On a Tweet-Drizzle on Trump’s Honest Dishonesty

I suspect many poll respondents do not separate “appearance of emotional authenticity” from “verbal approximation of factual truth” in polls such as the one Mr. Bouie finds “bewildering,” in which “45% see [Trump] as honest and trustworthy, but it goes lower, to 36%, for Clinton.” Setting aside, as we must in order to comment on the political campaigns, the encompassing inanity of the terms of discussion, we can further observe that the answer “he is more honest” replicates the same pattern: The answer itself may be an “honest” as in “honestly dishonest” answer in the minds of such respondents, meaning they can both “honestly” and “dishonestly-honestly” judge Trump “honestly a liar,” a liar true to himself as a liar, while Clinton remains for them a “dishonest truthteller.”1

Bouie is hardly alone in his mystification. In an essay from May2, David Frum predicted that the reaction to Trump’s dishonesty, or his honest dishonesty, would be “the hardest [part of this story] to explain after it’s all over”: 

Trump did not deceive anyone. Unlike, say, Sarah Palin in 2008, Trump appeared before the electorate in his own clothes, speaking his own words. When he issued a promise, he instantly contradicted it. If you chose to accept the promise anyway, you did so with abundant notice of its worthlessness. For all the times Trump said believe me and trust me in his salesman patter, he communicated constantly and in every medium that there was only thing you could believe and trust: If you voted for Donald Trump, you’d get Donald Trump, in all his Trumpery and Trumpiness.

Trump may be relentlessly mendacious, but he is not simply mendacious, or, to put it paradoxically, and not for the last time, he is so simply and obviously dishonest that there is, in this sense, no question of his honesty and openness. As Frum puts it, Trump “appear[s] in his own clothes, speaking his own words.” He gives “abundant notice.” Trump voters know that they will get the authentic Donald Trump.

This paradoxical conversion into a version of virtue, of a diametrical opposite of virtue may in a lover or an artist or in the daily life of a citizen of this world count as a necessity, perhaps a dreadful necessity or nothing honorable in the old sense. In a leader the quality is contrary to the minimal functional requirements for any form of non-tyrannical governance, especially to those of a self-governing liberal-democratic republic. This disrelation between Trumpism and rational political discourse makes it incompatible with American-ideological conservatism, which means to be reasonable, but not with the reductive, likewise emotionally rather than rationally authentic version of American-national conservatism, the conservatism that would be conservatism for us because we recognize it and the recognition of it, and so on, as altogether ours and ourselves all together.

The rump of faithful “movement conservatives” among the politerati strenuously insist that Trump is not authentically a conservative, and will have in mind his lacking commitment to small government or other elements of Reagan Era dogma. Yet we cannot say that Trump’s firstly and even only emotionally authentic form of conservatism is not a conservatism at all. The Trumpian conservatism that is conservatism because people who call themselves conservative deem it to be and thus convince their enemies as well to call them by that name connects here to the simplistic nationalism of the alt-right, the traditional conservatism of attachment to “one’s own,” however “one’s own” defines itself (always circularly: how one defines oneself pre-determines how one may define oneself): Thymos, emotional energy of collective self-assertion, the generation of the something worth dying for out of itself, is also authentically conservable.

Where we seem to differ, or are not in fact all together, is over what “our own” can and should be, not over its indispensability, which would be the indispensability of us to ourselves, whoever we are or manage to find in the historical mirror. The merely or mainly emotionally authentic nation is and cannot be the state from which the citizen expects reason strictly, or the liberal state, but that latter state cannot be at all without knowing that other, its contradiction, as also itself.

Notes:

  1. My own drizzle of tweets replying to Bouie and Digby, on which this post expands, can be found here. []
  2. Donald Trump and the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy – The Atlantic []

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So, does Mitchell make any money on the work, which has been shared so many times? He uploaded a high-res image of the symbol and granted permission for anyone to use it personally for free. But for those who want to support his work or simply want something readymade, you can also buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and journals emblazoned with the symbol through Threadless.“I really just want to spread the image as much as possible and cement it in history,” Mitchell says. “In all honesty, the amount I’ve made from my Threadless shop so far is still less than my hourly rate, so I don’t really see it as a big deal. If you look at my Twitter, half the replies are people wanting to know where they can buy a shirt. Threadless is happy to help them out with that, and so I’m happy to let that happen.”Now that the symbol has flooded our streets and our timelines, Mitchell just has one request: “Impeach this idiot already,” he says.

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This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance. They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

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