Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy.
Ned Resnikoff writes at ThinkProgress:
All politicians lie. In a democracy, they usually tell lies to achieve a particular result: Maybe they want to conceal information that would damage their reputations, or take credit for something they had nothing to do with. Sometimes a falsehood can obstruct a piece of undesirable legislation, or facilitate the passage of a desirable one. But in each of these cases, a lie tends to be little more than a momentary deviation from the truth. It’s a brief sojourn outside the borders of our stable, shared reality.
Some political lies are more ambitious than that. Sometimes the goal isn’t to embroider reality as it currently exists, but to construct a new reality out of whole cloth.
That’s what the second Bush administration tried to do. President George W. Bush and his advisers — most notably deputy chief of staff Karl Rove —wove a parallel universe in which Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda was in cahoots with virtually all of America’s enemies, and the United States was a messianic crusader that would eventually spread capitalist liberal democracy to every corner of the world. This apocalyptic vision had little in common with the actually existing global order, but it was a compelling story.
Creating an alternate political universe requires discipline. It requires the willingness to tell many little lies that add up to one big lie. All these lies need to be internally consistent, mutually reinforcing, and at least superficially plausible. Think of it like writing fantasy fiction; the spell woven by books like The Lord of the Rings only works if the worlds they depict obey a coherent inner logic.
For members of the Bush administration, even their power to mold reality had a place in the universe they created. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” an anonymous Bush official, widely believed to be Rove, told the New York Times’ Ron Suskind in 2004. “And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
President-elect Donald Trump does not create new realities. He tells lies that are seemingly random, frequently inconsistent, and often plainly ridiculous.
He says or tweets things on the record and then denies having ever said them. He contradicts documented fact and then disregards anyone who points out the inaccuracies. He even lies when he has no discernible reason to do so — and then turns around and tells another lie that flies in the face of the previous one.
If Bush and Rove constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump has built something more like an endless bad dream. In his political universe, facts are unstable and ephemeral; events follow one after the other with no clear causal linkage; and danger is everywhere, although its source seems to change at random. Whereas President Bush offered America the illusion of morality clarity, President-elect Trump offers an ever-shifting phantasmagoria of sense impressions and unreliable information, barely held together by a fog of anxiety and bewilderment. Think Kafka more than Lord of the Rings.
It is tempting to suppose Trump built this phantasmagoria by accident — that it is the byproduct of an erratic, undisciplined, borderline pathological approach to dishonesty. But the president-elect should not be underestimated. His victories in both the Republican primary and the general election were stunning upsets, and he is now set to alter the course of world history. If he does not fully understand what he is doing, his advisers certainly do.
Steve Bannon, former head of the white nationalist outlet Breitbart News, is Trump’s Karl Rove. He knows. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bannon suggested that the key elements in his strategy are dissimulation and “darkness.”
“Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he said.“It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
That’s how Bannon ran the Trump campaign, and it appears to be how he’s running the transition team. Since the election, Trump has baited the press with a flurry of potential cabinet picks, instigated a bizarre fight with the cast of a Broadway musical, and concealed his true policy priorities behind a thicket of conflicting reports.
It’s working. The media’s coverage of the Trump transition is blurry and confused. Stories that should be real scandals — such as Trump’s apparent efforts to manipulate international diplomacy for personal financial gain — get lost in the shuffle.
Bannon is a skilled practitioner of the “darkness” strategy, but he is not its inventor. The real Master of the Dark Arts is another Karl Rove equivalent: . . .