7 Aug '16     home | previous

Political Discourse and BS

My website is about the human mind and public discourse, and good discourse, in my opinion, requires making good intentions and good mental connections, connections that are tight with reality – in other words valid. Two people with different facts can together produce good discourse. This past week the journalist-pundit Fareed Zakaria accused Donald Trump of something different. The title of his column was "The unbearable stench of Trump's BS."

The conservative columnist George Will was among others journalists who joined in the criticism of Trump's discourse. George Will wrote that Trump's speeches are:

... of course, "syntactical train wrecks... He rarely finishes a sentence ("Believe me!" does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

Responding to Will's column, someone put his own spin on the issue of Trump's discourse, putting it in a context of his support for Trump. He ignored the issue of Trump's manner of discourse and instead focused on the grounds of Hillary's Clinton failings. Another supporter did the same thing with a theory of sloppy connections about "rich elites" doing bad things to our society and these elites being terrified of Trump because "he will jail them like they did in Iceland." He added that Trump "gets my vote for those reasons alone." F

In his discourse, Zakaria wrote of Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and former professor at Princeton, who wrote an essay in 1986 called "On Bullshit." My report on what became his little book is here. Zakaria writes that Frankfurt distinguishes crucially between lies and BS. Perhaps this was of some educational value for people not supporting Trump. With Frankfurt's book in mind, the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein describes the differences between lying and bullshitting. She writes,

A bullshitter, too, may end up saying something that is true. But unlike the liar, the bullshitter is not trying to keep track of what is true. The truth-conditions of his statements, their correspondence to the facts they purport to convey, are irrelevant to his motives for saying what he does.

It may be that Trump supporters care nothing about such distinctions, and some may see such distinctions as the fuss of elitist intellectuals.

Of the nearly 2,000 comments to Zakaria's article, like Will's article some thought that the proper refutation was to ignore Trump's BS and speak of what he claimed was Hillary's BS. And others attempted to refute Zakaria with an exaggeration about Zakaria's plagiarism. Someone else informed me of his opinion that Trump "will completely break the system down so we can build it up again. He will crush the liars and their lying ways. He will destroy the cynical media-government manipulation machine that controls us." Trump, he wrote, will destroy "the corrupt system so we can build a decent and honest society again."

And so it goes. Trump supporters are tending to excuse or look beyond Trump's BS with their opinion as to how bad Hillary Clinton is. She used the phrase "short-circuited" when discussing her answers regarding her emails, and Trump and his supporters made it more than her trying to come clean and candid on a particular point.

Clinton's actual use of "short-circuited," is reported In this morning the Washington Post. Clinton:

So I may have short-circuited it and for that I, you know, will try to clarify because I think, you know, Chris Wallace and I we're probably talking past each other – because, of course, he could only talk to what I had told the FBI, and I appreciated that.

Bullshitters are panoramic rather than particular. Trump spread her use of "short-circuit" to her thinking in general – no matter that Trump never admits his mistakes. Trump, pointing to his head, said, "I think the people of this country don't want somebody that's going to short-circuit up here." And he went further by calling her a liar, the devil and a monster.

Someone who doesn't buy Trump's BS responded:

Let me see if I have this right. Hillary is crooked, a liar, the devil, and a monster. Yet [in the polls] she is kicking your ass all over the place.

Some say that Trump is by nature a bullshitter and isn't about to change despite urging by those around him, and some are saying that the percentage of the electorate that will continue to support Trump will stay around the percentage that it now is, causing him to lose the election.

Time will tell.

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Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.