A Philosopher's Blog

Trump & Truth

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on November 30, 2015

As this is being written at the end of November, Donald Trump is still the leading Republican presidential candidate. While some might take the view that this is in spite of the outrageous and terrible things Trump says, a better explanation is that he is doing well because of this behavior. Some regard it as evidence of his authenticity and find it appealing in the face of so many slick and seemingly inauthentic politicians (Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are regarded by some as examples of this). Some agree with what Trump says and thus find this behavior very appealing.

Trump was once again in the media spotlight for an outrageous claim. This time, he made a claim about something he believed happened on 9/11: “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

Trump was immediately called on this claim on the grounds that it is completely untrue. While it would be as reasonable to dismiss Trump’s false claim as it would be to dismiss any other claim that is quite obviously untrue, the Washington Post and Politifact undertook a detailed investigation. On the one hand, it seems needless to dignify such a falsehood with investigation. On the other hand, since Trump is the leading Republican candidate, his claims could be regarded as meriting the courtesy of a fact check rather than simple dismissal as being patently ludicrous.  As should be expected, while they did find some urban myths and rumors, they found absolutely no evidence supporting Trump’s claim.

Rather impressively, Trump decided to double-down on his claim rather than acknowledging that his claim is manifestly false. His confidence has also caused some of his supporters to accept his claim, typically with vague references about having some memory of something that would support Trump’s claim. This is consistent with the way ideologically motivated “reasoning” works: when confronted with evidence against a claim that is part of one’s ideologically identity, the strength of the belief becomes even stronger. This holds true across the political spectrum and into other areas as well. For example, people who strongly identify with the anti-vaccination movement not only dismiss the overwhelming scientific evidence against their views, they often double-down on their beliefs and some even take criticism as more proof that they are right.

This tendency does make psychological sense—when part of a person’s identity is at risk, it is natural to engage in a form of wishful thinking and accept (or reject) a claim because one really wants the claim to be true (or false). However, wishful thinking is fallacious thinking—wanting a claim to be true does not make it true. As such, this tendency is a defect in a person’s rationality and giving in to it will generally lead to poor decision making.

There is also the fact that since at least the time of Nixon a narrative about liberal media bias has been constructed and implanted into the minds of many. This provides an all-purpose defense against almost any negative claims made by the media about conservatives. Because of this, Trump’s defenders can allege that the media covered up the story (which would, of course, contradict his claim that he saw all those people in another city celebrating 9/11) or that they are now engaged in a conspiracy against Trump.

A rather obvious problem with the claim that the media is engaged in some sort of conspiracy is that if Trump saw those thousands celebrating in New Jersey, then there should be no shortage of witnesses and video evidence. However, there are no witnesses and no such video evidence. This is because Trump’s claim is not true.

While it would be easy to claim that Trump is simply lying, this might not be the case. As discussed in an earlier essay I wrote about presidential candidate Ben Carson’s untrue claims, a claim being false is not sufficient to make it a lie. For example, a person might say that he has $20 in his pocket but be wrong because a pickpocket stole it a few minutes ago. Her claim would be untrue, but it would be a mistake to accuse her of being a liar. While this oversimplifies things quite a bit, for Trump to be lying about this he would need to believe that what he is saying is not true and be engaged in the right (or rather) wrong sort of intent. The matter of intent is important for obvious reasons, such as distinguishing fiction writers from liars. If Trump believes what he is saying, then he would not be lying.

While it might seem inconceivable that Trump really believes such an obvious untruth, it could very well be the case. Memory, as has been well-established, is notoriously unreliable. People forget things and fill in the missing pieces with bits of fiction they think are facts. This happens to all of us because of our imperfect memories and a need for a coherent narrative. There is also the fact that people can convince themselves that something is true—often by using on themselves various rhetorical techniques. One common way this is done is by reputation—the more often people hear a claim repeated, the more likely it is that they will accept it as true, even when there is no evidence for the claim. This is why the use of repeated talking points is such a popular strategy among politicians, pundits and purveyors. Trump might have told himself his story so many times that he now sincerely believes it and once it is cemented in his mind, it will be all but impossible for any evidence or criticism to dislodge his narrative. If this is the case, in his mind there was such massive celebrations and he probably can even “remember” the images and sounds—such is the power of the mind.

Trump could, of course, be well aware that he is saying something untrue but has decided to stick with his claim. This would make considerable sense—while people are supposed to pay a price for being completely wrong and an even higher price for lying, Trump has been rewarded with more coverage and more support with each new outrageous thing he does or says. Because of this success, Trump has excellent reasons to continue doing what he has been doing. It might take him all the way to the White House.

 

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  1. TJB said, on November 30, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Actually, Mike, there were celebrations in Jersey City by “a number of people” after the 9/11 attacks, but probably not the “thousands and thousands” claimed by Trump.

    However, rather than saying he exaggerated the numbers, the “unbiased media” has claimed the celebrations never happened.

    Who is the greater liar?

    • WTP said, on November 30, 2015 at 10:06 am

      And are those who repeat such lies without offering context, correction, or clarification in any way responsible for doing so?

      On the one hand, it seems needless to dignify such a falsehood with investigation….

      As should be expected, while they did find some urban myths and rumors, they found absolutely no evidence supporting Trump’s claim.

      From the Washington Post, September 2001:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/09/18/northern-new-jersey-draws-probers-eyes/40f82ea4-e015-4d6e-a87e-93aa433fafdc/

      In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

      Now one can of course argue that the WaPo was irresponsible in its journalism by repeating what may very well have been urban myths and rumors, and I would definitely agree. WaPo is often very irresponsible in its journalism in other regards and in this case as well. To say there was “absolutely no evidence” seems rather weak coming from the WaPo itself and more to the point here, from a so-called philosopher who in other contexts is perfectly content repeating fake-but-true stories. You will note how then-Mike had very little use for such silly technicalities when they didn’t suit the narrative the hive wished to have parroted.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 1, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Is there any evidence at all that the celebrations occurred? No one else has found any.

      Now, if hundreds celebrated and Trump said thousands, he could be said to be exaggerating. But he claimed to have seen thousands recorded on video. That is not an exaggeration, that is simply untrue.

      So, Trump is by far the biggest liar.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 30, 2015 at 10:00 am

  3. ronster12012 said, on November 30, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Michael

    ……………………………………………………..
    “While it might seem inconceivable that Trump really believes such an obvious untruth, it could very well be the case. ”
    ………………………………………………………

    Why exactly is it an ‘obvious’ untruth? I just don’t understand that. You have tens of thousands of third world moslems in your base for all your stuff. What would really be inconcievable would be that all of them would leave their loyalties at the border. Moslems celebrated the 911 attacks in other places around the world so why not in the US?

    Here’s one collection of opinion polls regarding moslems and their attitudes to terrorism.

    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/opinion-polls.htm

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      The obvious untruth is the claim that thousands of people celebrated the attack on 9/11 in New Jersey and Trump saw videos of this.

      • ronster12012 said, on December 2, 2015 at 10:51 am

        Michael

        I agree that the specific claim of having seen them is suspect.There is no reason to believe that the claim of thousands celebrating was incorrect, just the Trump claim to have seen it on TV.

        • WTP said, on December 2, 2015 at 11:28 am

          Rudy Giuliani, NYC mayor at the time:

          “We did have some celebrating, that is true,” Giuliani told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s “New Day.” “We had pockets of celebration some in Queens, some in Brooklyn — 10, 12, 30, 40” people.

          Perhaps Mike would like to contrast and compare the lying that Trump is guilty of with Hillary’s claims regarding videos causing Benghazi protests, landing in sniper fire in Bosnia, leaving the White House dead broke, being instrumental in the Northern Ireland peace process, vast right-wing conspiracies apparently capable of putting her husband’s spunk on blue dresses, etc. etc. etc. You’ll note, however that Mike’s Hillary link takes you to three whole articles that he’s written about her. Almost as many as he’s written about Ben Carson, for example.

          All of that is not to mention the insignificant lies of Chelsea jogging around the WTC on 9/11. Now obviously such is just a retelling/miscommunication/embellishment of something that really doesn’t matter. Similar to Trump as far as lies go.

          But either way, at this point what difference does any of this make? As Mike says, all politicians lie. They’re a lot like Clown Quarter college professors in that regard. College professors whose livelihood depends on lying politicians.

          • ronster12012 said, on December 2, 2015 at 11:47 am

            Hillary is still in the race I see, regardless of lying. Perhaps it is true that we get the politicians we deserve?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:16 pm

              We do indeed. That is the beauty of democracy.

            • ronster12012 said, on December 3, 2015 at 7:47 am

              Michael

              I think that all electorates prefer…and sometimes even demand to be lied to, as long as it’s the lie they want to hear.

              One trivial anecdote from a quarter of a century ago. In Oz during the early 1990’s recession we had as a Federal Treasurer a quite capable man but very blunt and honest(he was an ex wheat farmer). A reporter asked him when the recession was going to end, to which he replied, “your guess is as good as mine”. He was gone within a week…for the crime of telling the truth. People seemed to prefer a comforting lie than the truth, at least in this case.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:12 pm

          I would think that such a celebration would have been noticed and reported on. Unless the celebrations were done in hiding.

          • WTP said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:33 pm

            Eyewitness testimony is allowed as evidence in a court of law. But it doesn’t amount to one smidgen, “no evidence at all that the celebrations occurred”.

            You’re just bullshitting. No one here is buying your bullshit. So who are you bullshitting? Yourself. It’s self-abuse. Intellectual masturbation, if you will.

          • ronster12012 said, on December 3, 2015 at 7:40 am

            Michael

            At any one time there is enough ‘news’ to fill 1000 newspapers….so serious culling takes place each and every day everywhere in all media. Even for what is selected, a choice is made as to what goes on the frontpage and what goes on page 20.

            A news item can be binned for any number of reasons, one of which may well be an amorphous idea of social cohesion. That would be enough to relegate a minor news item to the bin, especially if the editor concerned thought that there may be any blowback against him personally.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 4, 2015 at 1:31 pm

              Would you claim that there were people filmed celebrating and all the professional media organizations, including Fox, just said “hey, that is not news. Bin it!”

            • ronster12012 said, on December 4, 2015 at 2:21 pm

              Michael

              How many news organizations ran the ‘Five dancing Israelis’ on the front page….Israelis that later said that they had been sent to document the event, thereby indicating foreknowledge, and inviting more public knowledge and more investigation as to further Israeli involvement in 911…….not many to none is my guess.
              Similar process.

              The media is, after all, part entertainment and part propaganda.

  4. TJB said, on November 30, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Mike, do you really believe that *no* US-based Muslims celebrated after the 9/11 attacks?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 1, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      Nothing in what I wrote entails that I believe that. I would, in fact, bet that more than zero did. However, Trump claimed that thousands did (he also said hundreds at another time) and this celebration was recorded and shown. He is clearly saying what is not true.

      • T. J. Babson said, on December 2, 2015 at 11:09 am

        You did write this:

        Is there any evidence at all that the celebrations occurred? No one else has found any.

        • WTP said, on December 2, 2015 at 12:19 pm

          Nothing in what I wrote entails that I believe that.

          Interesting wording. The non-denial denial. It’s almost like he learned his trade sitting at HRC’s knee. Note I said “like”, lest Mike grow half of a pair and engage on the subject and take what I said literally. Which is OK for him to do but let you quote him directly and he can deny he said any such thing himself.

          It’s all bullshit, TJ.

          • TJB said, on December 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm

            I would think that the contemporaneous newspaper account that you cited would count as evidence of at least some celebrations occurring, but apparently Mike doesn’t see it that way.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:19 pm

              The newspaper articles say, essentially, that there were reports of alleged celebrations. That is evidence that people claimed there was, but not evidence there was.

            • TJB said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm

              You are confusing “evidence” with “conclusive proof.” The newspaper account is evidence but not proof.

          • TJB said, on December 2, 2015 at 12:48 pm

            It always kills me that Mike pretends to go through a deep philosophical analysis, and then ends up with something indistinguishable from DNC talking points.

            • TJB said, on December 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm

              I’m exaggerating–but only a little!

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm

              How so?

            • WTP said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:34 pm

              For once I agree with Mike. I don’t think you’re exaggerating at all. 😉

  5. TJB said, on December 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I would like to focus on how often people seem to mis-remember what they have seen in video form. What seems to happen is that the video creates a strong emotion, and that the emotion is what people remember more than the details.

    It seems that video is almost ideally suited to short-circuit critical thinking.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 2, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      That is an excellent point. If Trump had made the remark and then, after doing some research, said “hell, I was wrong”, then I’d say “been there myself, Donald. Let’s move on.” But he has doubled down on a claim that he must know is untrue.

      To be fair to Trump, such an admission of error would have probably cost him far more than just doubling down. So, he is following the pragmatic strategy that is rewarding him.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 2, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    What Donald Trump might have seen on 9/11. Hint: Not ‘cheering’ Arabs http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2015/11/22/what-donald-trump-might-have-seen-on-911-hint-it-wasnt-cheering-arabs/

    9-11 Cop Who Arrested Dancing Israelis Speaks https://youtu.be/0-B2J7tp8eg

  7. WTP said, on December 2, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Via Ace of Spades:

    A couple of other questions:

    “You go down to Miami, and when it’s flooding at high tide on a sunny day fish are swimming through the middle of the streets,” he said at one point. As if this were some kind of evidence that high tides or flooding are somehow caused by global warming.
    Never mind that a) the argument makes no sense; and b) local media refuted the canard.

    But President Obama’s fevers went well beyond global warming hysteria.

    Will the media go into vindictive, tendentiously partisan “fact” checking mode over Obama’s casual passing of the mythologies of his own political religion?

    No, of course, they will not. That’s a service they only provide to Republicans.

    And what of his lunatic claim that mass shootings only happen in America, a claim made in Paris just a week and a half after the worst mass shooting to ever occur in that country?

    Here’s how the New York Times covers that — by omitting it completely from the record:


    Mr. Obama, speaking in France, where he was taking part in international talks on climate change, said, “I will continue to present those things that I can do administratively, but in the end of the day, Congress, states, local governments are going to have to act in order to make sure that we’re preventing people who are deranged or have violent tendencies from getting weapons that can magnify the damage that they do.”

    He noted that such assaults, and gun killings in general, were far more common in the United States than in other developed countries. “We devote enormous resources, and properly so,” to fighting terrorism, he said, “and yet, in the United States, we have the power to do more to prevent what is just a regular process of gun homicides that is unequaled by multiples of five, six, 10.”

    http://ace.mu.nu/archives/360359.php

    • WTP said, on December 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

      From the same article:

      See how it works? Each time their narrative is undermined, they simply reframe the argument to avoid the appearance that they’ve had to concede anything.

      Does this sound familiar to anyone?

      • WTP said, on December 3, 2015 at 10:01 am

        Damn…the above was a reply to something I had just posted, not the Ace Of Spaces article….This from Sharyl Atkinson:

        One news outlet dubbed Trump “the post truth 2016 candidate,” lifting a propaganda phrase passed along by the usual suspects. If one didn’t know better, one might think Hillary Clinton’s supporters among propagandists, astroturfers and the news media know she polls weakest when it comes to honesty, so they’re on a mission to reduce her strongest Republican competition to equal footing.

        If voters can be convinced that Trump and Ben Carson are liars, then those candidates are less likely to attack Clinton’s own dubious relationship with the truth…

        It may not be a conscious thought on the part of some reporters; more of a reflexive response. Maybe they constitute the post truth news media.

        https://sharylattkisson.com/the-post-truth-news-media/

        As I said previously, this could apply to the Clown Quarter of academia as well.

        • TJB said, on December 3, 2015 at 4:30 pm

          Sharyl Attkisson tried to cover Obama the same way she covered Bush and was fired for it.

          Her post is a good model of intellectual integrity, BTW.


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