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The lying is the point


Dahlia Lithwick has been getting increasingly shrill over the past couple of years, which under the circumstances merely means she’s been paying attention to what’s going on:

For years, Trump used the phrase “many people are saying” to essentially mean “someday people will be saying.” He did so understanding that if you say such things enough times, someone somewhere will parrot it as a fundamental truth, and then your initial statement will be true(ish—many people will be saying the untrue thing). “Many people are saying [this lie]” was always code for “if we get people to say [this lie], it will seem true.” Trump’s admission of that principle at CPAC on Sunday gave away the game. He confessed, about polling numbers, that “if it’s bad, I say it’s fake. If it’s good, I say, that’s the most accurate poll perhaps ever.” The lie thus goes from a fiction in the lizard brain of a dangerously delusional man to headline news to gospel for people who have been trained to invert whatever they see from the news. In which case why wouldn’t Rudy Giuliani advise Trump on election night 2020 that he should simply lie and claim victory? That had been the game all along.

Lithwick points to the bizarre Gish Gallop in Michigan federal court earlier this week by various Kraken lawyers, who argued that the fact they were submitting enormous numbers of lies to the court proved that those lies had to be taken seriously, because after all there were so many of them:

 In the main, the lawyers’ defense was that if many people believed these lies, counsel had no independent obligation to ascertain whether the lies were true. Some of these attorneys went so far as to insist that the only way to test the lies would have been at a full and costly trial. Others insisted that opposing counsel and the judge herself had a duty to examine each of the lies before calling them lies, despite the fact that they never had any basis in truth. . . .

Within the confines of her Zoom screen and her judicial authority and with unimaginable patience, Parker did a masterful job of squelching lies and modeling what a search for truth actually demands. But as both Powell and Wood demonstrated, neither Parker’s courtroom, nor her Zoom hearing, and not even the threat of substantial sanctions and disbarment, holds any power over them. Because no institution of facticity can contain them. In Timothy Snyder’s “post-truth” America, if one can speak, one can lie, and if one can lie, one can persuade. For those who counsel us to ignore the liars, realize that you are not the intended targets. Those who are the intended targets reward and remunerate the liars by providing what they need—doubt. “This case was driven by doubts,” lectured Don Campbell, an attorney representing the kraken lawyers on Monday, fomenting yet more doubt. “The fact is that folks doubted this election. It happens.” But doubt doesn’t just “happen.” It is conjured and fed and watered and spread. That, as it ever was, is the point

Over the past few years, a couple of quotes about the nature of the authoritarian mind keep recurring to me in a depressingly large number of contexts:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.Sartre, Anti Semite and Jew

And let me be even more frank, just to show you I’m not a hard-hearted man and it’s not all dollars and cents: I actually have a certain degree of sympathy for older American conservatives/Republicans, who in their twilight years have to deal (or not) with the fact that the party and ideology which has been more or less central to their identities for their whole lives has turned into an insane thrill-kill cult, dominated by the most loathsome collection of psychopathic liars and utterly shameless con artists this country has ever seen: people, loosely speaking, who are more than eager to sacrifice the very lives of their own most loyal followers just to make a buck, or indeed just for the lulz, as the kids say.

But at some point sympathy has its limits, and for me at least that limit has been reached. If you can’t or won’t see what this thing of yours has become, then you are ultimately just as complicit in it as Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and J.D. Vance and all the other aspirational fascists who don’t even have the excuse of the infirmities of old age to help explain why the continue to dedicate their lives to advancing the evil that is the Republican party in America today.

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