Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια;

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Years ago, National Lampoon had a monthly column that they entitled True Facts. The title was a joke, not because the contents weren’t true (they were an assembly of extraödinary news reports), but because facts cannot be untrue; something untrue is not a fact. Yet many people in various contexts were using terms such as actual fact, real fact, and true fact, almost as if it were possible for some facts to be false, imaginary, unreal. People still do, perhaps even more often. One can find lots of instances of people using imaginary fact; sometimes they do so ironically, but more often they are quite serious. By imaginary fact they mean a proposition that may be untrue, is likely to be untrue, or simply is untrue. In this retasking of the word fact, they’ve lost the use of the word to talk about facts, unless they add a word such as true. But, with that change in meaning, it not only becomes possible to use a term such as alternative fact to refer to a rival claim, but it becomes harder to see that untrue rival claims don’t have equal standing with true rival claims, as they are all supposedly facts.

We aren’t at all helped here that a great many people don’t understand the words true and truth. That’s not simply a problem of vocabulary. Truth is a hard concept, because it entails a meta-propositional act of mapping from a proposition back to itself. That is to say that, in most cases when we apply the word true or equivalent and certainly in the case of true facts, we are explicitly or implicitly making a proposition about a proposition. When we say It’s true that I went to the store, that actual referent of the grammatic subject is not I, but the proposition that I went to the store, yet the upshot of this sentence is merely what would be conveyed in saying I went to the store. We perhaps don’t need this device of recasting a proposition (I went to the store) as a meta-proposition (It is true that I went to the store), but it is useful because we are not omniscient, and must entertain propositions that are uncertain or discovered to be false; the concept of truth complements the conditions of falsehood and of uncertainty. Yet it is very hard to see that function, exactly because we use the concept to discuss itself. Truth is more easily named than described, if indeed a description is possible.

The difficulty in understanding the nature of truth makes it psychologically easier to embrace such notions as that all aspects of of past, present, and future are simply artefacts of individual belief or of group belief (expressed with formulæ such as truth is a social construct) or that what one wants or ought to want is to be treated a true. The word fact may then be used for components of narratives; embracing one narrative is seen as licensing one to accept propositions as fact that are alternative to components of rival narratives, and to reject propositions for no better reason than that they participate in rival narratives. Evolution of narratives is seen as licensing one to change the status of a proposition from fact to falsehood, or vice versa, even when discussing history. And we may even observe those socially identified as fact-checkers testing claims against narratives which are themselves never fact-checked, because the checkers implictly treat their favored narratives as the ultimate determinant of fact.

When Pilate asked What is truth?, perhaps he was truly curious as to the nature of truth, but he may merely have been asking why he should give a damn about it. Our political leaders have become ever more disdainful of truth. They have long offered us alternative facts, and their followers in each of our major political tribes and in most of the smaller groups as well have decided that, for them, these are the facts. Now we have an Administration that does so more baldly and less artfully. One might hope that this practice will explode on them; but, even if that explosion should happen, their opponents are likely to see an expansion of the envelope within which they may disregard the facts.

Gotta Wear Shades

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Thinking about there already being an effort to persuade voters that they must support whomever the Democratic Party nominates in 2018 and in 2020, I was naturally led to wonder what sort of candidates those would be; and thence, more generally, what politics would be like in about three years.

What politics will be is something within the context of what they can be, so I try to imagine the plausible scenarii. To me, these look very grim.

I expect the Republican Party to continue to reshape itself around Donald Joseph Trump, to be more informed by his poison. I don’t expect the dissenters within the Republican Party to enjoy much success, especially as I don’t expect them to find any help either from main-stream of the media or from the alternative led by Fox. Some of the better people in that tribe whom we call the political right will leave it, and even some people who were enthusiastic about Trump will see or sense where things are leading, and turn away; however, it will continue to recruit people who were not previously its members but are attracted to Trump or to Trumpism. And a very large share of those who were already members of that tribe will reshape their ostensible beliefs to fit the pronouncements and actions of Donald Trump.

(If Trump should leave office early, then the Party will presumably work to reshape itself around Michael Richard Pence, who will attempt to segue from whatever Trumpism then is, to a frightening social conservatism. But I don’t expect Trump to be removed.)

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Democrats are in a dark political death-pit. Their most recent nomination was decided as a struggle between what progressivism has become (and was always destined to be) and crony capitalism posturing opportunistically as that progressivism. The leadership ensured that the crony capitalist got the nomination, but the subsequent result was, if anything, to intensify the need of the leadership to pander to the progressive urges of the Party’s base. And the response of the base to Trump’s election has been to move still further left and to become more overtly violent.

That base is about 25% of the nation and of the voters. It likes to imagine itself as a plurality, as a majority, or sometimes even as the other 98% or as the 99%. But the political left has inflated its apparent size by taking disproportionate control of the commanding heights of our social institutions, and by implicitly coöperating with the political right (also only about a quarter of the population) to marginalize those with views that do not conform to the left-right framework; remarkably, the political right has kept the political left viable, and vice versa. (These days, about a third of the American population wants the state to be less involved both in matters of sex and of religion and in matters ordinarily classified as economic. That makes them a larger group than either the left or the right, but not larger than the two combined.) Given how small they actually are, the left (like the right) cannot take political power without getting votes from those outside their tribe. If the Democratic Party cannot free itself from the influence of those who continue down the path of progressivism, then it cannot return to power based upon a positive appeal; its hopes would lie only in Republican over-reach.

Which over-reach would certainly have recent precedence. In 2006 and 2008, the Republican Party was in its own death-pit. They’d stumbled into it under the influence of neo-conservatism. The neo-conservatives pursued two wars, guided by a theory that the people in Afghanistan and in Iraq were aching for liberal democracy and prepared to fight for it. And they pursued fiscal and regulatory policies that triggered a major financial crisis. The Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress, and then of the White House.

What pulled them from that death-pit was the Tea Party, which began coälescing with rallies, and then organized itself well enough to displace candidates of the Republican establishment in primary races. Those in the Republican establishment who held onto their positions fought vigorously with the Tea Party, which served to burnish the credentials of the Tea Party candidates and office-holders. Attempts by the left to treat the Tea Party Republicans as responsible for the prior actions of the neo-conservative Republicans were unsuccessful in persuading those outside the Democratic base. Ultimately, it seems that the Tea Party failed in its objectives; they did not succeed in capturing the leadership of the Republican Party, and some office-holders who had cultivated the support of the Tea Party betrayed their trust. The Tea Party appears now itself displaced by an uglier and angrier populism. But the Tea Party had the effect of allowing the Republican Party largely to free itself from association with the awful policies of the Administration of George Walker Bush.

That brings me to the Women’s March on Washington, and to its sister Marches in other cities. It is not impossible that these rallies could be the beginning of a process that could reälign the Democratic Party, pulling it from its death-pit as the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party from its own. The odds, however, are very much against that reälignment.

First, though a great many of the women who participated wanted to be heard, rather that to be told what to say by celebrities and by iconsdefinitely shouting No! to goddamn’d Donald Joseph Trump, but not all saying Yes! to what the Democratic Party or its progressive base have been offering — the objective of most of those who called and led these marches in the first place was not to reälign the Party, but to reälign women. A new leadership of reformers would have to be found.

Second, while the Tea Party did not much have to fight the Republican base, that is exactly what anyone seeking fundamentally to reälign the Democratic Party would have to do.

Those without much hope for the Republican or Democratic Parties as instruments of positive change sometimes turn to third parties. Some exist, others could be creäted. We’ve already seen a collapse of the institutionalized myth that third parties must always be formed either around one issue or around one candidate. The left and the right will join together, through the media that they control and through bi-partisan commissions, to fight the emergence of of a real alternative; but, if the left continues to get ever more repulsive to those voters outside of the left and right, then the right will have a greatly weakened partner in their unholy alliance to exclude rival views. I don’t imagine that I myself will find a party or Presidential candidate whom I can, in good conscience, support; but perhaps 2020 will be made less awful by the emergence of a better major party.

A Blame Game

Sunday, 22 January 2017

I have previously explored the logical absurdity of insisting that those who don’t vote for one of the two foremost candidates in an election are effectively voting for the other of these two candidates. That analysis could easily be generalized to include ballot measures; where abstaining from voting has sometimes been claimed to be the same as opposing a measure, and sometimes been claimed to be the same as supporting the measure.

The primary purpose of claims of these forms is to pressure someone into voting for a candidate whom — or measure which — the potential voter finds unappealing. We especially see these claims when there are actual candidates, or formulated ballot measures. But we also see that purpose at play when an election has been held and candidates and proposal for the next election are not yet identified. Some of those declaring You are now to blame for X because you did not vote for Y! are hoping to motivate the audience to tolerate whatever is demanded by the claimant’s faction in that next election. An alternative would be to promise to offer something better than Y in that next election; but they are engaged in brinksmanship, threatening to take the community off a cliff if a plurality don’t agree to their demands.

Other motivations for such claims in the wake of an election are simple ventilation and blame-shifting. It is frustrating to lose an election, and a blow to the ego to acknowledge that one’s own faction may be largely responsible for that loss.[1]

There’s another, unrecognized motivation for these claims. Although there is a very great logical distance between refusing to support one of the two major political tribes and thinking as do members of the other major tribe, it is easy enough for tribal members to disregard that distinction almost perfectly. Thus, these absurd claims that refusal to support Y is operationally the same thing as supporting X implicitly become part of a more general psychological device of treating politics as all falling along a left-right spectrum, and thereby avoiding any challenge to one’s thought or behavior that cannot be dismissed from the left by pointing to the right or from the right by pointing to the left, and saying You guys are worse!, even if the challenger is not one of those guys. The challenge may even be spuriously taken as proof that, after all, the challenger were really a member of the other tribe, as he or she is not challenging them, and them alone.


[1] For example, James Henry (Jim) Webb could have beaten any of the Republican candidates for President in 2016, and it is at least plausible that Bernard (Bernie) Sanders could have beaten Donald J[oseph] Trump; but the Democratic Party chose its weakest or second-weakest candidate. (Martin Joseph O’Malley might have been a still worse choice, as his mythology of Baltimore collapsed in the face of the police murder of Freddie Carlos Gray jr.)

Madding Crowds

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

[An earlier version of this entry was posted to Facebook on 30 September.]

A bad leader whose leadership is accepted with little resistance is more frightening than a bad leader whose leadership is accepted grudgingly, and who knows that the acceptance is reluctant.

A sense that Trump would have the freer hand will make some people vote for Clinton who might otherwise have voted for him; a sense that Clinton would have the freer hand will make some people vote for Trump who might otherwise have voted for her. Where these particular calculations are concerned, Clinton has an actual advantage in there being a present Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, because it is expected that Congress would frustrate Clinton more than it would thwart Trump.

But a bad leader is more frightening if he or she has many loyal followers even if these followers are outside of government. The composition of the Congress could change in the upcoming election or in one to follow; and, even if it did not, a President with greater popular support can accomplish more than otherwise, even without his or her party in the majority in either chamber.

Thus, the failure of the vast majority of the most vocal supporters of each of these two candidates truthfully to acknowledge their candidate for what he or she is makes each candidate far more scary to those who are undecided or weakly decided.

Almost no one who is now undecided or weakly decided thinks that either Clinton or Trump is merely not perfect; the voters most likely to be moved see both Clinton and Trump as awful people, and see this with good reason. To be less scared of these candidates, these voters need to read and to hear acknowledgments, from supporters, of just how flawed their own candidates are. (Becoming still more scared of one candidate is not at all the same thing as becoming less scared of the other, though indeed an increase in fear of one could strengthen support for the other.)

Were these supporters more rational, they would change their pitch. But, psychologically, they cannot. Some of them are simply swept-up in the urges of inverted narcissism;[1] and, more generally, supporters cannot admit the truth to others without to some extent recognizing the truth and acknowledging it to themselves. The world would have to be faced as a bleaker and more uncertain place.


[1] Inverted narcissism (popularly confused with covert narcissism, a markèdly different condition) is the felt need to treat some individual as magnificent, even if careful consideration would show him or her not to be so. The inverted narcissist is thus a sort of complement to the narcissist, supplying the admiration that the narcissist needs for comfort. Inverted narcissism plays a hugely important rôle in politics.

My 2½ Votes

Saturday, 27 February 2016

During the 2000 Presidential race, I was told by some Democrats that not voting for Al[bert Arnold] Gore [jr] were the same thing as voting for George W[alker] Bush. And I was told by some Republicans that not voting for Bush were the same thing as voting for Gore. Somehow it seemed that, by not voting for either man, I were casting a vote for each.

On Election Day or on the day after, one of those Republicans who’d claimed that I voted for Gore by not voting for Bush learned that I’d also refused to vote for Harry [Edson] Browne (the Libertarian candidate) and that Republican then declared That’s even worse! For it to be worse would mean that I’d effectively done even more voting for Gore, though perhaps not a whole further vote. I didn’t interact on that day with any Democrats, so I don’t know whether they would have creditted me with still further support of Bush in my refusal to vote for Browne. But it seemed as if, by not voting for anyone, I had voted more than twice.


Well, enough of that nonsense. People who make such claims don’t know much about the mathematics of voting, and either just lack mathematical sense in general, or allow their emotions to overwhelm their intellects.

My refusal to vote in Presidential elections, which predated that race and has continued since, doesn’t stem from resignation, from laziness, from apathy, nor from ignorance.

It comes in part from my extreme reluctance to support one evil in an attempt to stop another. I won’t vote for a candidate unless I think him or her truly fit to be President, and I’ve not seen such a candidate in decades. Browne, for example, represented a watering-down of classical liberalism, when a pure expression was needed (as remains the case).

Further, when it comes to the two major parties, I am acutely aware that, in most of these elections, one candidate doesn’t win so much as the other loses; the winners aren’t loved by the typical voter; rather, the principal opponent of each is detested. Yet the victor usually claims a mandate; even when he barely squeaks past the other creep and even when voters give the other party a Congressional majority.

We get these detestable candidates because the institutional structure is corrupt at a deep, infrastructural level. But those who vote, even for the loser, are demonstrating some hope, however faint, in the process, and from that demonstration legitimacy is persuasively claimed for that structure.

It is, of course, difficult to sort-out who fails to register to vote from dissatisfaction and who from lack of concern; likewise for those who register but do not go to the polls. But I am registered, and I do go to the polls. I take and submit a ballot. But I do not vote for a Presidential candidate. I vote on the issues that I feel that I properly understand, and I occasionally vote for a local candidate. It would be absurd to dismiss people like me as uninterested. Our numbers are presently tiny, but our message is far more clear than would be votes for whomever we thought the least objectionable candidate.

In the up-coming Presidential election, the major parties are going to offer the very worst candidates that they have in my lifetime. We didn’t get here by virtue of people who didn’t vote for nominees, but by virtue of those who did.