Ezra Klein, VoxJanuary 30th, 2017

There is a story Donald Trump liked to tell on the campaign trail. The story of the snake.

 

The fable goes like this. A “tender-hearted” woman finds a wounded snake on the road. She takes it in and nurses it back to health. The snake, revived, bites her. The woman, dying, asks why.

 

Trump loves recounting the story. He makes a performance out of it. He puts on his reading glasses. He lingers on the antiquated, florid language. And when he reaches the climax, he delivers the punchline with particular showmanship, deepening his voice and switching to a sharp, declarative cadence.

 

“‘Oh, shut up, silly woman,’ said the reptile with a grin. ‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.’”

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Trump is at his most sensitive when he is at his most powerful. His tendency to wield bizarre conspiracy theories against his opponents. His flagrant disregard for the truth. His anger at being held accountable for his own words and actions. His desire for vengeance against those he feels wronged by.
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In truth, Trump was taken neither literally nor seriously during the campaign. No one quite believed that he believed what he was saying, and so he became a vessel for whatever they wished he was really saying, because they were certain he would later become convinced of it. They were wrong.

Dan Barry, The New York TimesJanuary 25th, 2017

Words matter.

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President Trump this week repeated an assertion he made shortly after his election: that millions of ballots cast illegally by undocumented immigrants cost him the popular vote… such a baseless statement by a president challenged the news media to find the precise words to describe it.
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“The language has a rich vocabulary for describing statements that fall short of the truth,” said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information. “They’re ‘baseless,’ they’re ‘bogus,’ they’re ‘lies,’ they’re ‘untruths.’”
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The identity of a lie is in its motive:
From the childhood schoolyard to the grave, this is a word neither used nor taken lightly. It stands apart from most other terms in the linguistic ballpark of untruths… To say that someone has “lied,” an active verb, or has told a “lie,” a more passive, distancing noun, is to say that the person intended to deceive.
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“Intent being the key word there. Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump’s head, I can’t tell you what his intent was.” – Mary Louise Kelly, NPR
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Regarding the use of ‘lie’ in reference to Donald Trump’s election claim:
For Mr. Baquet, the question of intent was resolved, given that Mr. Trump had made the same assertion two months earlier… “He repeated it without a single grain of evidence, and it’s a very powerful statement about the electoral system.”
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Mr. Benton, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, applauded its use as a noun in the Times headline (“Trump Repeats an Election Lie”); in this construction, he said, “the lie can exist as a reality distinct from the speaker’s intention.”

Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg, January 23rd, 2017

One of the most striking features of the early Trump administration has been its political uses of lying. The big weekend story was the obviously false claim of Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, that Trump pulled in the largest inauguration crowds in American history. This raises the question of why a leader might find it advantageous to promote such lies from his subordinates.

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By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions.
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Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid.
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Mistruths come in different forms: higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths. The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats… Diplomatic proclamations are not lies, but they do bear quite an indirect relationship to the blunt, bare truth. Ambassadors and diplomats behave this way because they seek maximum flexibility in maintaining delicate coalitions of support over the longer run.
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Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded… Joining the Trump coalition has been made costlier for marginal outsiders and ignoring the Trump coalition is now less likely for committed opponents. In other words, the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.
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These lower-status lies are also a short-run strategy. They represent a belief that a lot can be pushed through fairly quickly, bundled with some obfuscation of the truth, and that long-term credibility does not need to be maintained. Once we get past blaming Trump for various misdeeds, it’s worth taking a moment to admit we should be scared he might be right about that.

David O. Graham, The AtlanticJanuary 22nd, 2017

One of the many things that is remarkable about the Trump administration is its devotion, even in its first days, to a particular variety of pointless falsehood.

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The Trump campaign made a winning wager that enough voters didn’t care that they could get away with that, and the nascent Trump administration seems to be going double-or-nothing on the gamble. Perhaps that’s a winning bet, and objective facts are a thing of the past. But that’s a claim that’s been advanced before, not that long ago, in American history, by a Republican administration whose top aides disdained the “reality-based community.” That administration left office amid an enormous economic recession, and Trump himself called George W. Bush’s war in Iraq “a big fat mistake.” It’s a strange precedent for Trump to adopt at the start of his presidency.

Sarah Kliff, VoxJanuary 2oth, 2017

Shortly after the end of his inaugural parade, President Donald Trump issued his first executive order: instructions for the federal government to dismantle the Affordable Care Act “to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

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This executive action on its own does not unravel the [individual] mandate, or any other part of Obamacare for that matter. Instead, it sets up a long, drawn-out process to change the law’s rules — an unwinding process that takes time.
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Trump can’t just start putting out new rules and regulations tonight. Instead, he’ll have to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, a law from 1946 that governs the somewhat laborious process of putting rules into place. This typically involves issuing draft rules, accepting comments, sometimes holding public hearings, and ultimately issuing a final rule that takes all the feedback into effect.
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This executive order says that agencies should try to “waive” any costs or regulatory burdens on “makers of medical devices, products, or medications.” At first glance, this would seem like an order to repeal the health care law’s medical devices tax… But Trump can’t do that through executive order — the medical device tax is written into the law that Congress passed. He might be able to tweak the tax. He might be able to delay collection of the fine, for example, as the Obama administration did with the employer mandate. But he can’t kill it outright without Congress.

Ta-Nehesi Coates, The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2017

In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama… Three months still remained before Inauguration Day, but staffers had already begun to count down the days. They did this with a mix of pride and longing—like college seniors in early May. They had no sense of the world they were graduating into. None of us did.

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This would not happen again, and everyone knew it. It was not just that there might never be another African American president of the United States. It was the feeling that this particular black family, the Obamas, represented the best of black people, the ultimate credit to the race, incomparable in elegance and bearing. “There are no more,” the comedian Sinbad joked back in 2010. “There are no black men raised in Kansas and Hawaii. That’s the last one. Y’all better treat this one right. The next one gonna be from Cleveland. He gonna wear a perm. Then you gonna see what it’s really like.” Throughout their residency, the Obamas had refrained from showing America “what it’s really like,” and had instead followed the first lady’s motto, “When they go low, we go high.” This was the ideal—black and graceful under fire—saluted that evening. The president was lionized as “our crown jewel.” The first lady was praised as the woman “who put the O in Obama.”
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Whiteness in America is a different symbol—a badge of advantage. In a country of professed meritocratic competition, this badge has long ensured an unerring privilege, represented in a 220-year monopoly on the highest office in the land. For some not-insubstantial sector of the country, the elevation of Barack Obama communicated that the power of the badge had diminished. For eight long years, the badge-holders watched him. They saw footage of the president throwing bounce passes and shooting jumpers. They saw him enter a locker room, give a businesslike handshake to a white staffer, and then greet Kevin Durant with something more soulful. They saw his wife dancing with Jimmy Fallon and posing, resplendent, on the covers of magazines that had, only a decade earlier, been almost exclusively, if unofficially, reserved for ladies imbued with the great power of the badge.

Bryan Curtis, The RingerNovember 22nd, 2016

One year ago this month, when a Donald Trump administration was still a surreal fantasy, Trump was interviewed on the radio. After a brief exchange, Trump paid the host a compliment: He’d been captivated by the show. True, this was because the host had been talking about Trump. But there was something about the host’s delivery, his way of cutting through, that impressed even Trump. “That just shows your talent,” Trump said. Colin Cowherd, the host, beamed.

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Sports-talk hosts watched Trump’s rise with amazement. First, they saw Trump become a subject on their shows alongside the Cubs and Deflategate. Then, as Trump sweet-talked the nation, they felt another sensation. Many of them, like Cowherd, understood exactly which notes Trump was playing.
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First, Trump is like a sports-radio host because he reduced complex issues to simple sound bites. Build the wall. Lock her up. Disaster!… Second, a sports-radio host is an elite who remembers to talk like a plebe. Cowherd reportedly makes more than $6 million a year from Fox. His office had fresh button-down shirts hanging from the wall; a staffer stopped by to ask if he wanted coffee. But none of this poshness seeps into The Herd, where Cowherd always talks like a man of the people… Third, Trump shares the sports-radio host’s gambit of overwhelming the audience with opinions. During an election rally, Trump would offer a bunch of opinions. Many of them were based on outright lies. But by the time Washington Post reporters held the one-liners up for lapidary inspection, Trump had offered many more opinions, some of which contradicted the first set.
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“Trump at these rallies, he wasn’t paralyzed by perfection,” Cowherd said. “I’m not paralyzed. I give picks on Friday. If I go 3–2, I’m overwhelmed. In my business, being absolutely, absurdly wrong occasionally is a wonderful thing. I tell Doug Gottlieb, one of my best friends, ‘There’s no money in right. All the money’s in interesting.’”
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“He was very good in topic selection,” Cowherd said of Trump. “He hit on the things that, in diners, you’re talking about. He would be like, ‘The wall.’ ‘ISIS.’ The chance of me getting my head lopped off by ISIS, I could get hit by lightning six times. But that’s what people talk about… The key to our show is topic selection,” Cowherd said. “It doesn’t matter how great I am on hockey.” His voice fell to a whisper. “Nobody cares.”

Stephanie Kirchgaessner, The Guardian, November 21st, 2016

Among the political figures who congratulated Donald Trump on his surprise election victory was the politician to whom the billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star has most often been compared: Silvio Berlusconi. The rightwing former Italian prime minister and billionaire media mogul, who was dogged by claims that he used an underage prostitute at his infamous “bunga bunga” parties and counted Vladimir Putin as a close ally and friend, said the comparisons between the two were “obvious” and that Trump would rule with “authority and equilibrium”.

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For years, Berlusconi’s boorish behaviour was a gift to political opponents and journalists who were free to ridicule him. But ultimately they did not prove an effective opposition. “’Berlusconi’s opponents had a very wide and open avenue and they couldn’t resist walking down that avenue. This brought them to a number of defeats… The most powerful way to oppose him, but it was never really done seriously, was to try and understand what his voters want and try to address the need of his voters. No jokes, stop shouting, stop crying, stop saying: ‘It is a horror and disaster’; try and seriously understand what his voters want.’”

Brian Phillips, MTV, November 16th, 2016

“Is anyone surprised that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t feel responsible? One of the luxuries of power in Silicon Valley is the luxury to deny that your power exists. It wasn’t you, it was the algorithm.”

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You don’t have to believe Facebook got Trump elected to be a little chilled by its current estrangement from fact. One of the conditions of democratic resistance is having an accurate picture of what to resist. Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom.
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The argument that Facebook has no editorial responsibility for the content it shows its users is fatuous, because it rests on a definition of “editorial” that confuses an intention with a behavior. Editing isn’t a motive. It is something you do, not something you mean. If I publish a list of five articles, the order in which I arrange them is an editorial choice, whether I think of it that way or not. Facebook’s algorithm, which promotes some links over others and controls which links appear to which users, likewise reflects a series of editorial choices, and it is itself a bad choice, because it turns over the architecture of American information to a system that is infinitely scammable.