What’s up with the very peculiar behavior of our new president and his bizarre insistence on telling lies that are easily detected as lies?
I’ve seen several suggestions about what might be going on. Two worth mentioning are Trump’s Constant Lying Is a Power Game and Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth. Both make the point that the purpose of the lie is not to fool anybody. Rather, it’s an expression of power.
Compelling people who know better to repeat your lies in their own words dramatically displays your complete control over them. Yes, there was a certain schadenfreude to seeing Christie and Rubio parroting Trump’s lies when they were angling for the VP slot or a cabinet post, but there are additional dangers in rendering even powerful people powerless—it means even more power is captured by the person at the top.
All of which is a bit tangential to my point, which is to recognize one good thing about this. Sad and disturbing as the situation is, these lies make it easy to find our allies: The news organizations that identify the lies and present them as such are on the side of right and truth.
Other strategies exist for identifying our allies, but most of them have turned out to be vulnerable to being co-opted by the bad guys.
This one is different.
Yes, an organization under the sway of the bad guys could attempt to do the same thing only backwards—call out the truth as a lie—but that’s pretty easy to spot. No one would be fooled for long.
They could, I suppose, call out actual lies as lies, and then (having built up some credibility) try to slip in an occasional falsehood as the truth, but that’s not going to be a successful strategy for the long term, unless maybe there’s a single issue that you really want to fool people about.
No, the strategy of calling out lies as lies will turn out to be uniquely available to the good guys, which means that we’ll be able to know which news organizations (and other organizations) are on the side of right and truth.
Sure, there’ll be a bit of extra work on our part—identifying the lies and documenting them, taking the time to pick a random few stories and digging into the data to see if the story is true (and the supposed lie an actual lie).
It’s important not to see that as pointless or hopeless work. It’s not like emptying the sea with a teaspoon, even if it may seem like that (because the supply of lies is vast and renewable). Think of it rather as collecting a bit of seawater for the purpose of making some artisan sea salt: The point is not to empty the sea, but to gather a bit of seasoning to use in the service of a larger project.
The larger project is what’s important, not emptying the sea. And there’s the bonus benefit that doing the work marks you as one of the good guys, and that’s something that’s good for all of us to know.