drwex (drwex) wrote,

Trump's staff is lying, and it's about loyalty tests

Whether it's outright falsehoods or "alternative facts" it's become obvious that nobody in the Trump camp has the least amount of shame in uttering outright, verifiable falsehoods. Props to those members of the media who've finally realized it's time to call a lie a lie and not just report "both sides" with whatever they think a straight face looks like. Too bad they didn't have this come-to-Jesus moment a year or 18 months ago.

So we've known Trump lies. He'll say something, then deny he said it, as though people were too stupid to go back and read his Twitter stream. He loves to blame "the media" and that gets the crowd all riled up because the media has shat its own reputation so badly that we've all grown to at least dislike them. This isn't a new phenomenon - remember when we found we could get more truth and better news from late-night (comedian) talk-show hosts than from the bobbleheads at 6PM? But the question at hand isn't why President Trump continues the behaviors he's demonstrated for the last two years but why are his staff doing this?


Cowen's analysis starts with loyalty tests. As he says, "If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you." This connects back to Trump's insistence on having his family members in close positions of advice and power - his insecurity leads him to mistrust others, but family he feels he can trust. Everyone else has to pass a loyalty test.

Cowen argues that (political) untruths can be thought of as high- versus low-status. We've all watched political figures from dissembling ambassadors to the sweating James Clapper to the linguistic gymnastics of President Clinton as people of high reputation and in positions of power try to avoid speaking honestly. At best we can call what they did "misdirection" in the sense that they were also trying to avoid speaking blunt untruths. These are high-status untruths and each of them lied about matters of significance. On the other hand, we have a Press Secretary now who lied about the weather (really??) and about attendance counts at events, untruths that have no effective significance. A lower-status lie is the sort of thing one would get jailed for on a witness stand.

Cowen argues that "Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case." Trump does this because he does not care about the opinions of those who will call him on his lies, and his supporters love that he doesn't care about it. This, too, is a form of loyalty test. If you're with the Trump camp then you are OK with these sorts of lies. If you're not OK with these sorts of lies then you are clearly not one of the loyalists.

I'm reminded of a recent blog by John Scalzi, which introduced me to the phrase "Gish Gallop". Like Scalzi, Cowen seems to be arguing that this sort of ongoing torrent of outrageousness is a kind of cover under which real damage will be done while people argue about whether or not it was raining during the inauguration.

Cross-posted from Dreamwidth, at http://drwex.dreamwidth.org/940451.html. You can comment here or there.
Tags: politics
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