post election: ‘well at least we don’t have to worry about the escalation of nuclear war on Russia’s borders any more’. And so easy to forget that the US, along with creepy allies like Australia, has been lobbing threats at China for some time, in a terrifying manner.

America has just had a president who was slightly glamorous (‘such grace’, said the Guardian) who said he was a liberal and behaved as a murderer. They nearly got another president who was slightly glamorous who said she was a liberal, and might just have killed everybody. Now there seems to be a petulant fat boy in charge who is completely repulsive, who doesn’t say he’s a liberal at all, and nobody has the foggiest idea what he’s going to do.

It’s grotesque, but there’s no way it can be described as worse . . .

There seems to be this box of dreams of some kind that will now purportedly be smashed by Trump. E.g. the world’s commitment to dealing with climate change. America’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and peaceful international relations. Its egalitarian beliefs, its wonderful health care system, its veneration of women, its welcoming stance toward immigrants, its thriving religious diversity and its commitment to human rights.

If so, then maybe from this arrant fiction at least the seeds of aspiration may be sown for the population to demand with sudden courage that America’s founding ideals be dug out of the ‘swamp’, dusted off, and given a try for once.

Let us pray.




peter petterson said...

NZ knows all about this - we have had John Key and his lies and a Nationalist Govt for over 8 yrs.

David Stone said...

Great comment Susie
D J S

Polly said...

A very good piece of fact and opinion, I just hope you are wrong on the opinion.
But deep down and looking at Trump's spokeswoman saying "alternative facts" to explain a Trump statement.
I fear you are "correct".
Apparently 'apparently because there is so much fake news', some group(s) are going to take him to Court on "conflict of interest' charge's and already there is serious speculation that if they win the charge's then he will do a slow appeal until he can fill the Supreme Court with HIS nominees and they will not rule against him.
Notwithstanding the nuclear trigger nightmare:Matters of great importance to democracy may be smashed by this man.
I am fearful and it is only his fourth day in office.

Nick J said...

Susie, Patricia, Andrew Nicholls sum it up very well. Thank God some now see that it was a no win whichever way you went. One way to continue the morally bankrupt regime of the neolibs, the other a wrongheaded populism.

I feel deeply embarrassed for all those who marched against the TPPA and then against Trump. Today Trump scrapped the former. Any praise? Even a qualified yes? Good God we want our cake and we want to eat it. How grotesquely twisted we have become.

jh said...

"If Trump’s White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as [their estimates of Trump's Inauguration Day crowd] just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It's gonna get real bad." - The Washington Post
...........
Whereas our own media is very balanced.

Who are the most and least trusted groups?
Medical practitioners and Police are the most trusted groups with 56% and 53% of New Zealanders respectively trusting them lots or completely. Bloggers are the least trusted with only 5% saying they trust them lots or completely, and MPs and the media are not far behind at 8% each.
Institute for Governance and Policy Studies Victoria University
Colmar Brunton 2016

jh said...

Aren't the real villains like J R Ewing? Trump is child like in comparison; he says what he thinks straight out?

Phil Saxby said...

Such foolishness. Susie, Patricia and Andrew Nicholls.

Chris Trotter said...

To: jh

I think you should clarify for our readers exactly what conclusions you are drawing from this data.

Do you believe that the media's unpopularity with the people polled by Colmar Brunton constitutes grounds for denigrating and/or marginalising media outlets from the political process?

Do you not share the belief that a fearless and independent news media is critical to the proper functioning of our democratic system?

Is it not your view that our leaders must be subject to media scrutiny and criticism if they are to remain accountable to the people who elect them?

How you respond to these questions will allow Bowalley Road's readers to get a much more precise fix on your attitudes to democracy and human rights.

Your recent postings have raised serious doubts as to whether you are a supporter of either of these cornerstones of a civilised society.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We could possibly add to that list Chris:

Do you not believe in equal rights for all regardless of ethnic group, gender, religion?

What is your unvarnished opinion of Donald Trump? (Without the usual blather)

I can think of more, but its pissing into the wind as far as I'm concerned. They'll just be more cut-and-pastes, and a few of his own words which will inevitably and invariably be incoherent.

greywarbler said...


I think NickJ sometimes some in NZ can actually walk and chew gum at the same time. As the quote above shows we saw that neither candidate was acceptable to a well-functioning intelligent and practical democracy.
But as for castigating us for protesting TPPA and Trump, you are out of line. We have to cut our gum into bite sized pieces with our steely knives, and chew away at one piece at a time.

The TPPA was important for us to protest and show some energy against, not apathy as with so many NZs. Trump is yet another big problem. That you can find some good in this bit of gum means that suicide rates may plateau out. Thanks for pointing out the few good things that we can hope for.

But don't run NZ thinkers down for trying for principle or intelligence or reason - just one would be welcome. We need to hold together to get through the next decades. Abe Lincoln wasn't it, who said - 'We must hang together, or decidedly we will hang separately'.

Nick J said...

Grey, perhaps I am too demanding. And the good bits I suspect are coincidental. With TPPA Trump said he was going to dump it, then he did dump it. I for one was delighted, but being the cynic I suspect that the alternative Trump solution might be just as unpalatable.

As for the Abe Lincoln principle it beautifully describes the end result of personality politics....personalities are individual: individuals can be picked off individually. Groups and broad based issues are far harder to pick off, and get far better results. You are quite correct.

jh said...

Chris Trotter
I think the Colmar Brunton poll on the public attitudes to the media is due to the fact that people don't like what they hear but can't argue back. The media are a know it all untouchable priesthood: a self-selected club. They are of two types:
1.publicly funded progressive (left-wing internationalist)
2.privately funded hands in deep pockets of the real estate developer fraternity.

jh said...

Speaking of 2+2=5

Superdiversity is a social science term used to describe a complex level of population diversity, specifically where more than 25% of the population is born overseas or more than 100 ethnicities are represented in the population.
It encompasses ethnicity, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation and disability. In New Zealand, no region is more diverse than Auckland. Currently almost 50% of Auckland’s population is Māori, Pacific or Asian, and yet many businesses are only optimised to attract the stereotypical Euro-Kiwi.



Kiwi-Taiwanese lawyer Mai Chen, chair of the The Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business has become the spokesperson for superdiversity in New Zealand. The centre’s Superdiversity Stocktake has been downloaded more than 130,000 times in less than a year. She’s taken superdiversity on board not just because it’s a socially correct aspiration, but also because it represents an opportunity for businesses to win new customers, discover new markets, improve customer service and be better employers. It is critical for the optimal performance of our economy.
http://www.sparklab.co.nz/articles/how-superdiversity-can-give-your-business-an-edge

Aneta Pavlenko argues that superdiversity is an exercise in academic branding which fails as an academic term. "the uptake of the slippery slogan is not surprising. The aesthetic appeal of truthiness and the illusion of novelty, contemporaneity and relevance undoubtedly explain some of the attraction yet we cannot ignore the fact that the advent of superdiversity provided scholars of multilingualism with a new means to move up the academic ladder, distinguish their publications, and fund their work."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdiversity

The Department of Education, HRC, Bank of NZ all agree: Superdiversity is a social science term!