Postmodernism didn’t cause Trump. It explains him.

We get the term “postmodern,” at least in its current, philosophical sense, from the title of Jean-François Lyotard’s 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.” It described the state of our era by building out Lyotard’s observations that society was becoming a “consumer society,” a “media society” and a “postindustrial society,” as postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson points out in his foreword to Lyotard’s book. Lyotard saw these large-scale shifts as game-changers for art, science and the broader question of how we know what we know. This was a diagnosis, not a political outcome that he and other postmodernist theorists agitated to bring about.

.. Jacques Derrida’s concept of “deconstruction” sought to understand language as a system capable of constantly hiding and deferring meaning, rather than a simple conduit for conveying it.
Another thinker, Jean Baudrillard, developed the concept of the “simulacrum,” a copy without an original, that leads to the “hyperreal,” a collection of signs or images purporting to represent something that actually exists (such as photos of wartime combat) but ultimately portraying a wild distortion not drawn from reality.
.. By the 1980s, conservative scholars like Allan Bloom — author of the influential “The Closing of the American Mind” — challenged postmodern theorists, not necessarily for their diagnosis of the postmodern condition but for accepting that condition as inevitable.
.. Unlike so many of today’s critics, Bloom understood that postmodernism didn’t emerge simply from the pet theories of wayward English professors. Instead, he saw it as a cultural moment brought on by forces greater than the university.
.. Bloom was particularly worried about students — as reflections of society at large — pursuing commercial interests above truth or wisdom. Describing what he saw as the insidious influence of pop music, Bloom lamented “parents’ loss of control over their children’s moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it.” He called the rock music industry “perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping create it,” with “all the moral dignity of drug trafficking.”
.. Kimball called “Tenured Radicals,” in his 1990 polemic against the academic left. At the heart of this accusation is the tendency to treat postmodernism as a form of left-wing politics — with its own set of tenets — rather than as a broader cultural moment that left-wing academics diagnosed.
.. it treats Lyotard and his fellows as proponents of a world where objective truth loses all value, rather than analysts who wanted to explain why this had already happened.
.. If you’re going to claim that Trumpism and alt-right relativism are consequences of the academic left’s supposition about what was happening, you must demonstrate a causal link. But commentators looking to trace these roots play so fast and loose with causality that they could easily be called postmodernist themselves.
.. It is certainly correct that today’s populist right employs relativistic arguments: For example, “identity politics” is bad when embraced by people of color, but “identitarianism” — white-nationalist identity politics — is good and necessary for white “survival.” But simply because this happens after postmodernism doesn’t mean it happens because of postmodernism
.. figures such as “intelligent design” theorist Phillip Johnson and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich cite the influence of postmodernist theory on their projects. Yet, as McIntyre acknowledges — and documents extensively in his book — right-wing think tanks and corporate-backed fronts — like tobacco industry “research” — had already established an “alternative facts” program for the right, long before creative misinformation entrepreneurs came around.
.. because reading postmodern theory is so notoriously difficult — partly because of how philosophical jargon gets translated, and partly because so much of the writing is abstruse and occasionally unclarifiable — an undergraduate (as in Cernovich’s case) or a layperson will almost inevitably come away with misreadings.
.. Hannah Arendt’s 1951 “The Origins of Totalitarianism”: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction . . . and the distinction between true and false . . . no longer exist.” 
.. “The deliberate falsehood and the outright lie used as legitimate means to achieve political ends,” writes Arendt in her 1971 essay “Lying in Politics ,” “have been with us since the beginning of recorded history.”
.. Fredric Jameson’s reflections on conspiracy theory (“the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age”) aren’t what’s convincing people to believe that climate change is a hoax or that the Democratic Party has been running a pedophilia ring out of a Washington pizza parlor.

.. Likewise, the claim that the Trump-Russia investigation is — as Trump said on national television — a “made-up story,” an “excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election,” is not a postmodernist critique of the evidence the Mueller investigation has gathered. So it’s a massive category error to call Trump’s post-truth politics “postmodernist.” It’s just the say-anything chicanery of the old-fashioned sales pitch.

.. it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes.
Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.

Rex Tillerson Supposedly Shifted Exxon Mobil’s Climate Position. Except He Really Didn’t.

“Tillerson’s own views about climate science were not greatly different from Lee Raymond’s,” though Tillerson “did not claim or wish to project the same sort of independent scientific expertise that Raymond had offered about climate science.” But Tillerson did see that the company needed to reposition itself.

.. Its 2007 Corporate Citizenship report announced that the company would “discontinue contributions to several public policy groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”

.. Tillerson “brought a more clever approach, a more PR-savvy approach, to climate at Exxon, but the company really didn’t change its stripes much,” said Kert Davies, who leads the Climate Investigations Center and was the creator of ExxonSecrets

.. In June 2009, the House passed a bill to set up a cap-and-trade system limiting carbon emissions. But that legislation failed to gain traction in the Senate. Exxon undertook an aggressive lobbying campaign that year, spending $27.4 million ― more than the entire environmental lobby combined, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The American Petroleum Institute ― of which Exxon Mobil is a member ― launched its own PR campaign against the legislation.

 .. he said publicly he preferred a tax on carbon ― a policy that was not under debate in Congress at the time, but was also politically implausible at best, considering it was in the middle of the Great Recession.

.. Supporting a carbon tax wasn’t necessarily a cynical ploy to undermine the cap-and-trade bill; there are practical reasons a company like Exxon would support of a carbon tax. A handful of fossil-fuel companies already assign a price to carbon emissions for their internal accounting, including Exxon. As more countries take steps to cut carbon emissions as part of the Paris agreement, Exxon has said it prefers a predictable tax on carbon to a cap-and-trade system that is open to market fluctuations.

.. And unlike many of its industry rivals, Exxon has failed to invest seriously in renewable energy
.. Tillerson has openly mocked the clean-energy industry for years, joking once that he wasn’t “really against renewables” because wind turbine operators bought Exxon’s oil as a lubricant. “The more windmills are built, the more oil we sell,”

.. the company funded a Big Tobacco-style disinformation campaign.

..It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the world’s largest oil company is good at greenwashing ― they spend more money on it than they do on renewable energy development.”

Trump’s outrageous lies come straight from big businesses’ playbook

Sixty-three years ago, as the scientific community neared consensus that tobacco products were dangerous, titans of the tobacco industry came together to meet with John Hill at the Plaza Hotel in New York. This was a rare gathering, as these executives were fighting one another for market share in an immensely competitive business. Hill, the founder of PR conglomerate Hill & Knowlton, recommended that they form a public relations operation, thinly veiled as a scientific institute, to argue that their products were safe. Together, the tobacco executives and Hill created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, a sham organization designed to spread corporate propaganda to mislead the media, policymakers and the public at large.

.. Their goal was not to convince the majority of Americans that cigarettes did not cause cancer. Instead, they sought to muddy the waters and create a second truth. One truth would emanate from the bulk of the scientific community; the other, from a cadre of people primarily in the employment of the tobacco industry. The organization launched with an ad titled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers,” which ran in 400 newspapers reaching nearly 43 million readers and stated, “There is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes” of lung cancer.

 .. However, in the 1950s, the industry’s efforts influenced coverage from journalists as revered as Edward R. Murrow. In 1994, the chief executives of the seven largest tobacco companies told Congress under oath that they did not believe their products were addictive; more than 20 years later, they have yet to face penalties for their apparent perjury. Vice President-elect Mike Pence wrote in an op-ed posted on his 2000 congressional campaign website that, “despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.” That year, his campaign received at least $13,000 from PACs affiliated with Big Tobacco.
.. The sugar industry, for instance, has promoted research designed to distract from the health effects of its products. Its Sugar Research Foundation provided funding to Harvard scientists to counter claims that sugar causes heart disease, despite the overwhelming evidence.
.. In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
.. The “death panels” lie was invented and evangelized by Betsy McCaughey, who had also been a leading opponent of Hillary Clinton’s health-care reform efforts in the ’90s. No surprise there: McCaughey has strong ties to the tobacco industry.
.. In August, Trump’s campaign announced that McCaughey would serve as an economic adviser.
..We’ve seen this pattern repeated on issue after issue. A well-financed group invents lies and convinces a substantial share of the public that those lies are true. The propaganda purveyors recognize that the media’s instinct to cover “both sides” of an issue, people’s tendency to believe claims that conveniently fit their ideology, and, more recently, social media’s propensity to spread falsehoods all create a fundamental weakness in our civil society.
.. This political misinformation is so powerful that people have refused access to medical care because they were frightened by lies they had heard about Obamacare.