Thursday, December 29, 2022


At Digby's Hullabaloo, Tom Sullivan writes:
Lost in the “Catch Me If You (Oh, you already did!)” tale of George Santos is what it says about how infected the Republican Party is with Trumpism. Santos may be a pathological liar in his own right, but Trump developed the party faithful’s taste for liars and for shameless lying. That craving will outlast Trump. He’s modified the party’s DNA to match his, and Santos, Kari Lake, Team Kraken, and the rest of MAGA world suggest he’s replicating himself.
I'm not sure about this.

One difference between Santos and the other falsehood spreaders named by Sullivan is that rank-and-file right-wingers really believe Trump and the others, and they don't seem to believe that Santos actually worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, or had a grandmother who escaped the Holocaust. They genuinely believe that Trump won in 2020 and Lake won this year. They believed Trump was telling the truth about COVID. They think he really did finish the Wall. They're sure he's as rich as he's always claimed to be.

But this difference alone doesn't indicate that Santos is truly distinct from the others. He might just be picking the wrong things to lie about -- wrong because his lies are easy to disprove, or wrong because he doesn't have a propaganda army prepared to second what he's saying. (Lake benefits from a MAGA messaging army that insists all close elections won by Democrats are rigged. Trump built that army on the foundation of GOP lies and hyperbole about voter fraud going back twenty years. And in the years before he entered politics, Trump relied on an army of business and gossip reporters to second his claims about his wealth and sexual prowess, which they were happy to do because he was always good copy.)

Is the difference between Santos and Trump that Santos is a liar and Trump is a bullshitter? Harry Frankfurt, the academic besst known for trying to trying to distinguish lies and bullshit, might say so:
Frankfurt determines that bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn't care if what they say is true or false, but cares only whether the listener is persuaded.
Frankfurt ... argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant.
This seems perceptive until you approach it with some skepticism. Trump seems like a bullshit artist in a way that Santos doesn't, but don't they both care about the truth and attempt to hide it? And does Trump really "change the rules governing [his] end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant"? I can't think of anyone I'd regard as a bullshit artist who does that. They all want you to believe they're telling the truth.

If there's a distinction, it might be that bullshit artists like Trump lie with great energy and panache. They don't just guiltily lay down a massive lie and pray that it's never debunked. Their lying is a sustained effort. They keep up a line of patter full of little lies in order to sustain the big ones. I think Frankfurt has a point about bullshit not needing to be untrue -- some of what Trump told us about COVID, for instance, was partly true (most respiratory diseases do dissipate somewhat in the spring), as were his financial boasts throughout his life (for most of his life he's been somewhat rich).

If there's a difference between Santos the liar and Trump the bullshitter, it's that Trump the bullshitter is trying to get you to enjoy the way he lies. Santos wants you to think more of him because, he insists, he's rich and successful and there are facts about his life that are noteworthy (even though, as it turns out, they're all lies). Trump's lies are an expression of his personality. If you fall for them -- I don't, and you don't either, but many people do -- they make you believe he's brilliant, super-competent, insightful, sexy, and charismatic. This isn't just because he says he's better than he really is -- it's because his self-confidence impresses people. (Okay, impresses idiots. But still.) It's the style that distinguishes him from Santos.

And that's why we might drive Santos from public life without too much more effort, something we've failed to do with Trump for forty years.

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