Tuesday Bonus 2/1/17

  1. Trash-talk (a euphemism)
  2. So much for masterful leadership
  3. Owning up to it
  4. Manners express the man
  5. Dirty jobs liberals won’t do
  6. Everyone wants a hero
  7. Like a pinball
  8. Judgment is not coming

I’m enjoying a little life tonight that will prevent blogging. Since this is mostly current news, I’m posting now rather than waiting until morning.

Although I’ve resolved to try focusing on enduring things, it’s hard to ignore events unlike anything in my lifetime, including the Provocateur-in-Chief. Herewith, eight politically tainted items.

1

I’m starting to think, as foreshadowed this morning,  that an important key to understanding Trump really is the Harry Frankfurt analysis of Bullshit:

I don’t believe that President Trump was lying when, the day after he swore the oath of office, he told a roomful of CIA employees that the crowd at his inauguration “looked like a million, a million and a half people” and “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” I don’t believe he was lying when he recounted that the rain “stopped immediately” when he began delivering his inaugural address and that “it poured right after I left.” And I don’t believe he was lying when, on Monday, he repeated in front of lawmakers his post-election falsehood that 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote.

Trump was doing something far worse.

Lying, as defined by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, is an act undertaken intentionally to obscure the truth. Liars look at the truth and go in the other direction; but in doing so, they recognize implicitly that there is such a thing as the truth and such a thing as its opposite.

Trump, however, often operates without any connection to the truth. For him, truth is not an enemy so much as an irrelevance. As a real estate developer and cultural figure, his routine spouting of falsehoods could be comparatively harmless, even entertaining. As president, however, his disregard for the truth could easily become disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law.

Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” was first published in an obscure literary journal in 1986, and it became an unlikely bestseller when it was republished as a book in 2005. It surged to prominence once again during the 2016 election, as a handful of commentators — including the New Republic’s Jeet Heer, Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakariaand Frankfurt himself — turned to Frankfurt’s distinction between lying and B.S. to parse Trump’s attenuated relationship with facts.

“It is often uncertain whether Trump actually cares about the truth of what he says,” Frankfurt wrote for Time magazine in May. “. . . For example, on May 5, 2016, Trump tweeted: ‘The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!’ This could hardly be anything other than bulls—. Does he have any real evidence about where the best tacos are, or was he just making it up? Does he really love Hispanic people? Both assertions come across — at least to me — as little more than hot air.”

I could never say that Trump is truthful. But “lie,” “lying” and “liar” seemed somehow to miss the mark, too. “Bullshit” could be the unifying theory that brings “word salads” and “lies” together. It reconciles “grab them by the pussy” and “just locker room talk.” (“Bullshit” also explains my Facebook Newsfeed, but that’s a whole ‘nuther irritant.)

It would be fun, if coarse (and “of course,” too), to spend most of the next four years bullshitting around, saying stuff like “Bullshitter In Chief” and giving my buds high fives, were the implications of Trump’s bullshit not so grim:

By sitting in the Oval Office, Trump is coming up against an intricate system of responsibility and consequences. To put it bluntly, the world behaves as if the president’s words mean things. This is perhaps most acute in the area of law, which — despite the reputation of lawyers for fast talking and forked tongues — is a highly systematized structure of meaning used to evaluate the merit and relevance of facts and arguments, and which imposes consequences based on a certain ascertainment of truth.

In the Lawfare essay, I speculated that Trump’s flouting of the truth would render him characterologically incapable of honoring his presidential oath, which requires the president to “faithfully execute” his office and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” — both duties that demand a basic level of respect for the concepts of law and of meaning. Now, of course, Trump has sworn that oath. Yet we can’t know whether he will be any more faithful to his pledge than he was to the reality of the weather on Inauguration Day.

Block quotes are from Quinta Jurecic in the Washington Post. It’s articles like hers that keep me skimming so much garbage (it’s tempting to say “bullshit”) looking for something genuinely insightful in these chaotic days.

Bottom line: President Trump should never speak extemporaneously, because the bullshit will come out if he does. He should always use a prepared script, like his inaugural address, with such stirring lines as this:

Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.

And pigs should fly, too.

2

Michael Gerson on the immigration Order:

Trump is a champion at punching down, but seldom this far.

Trump came to power promising that masterful leadership would replace the “stupid” kind. This action was malicious, counterproductive and inept — the half-baked work of amateurs who know little about security, little about immigration law and nothing about compassion.

Could it be that Trump can’t stop bullshitting even in Executive Orders?

3

I’ll own up to it. For many conservatives, progressive tears are delicious. So many hysterics on the left have clearly decided that Trump is not just an adversary, but the capital-E Enemy. He is Darth Vader and the KKK rolled into one. These panicking liberals are melting down. So is much of the liberal-friendly media. And conservatives take a certain pleasure in that. I do. I admit it.

But none of this should blind conservatives to the truly bad things President Trump is doing. On these issues, it is incumbent on every true conservative to speak out.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry) Nicely put, but is this not just another name for tribalism? To that, too, I confess attraction. Since the GOP is no longer my tribe, I guess that’s a reflex akin to my knee-jerk defense of Evangelicals twentyish years ago, when I had made a break, but still had visceral suspicion of the press.

4

Trump is going to push right up to everybody’s line, because he is unmoored by conviction and unrestrained by prudence. Congressional Republicans — and conservatives in general — have a moral responsibility to act as a brake on him. But they (we) can’t do that unless we have in our minds clear principles on which we cannot allow ourselves to compromise, or rather, to be compromised. We have to be prepared to lose with honor than win with dishonor, because we fear a judge greater than the voters.

The astonishing audacity and recklessness with which Trump has begun his presidency is a bad sign. For me, it is not so much what he has done (though I do object to some of it) as it is the reckless manner in which he has done it. As every well-raised Southern child knows, manners express morality. Yes, manners are artificial, but they embody a social code that governs the conduct of people who live under it. True, it is always better to do the right thing than to work unrighteousness under the cover of minding one’s manners. But as Brooks points out, there’s something crude and vicious about the way Trump goes out of his way to provoke, to rub the noses of his opponents in the exercise of his power. In Trump’s case, manners express the man.

(Rod Dreher)

5

When liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals won’t do. This weekend’s shameful chapter in the history of the United States is a reproach not only to Trump, although it is that too, but to the political culture that enabled him.

(David Frum, H/T Rod Dreher)

6

Everyone wants a hero in dark times. Many people see Trump — and especially the people who work for Trump — as a grave threat to our rights. I certainly do. We want people with power to stand up to him effectively in defense of those rights, and have so far been disappointed. Sally Yates is now being celebrated as a hero by many. But her heroism is rooted in cinema, not rights. We admire her (correctly) for standing up for what we think is right, but we ought not applaud defiance that could undermine the very rule of law we want to protect from the Trump Administration. Our true enduring hero is the rule of law and equality before it. It must survive the transitory figures that attack or defend it. We cannot protect it by undermining it.

(Ken White, Popehat) The problem is that Yates didn’t say the Executive Order was unconstitutional or even illegal under some provision of the United States Code. She said she was sure it was legal and she thought it was unjust. That’s not enough.

She surely knew she would be fired. She probably thought she’d get cheers as a heroine.

She was right about both, but she doesn’t deserve the cheers.

7

If it appears that I’m careening around on Trump’s immigration Executive Order, it’s probably just because I’m careening around on Trump’s immigration Executive Order.

Immigration isn’t in the practice mix of most county seat lawyers in the midwest, and it’s not in my mix. I know that things can be done in the area of immigration that might be unlawful elsewhere — generically, “discrimination” of various sorts — and I suspect that’s because would-be immigrants don’t (yet) have the protection of our Constitution.

So here, from Justin Amash, a Congressman I believe to be of great integrity, is an article rebutting a National Review article’s claim that the Executive Order is legal. But remember that Sally Yates could not find the illegality smoking gun despite good reason to do so.

8

More and more people reportedly are saying “God will judge us” for this or that.

I fault the future tense and reiterate what I said last year: Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton had God’s judgment written all over it.

This year’s version is “President Donald Trump has God’s judgment written all over it.” Judgment is not coming; it’s already here.

What are you going to do about it? Do you even remember that word the prophets always used?

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.