Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Best Liars Win

Charlie Pierce on why Donald Trump keeps winning:

Fabulism has become something of a conspicuous feature in this campaign. From Donald Trump’s dancing Muslims on a rooftop in Jersey City to Ben Carson’s buckle-foiled attempt to cut a motherfcker in his wayward youth, we seem to have crossed over an invisible border from the ordinary narrative bullshit that is customary to presidential campaigns into a strange shadowland in which bizarre (and easily—and, occasionally, previously—debunked) tales have come to define candidates, and to define them, if not positively, then not entirely in a negative way, either. To stick with your story about Muslims on the rooftops in the face of all the available evidence is a way to demonstrate that you “won’t back down” or that you’re not “politically correct.” The logic seems to be that, if you stand firmly behind your hogwash, and the wilder the hogwash the better, then you will face down Vladimir Putin before breakfast and frighten Daesh to death just after lunch. Apparently, if you’re bold enough to tell obvious lies in public, and then stick to those lies when you get called on them, you are brave enough to be president.

As with so many things, this all began with Ronald Reagan. Those people who claim that Donald Trump is sui generis in this regard are very much the same as those people who find him a unique political phenomenon, instead of the logical end product of almost 40 years of conservative politics. Reagan was as full of crap as the Christmas goose, and in the same way that Trump and Carson are. Trump has dancing Muslims. Reagan had the fictitious welfare queen in Chicago. Carson had his attempt to stab a classmate. Reagan had his march into Auschwitz to liberate the death camp there. The difference is that Reagan slung his hooey with a smile and a wink. Trump has weaponized Reagan’s fabulism and that seems to make a difference to some people. But nothing that has happened in this campaign, up to and including the latest spasm of outright bigotry and fear-mongering, is new in the recent history of Republican politics. It always is the person who tells the best ghost stories who wins.

How do you run against this kind of thing? All three Democratic candidates tried out newish campaign themes on Sunday night, many of them oriented around hanging Trump around the Republican Party’s neck. Martin O’Malley was the most direct, summoning up the refrain, “You can start with me,” in reference to a litany of implications about the authoritarian nature of a Trump presidency, some of them quite comical ghost stories in their own way.

“When you send out your security police to round up anyone who believes the earth is actually round, and that climate change is real…you can start with me!”

The simple fact is that candidates stretch the truth or downright lie, and being a fact-checker is both the loneliest and most sought-after job when the circus comes to town.  There is, however, a difference between smiling and nodding on the rope line — “of course I remember you!” — and telling tales that actually pit one group of people against another or put them in harm’s way.

The fact that Donald Trump or Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson could come up with something so demonstrably and easily-proven false — yes, we have heard of Google; have you? — and still be considered contenders tells us far more about the electorate than we want to know.