Donald Trump’s disregard for the truth is something more sinister than ordinary lying.
Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true, often shamelessly so, and it’s tempting to call him a liar.
But that’s not quite right. As the Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt put it in a famous essay, to lie presumes a kind of awareness of and interest in the truth — and the goal is to convince the audience that the false thing you are saying is in fact true. Trump, more often than not, isn’t interested in convincing anyone of anything. He’s a bullshitter who simply doesn’t care.
In Trump's own book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, our now-president describes himself in a way that Frankfurt could hold up as the quintessential example of a bullshitter. Trump writes that he’s an "I say what’s on my mind" kind of guy. Pages later, he explains that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily an honest guy.
"If you do things a little differently," he writes of the media, "if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you." The free publicity that results from deliberately provoking controversy is invaluable. And if a bit of exaggeration is what it takes, Trump doesn’t have a problem with that. "When," he asks "was the last time you saw a sign hanging outside a pizzeria claiming ‘The fourth best pizza in the world’?!"
When Trump says something like he’s just learned that Barack Obama ordered his phones wiretapped, he’s not really trying to persuade people that this is true. It’s a test to see who around him will debase themselves to repeat it blindly. There’s no greater demonstration of devotion.
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