The Reichstag fire was at least a fire. Here, there is smoke and mirrors.
When Trump was in business, his shtick was stiffing contractors. If confronted, he would try some bombast and storm out of meetings, as he did the other day with congressional leaders, ending talks on the partial government shutdown caused by a crisis he has manufactured. His shtick now is stiffing all Americans. The technique is the same: Keep reality at a distance through hyperactive fakery.
.. A manufactured crisis, I said. It’s worth recalling the 5,200 troops ordered to the southern border before the midterm elections to confront the “caravan of migrants.” This was an exercise in manipulative illusion.
Monthly crossings over the southern border have declined in recent years. The number of migrants apprehended has also fallen over the past decade, with a recent tick upward. There is no humanitarian crisis, just as not a single mile of additional wall has been built since Trump took office.
But absent this noise, what does reality offer the president? Robert Mueller, Nancy Pelosi and Michael Cohen, the specters of his insomnia.
.. The essential distinction that Frankfurt, a professor of philosophy emeritus at Princeton University, makes is between lies and bull. As he writes, “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”
.. It is a habit “unconstrained by a concern with truth” whose essence is “not of falsity but of fakery.” The addict of bull “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” He is “trying to get away with something.” His “focus is panoramic rather than particular,” and he shuns “the more austere and rigorous demands of lying.”
Frankfurt’s conclusion may be read as an ominous verdict on this president. The bull merchant “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
It has been said that Trump’s extraordinary election victory owed much to his intuitions about the anger in the heartland. There is some truth in this. But his essential intuition was into the readiness of Americans, suspended between the real and the virtual, for a post-truth presidency.
Quinta Jurecic, in an important essay for the Lawfare Blog, set out the dangers inherent in this shift before Trump took office. In the essay, “On Bullshit and the Oath of Office: The ‘LOL Nothing Matters’ Presidency,” she cited Frankfurt and argued that Trump’s “foundational disrespect for meaning and consequence” — that is to say, for reality and the very concept of law — would make it “impossible for Donald Trump to faithfully execute the laws of this nation and the duties of the oath of office and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”
The president’s apparent readiness to “do national emergency,” as he put it, over a manufactured border crisis amounts to a perfect illustration of this danger. The Reichstag fire was at least a fire. Here there is only smoke and mirrors.
I would add one element to the reflections of Frankfurt and Jurecic on bull. There may be something amusing, or at least innocuous, about the bullshit artists encountered in a lifetime. They may be waved away. But in Trump the element of sadistic cruelty in his personality (mocking the disabled, for example), and the sheer gall of his fakery, make of him a malignant, rather than a benign, bullshit artist. He happens to occupy the world’s most powerful office.
Trump cannot help himself, I said. He can’t and won’t. But as citizens, “we have a duty to insist that words have meaning,” as Jurecic writes. If they don’t, neither does the Republic. That’s what the ants told me as I gazed at them, troubled and fixated.
In tweets, the president brings trade deal into play over annual protest that has caught his attention
President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned that the North American Free Trade Agreement was “in play” and threatened to end aid to Honduras and other Central American countries if an organized protest march of 1,000 asylum seekers traveling through Mexico reaches the U.S. border.
.. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”
.. The “caravan of people” Mr. Trump attacked Tuesday is an annual event that leaders say aims to raise awareness about the tens of thousands of Central Americans who, facing gang violence and political unrest in one of the world’s most violent areas, flee every year to Mexico or the U.S. Many are turned back, extorted or kidnapped along the way.
.. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded to Mr. Trump’s comment Sunday with a tweet of his own denying that his government was doing nothing to control migration. “Every day Mexico and the U.S. work together on migration throughout the region. Facts clearly reflect this,” he said. “Upholding human dignity and rights is not at odds with the rule of law.”
.. Mexican and U.S. officials, facing national elections this year, have pressed for a relatively quick deal on Nafta, while their Canadian counterparts have held out for an agreement that would preserve key structures from the existing Nafta, including a dispute-settlement system that can challenge tariffs levied by the Trump administration.
.. Mr. Trump’s threat to cut aid to Honduras is one of a series of such warnings he has issued in the first 14 months of his administration, on which he hasn’t always followed through.
The U.S. plans to send $65.8 million in aid to Honduras in fiscal year 2019, according to the State Department, though none of those funds have yet been obligated or spent.