Tuesday, October 01, 2019


In The Guardian, Catherine Fieschi notes that populist politicians in many countries lie proudly.
The torrent of lies that flows from the mouths of populists feels relentless: from Donald Trump’s routine lying about everything from Iran to the weather, to Boris Johnson’s fictitious £350m for the NHS, Turkey on the cusp of joining the EU or most sensationally misleading the Queen about why the UK parliament should be shut down.

My research on populism elsewhere in Europe confirms that lying is a constant feature of populist politics....
And the lies -- Fieschi gives Trump's inaugural crowd size as an example -- are often flagrant and easily debunked. But, she says, it doesn't matter.
Populist lying ... is designed to be seen – it is the opposite of a cover-up. In the populist playbook, lying itself is glorified; it is an instrument of subversion, its purpose to demonstrate that the liar will stop at nothing to “serve the people”. The lies are signals that these politicians are not bound by the usual norms of the liberal democratic elite. Liberals have virtue signalling – populists have outrage signalling. This is the politics of appealing to the gut over the brain.
"Outrage signaling" -- I wish that phrase would enter our political language. It's very useful. It describes so much of what conservatives do every day.
We need to stop asking why voters believe populists’ untruths and why they let themselves be repeatedly swindled by them – because they don’t and they aren’t. The purpose of populist lying is not to be believed.
I realize that Fieschi is veering close to Salena Zito territory here ("the press takes [Trump] literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally"), but I think she's on to something. I think Trump's supporters do take him literally. They believe he's building the wall. They believe he's draining the swamp. But if they find out he isn't, they don't care, because merely announcing that you want to do these things pisses off the libs, and then seemingly getting away with lying about them also pisses us off. In the eyes of the base at least, Trump wins either way.

And this extends to conspiracy theories. A certain number of Trump fans may understand, at least on some level, that Barack Obama's birth certificate is genuine and that Democratic emails were hacked by Russia, not by a sinister cabal that included the DNC, various Ukrainians, George Soros, and the privy councils of the Deep State. But the more Trump is challenged on these fairytales, the more the base loves him for infuriating us. Trumpers love the outrage. He wins if he's perceived as telling the truth and he wins if we denounce him for lying.

I don't know how to diminish the potency of populist outrage signaling. Maybe we can't -- we just have to outvote the outraged.

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