Saturday, November 5, 2016

Donald Trump's Reputation as a Bold Truth-Teller

So, that being said, Trump's statements being remarkably out of tune with objective reality, how did he get such a reputation for being a bold truth-teller?

The general answer I get is that he is telling a different kind of truth -- not the truth of matching statements to actual, external facts, but truth of expressing what people secretly feel but don't dare come right out and say.  And Trump's real appeal is that he will free people from those constraints and allow them to come out and say the unspeakable.

For instance:
[Trump supporters] see him as “honest” while simultaneously dismissing many of the things he has actually said, because they assume that the most offensive things he has said are simply deliberate provocations — and they usually feel that the people being provoked deserve to be taken down a peg. 
The logic here is a bit circular, but it’s a familiar two-step to anyone who’s had an argument about “political correctness.” 
On one hand, you should respect Trump because he’s just saying what a lot of people secretly believe — what they say “around the dining room table,” as his surrogates often put it. 
On the other hand, you shouldn’t get too upset about what Trump says because it’s just light talk. It’s locker-room banter. It’s satire. He’s not a polished politician, after all, you shouldn’t assume that he meant to say it exactly the way he did. 
Or another:
This is what Donald Trump — and many of his supporters — imagine constitutes truthfulness and honesty. It’s not about saying something that is true or accurate or factual, but about saying what you truly, sincerely feel. Dishonesty, in this view, entails not a denial of truth or of reality, but a denial of your own emotions. Courtesy, tact, and nuance are all, from this perspective, dishonest because they may not fully reveal the emotions, opinions, fantasies and preferences of the speaker.
Of course, there are some problems with this kind of honesty.  Trump supporters may want to be freed from the dishonest shackles of courtesy, tact and nuance, but they probably do not want to free everyone else from those shackles and allow other people to be entirely honest in expressing opinions that they personally find offensive.*  Or, to continue the first quote, "Not saying things that offend other people is 'political correctness' — not saying things that offend people one knows is just 'etiquette.'"  Yeah, basically.  And that is a problem.

The other problem is that I don't believe the subjective/objective truth distinction is as binary as all that.  People who admire Trump's "truth-telling" regardless of its factual accuracy have probably had experiences of external truth in their lives.  Anyone who has ever gotten a speeding ticket knows that telling the judge it just doesn't feel like you were going that fast when the radar gun says you were is not going to get you very far.  Or telling your boss that you really intended to do that job that you didn't do.  Or telling your landlord or the bank or the utility company that you meant to make that payment.  See how far arguing your subjective intentions will get you.

Of course, you may say, that just drives home the point.  Only authority figures who talk down to you treat truth as external.  Regular folks regard it as internal. Trump is a regular guy who believes in the integrity of internal truth, not one of those snooty authority figures who insists that only actual actions matter.  But I don't really buy it.  How many Trump supporters, after all, would accept as an reasonable excuse that their children wanted to do their chores and give them credit without actually expecting them to do the chores?

Well, you may say, but that is still a matter of only authority figures treat truth as external.  The only difference is that the Trump supporter is now the authority figure -- probably the only opportunity many of them get.  Between peers, truth is internal?

Or is it?  Well suppose a Trump supporter's spouse/intimate partner/coworker/friend made a promise and then broke it.  Do you think that if they assured the Trump supporter that they were very sincere when they made the promise and felt really bad about breaking it, the Trumpling would give them credit for keeping it?  For a minor matter and on rare occasion, maybe.  But if it was for something important, or if the broken promises were habitual, somehow I don't think sincerity would cut it. Actions speak louder than words and all that.

So, yes, I can believe that Trump's reputation as a bold truth-teller may come in part from saying what a lot of people secretly think but don't dare say.  But I don't believe that anyone really has a concept of truth that excludes external reality.

*On the other hand, I think part of Trump's appeal to his supporters is their basic belief that everyone else has already been freed of those shackles and feels free to express contempt for the white working class, and only the white working class is not allowed to retaliate in kind.  There is just enough truth to that belief that we really need to give it some thought.  

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