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Truth is Superman, Donald Trump is Kryptonite

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Donald Trump has said things in this presidential campaign season - and before - that are truly, madly, deeply not true. His critics have shown that these statements attest to a) his cynical willingness to lie, even beyond the normal bounds of political lying; b) his reckless disregard of reality; or c) his shocking level of ignorance. It's not clear which characterization is the worst. Any one of them casts grave doubt, to put it euphemistically, on his fitness to be president. But it hasn't reflected in his poll numbers, at least not yet.

Here is another, separate mystery: Trump has said things in this presidential campaign season that are clearly and profoundly offensive to Americans' core beliefs - severely undercutting religious tolerance, respect for fellow citizens and equality before the law. Any of these offenses should - you'd think - cause a scandal and read Trump out of decent political discourse. Yet it hasn't mattered more than marginally to his rhetoric or his supporters' loyalty, at least not yet.

To say that Trump is Teflon when it comes to this behavior of his and the impotence of his critics is to understate by orders of magnitude what's happening here. We're not talking Teflon, we're talking Kryptonite.

You remember: Even though Superman can see through all other materials, he can't see through Kryptonite. And when he comes within field-force distance of Kryptonite, he gets weak.

At the risk of overdoing the symbolism, the lesson is that the former is more important than the latter. It's because Superman can't see what's behind the Kryptonite that he becomes weak in its presence. If you can't see it - if you don't know what it is - then you can't figure out how to fight it. The failure to see causes the incapacity to act.

Anyway. So far, Trump's critics have seemed too angry to be able to see what's behind his seeming imperviousness to them. But there is no making sense of the Trump phenomenon, let alone figuring out a plausible strategy for addressing it, unless you stifle your outrage long enough to examine it with dispassion.

This is not just a question of who's right and who's wrong on particular political issues. The problem is that there is very little in the establishment - not just Democrats but corporate Republicans, let alone Wall Street Republicans - that pays respect to, or even reflects at all, the concerns and world view of voters who are more - choose your word - conservative, religious, parochial, Main Street, rural, fearful, economically insecure, salt-of-the-earth, local, Wal-Mart, above-ground pool, bridge-and-tunnel, non-calorie-counters, drinkers of sugary sodas . . . .

The gap is so wide that it is no longer enough to talk about different parties or ideologies. It's almost as if there were two alternate universes of political discourse.

When a critic from Universe A states that a lie was told by an avatar of Universe B, the population of Universe A says that a lie was told - and the population of Universe B says that the sound emitted by the critic from Universe A is just a bleat from an ox that's just been gored.

Universe A says it's a fact that a given massacre wouldn't have taken place without the availability of guns. Universe B hears nothing except the fact that Universe A wants to take its guns away. Universe A says it's a fact that immigrants contribute more to U.S. society than they take from it. All that Universe B hears is the establishment campaigning for continued access to cheap labor.

There is no interpenetration of truths.

There are different theories about how the gap in perceptions - not just of opinions but of facts themselves - got so wide. Some people say it's all the fault of Fox News - highly unlikely, though Fox benefits from that gap handily. Others say the problem goes back to the Vietnam War, when antiwar protesters concluded that the received truth about the war - received from the government, that is - was a lie. One man's facts were another man's propaganda.

Then again, it may be that the gap was never so narrow as it looks in retrospect.

Consider, there is this quote attributed to Senator Daniel P Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinions - but not to his own facts." Say, for example, that the unemployment rate is 10%. You may think it's too high or too low, but you can't deny the 10%.

The quote seems to recall an era in which you could, indeed, win a political argument by appealing to facts on which everyone was forced to agree.

I remember, though, Moynihan's first Democratic primary campaign for the Senate, in 1976. The country's unemployment rate then hovered between 7% and 8%. The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act, known as the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, was making its way through Congress, instructing President Gerald Ford that by 1983, the unemployment rate for individuals aged 20 or more had to be no more than 3 percent. Signing on to Humphrey-Hawkins seemed to be totally necessary if you wanted to get the Democratic Senate nomination.

Moynihan said he was going to support Humphrey-Hawkins. I was then his campaign's issues director and grossly naïve. How, I asked him, can you honestly say that it's possible for the government to get the unemployment rate down to 3 percent?

He looked at me, paused for a beat, then said, "Three percent is what we have."

In other words, even if the Bureau of Labor Statistics declared a 7-to-8% unemployment rate, the "real" unemployment rate - made up of people who were capable of working, wanted to work, and couldn't find work - was less than half that number.

You weren't entitled to your own facts - but you could develop your own elegant and serpentine interpretation of the facts. In that sense, maybe the distance between then and now not so vast after all.

Still, there remains a qualitative difference between straining to make the facts fit your deeper realities and just plain not giving a damn about what the establishment's facts appear to be. The latter situation is what we face now. Does the establishment say there were no crowds cheering 9/11 from the rooftops of Jersey City? Well, the establishment is just covering up those crowds. It might even have absconded with the videotapes.

If Watergate was a cancer on the presidency, this open chasm of disregard is a cancer - that is not too strong a word - on the American political organism.

In fact, it is not too much to say that the candidacy of Trump has - brace yourself - done an immense favor for people who care about the future of American democracy.

He has put us face-to-face with a foundational fact about representative democracy: Even if you hold groups of your fellow-citizens in contempt, it is dangerous to behave as if you do.

If you don't preserve elements of a common language and a common frame of reference, you will lose the ability to persuade them that they are hearing a lie.

And, in the end, they may have the votes.

Trump may still destroy himself politically. The Republican Party may figure out how to keep him from getting the nomination. He may run as a third party candidate, handing the presidency to Hillary Clinton. Any of these events would keep us from having to face the worst consequences of the problem that his candidacy has exposed.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

9 Comments
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The main problem with the article is that it focuses on Trump instead of the GOP as a whole. Let's face it: Trump is a result, not a cause, of the increasingly wide divorce between the GOP and reality. Proof is that his primary competitors have essentially the same positions as he. Global warming? - Not happening. Wage gap? - Right to work laws and no increase in the minimum wage. Budget deficit? - Cut taxes. Terrorism? - Military solution. Trump may be a bit less, how shall we say, elegant in the way he expresses these ideas, but they are part and parcel of the current GOP brand; whichever candidate you choose, the results will not vary.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

When people speak about how a Trump presidency would be a disaster for America, I think they've forgotten how much of an idiot Ronald Reagan actually was. While Trump has said alot of stupid things, just imagine if Ronald Reagan had had a Twitter account. I think alot of the things people said about Reagan are so similar to Trump that they are worthwhile repeating to get a historical perspective.

"They told stories about how inattentive and inept the President was.... They said he wouldn't come to work--all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence."

-Jim Cannon

"Reagan's only contribution throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he'd watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from WarGames, the movie. That was his only contribution."

-Lee Hamilton

"an amiable dunce"

-Clark Clifford (former Defense Secretary)

"What planet is he living on?"

-Francois Mitterand talking to Pierre Trudeau

"Poor dear, there's nothing between his ears."

-Margaret Thatcher

"Ronald Reagan is the first modern President whose contempt for the facts is treated as a charming idiosyncrasy."

-James David Barber

5 ( +5 / -0 )

At the risk of overdoing the symbolism...

Let's see: Superman, Kryptonite, gun massacres, cancer.. Yup! You way overdid it.

Gawd, lady, Trump bash much? LOL!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

LagunaDEC. 18, 2015 - 01:10PM JST The main problem with the article is that it focuses on Trump instead of the GOP as a whole. Let's face it: Trump is a result, not a cause, of the increasingly wide divorce between the GOP and reality.

Yes. It's very sad more people don't see this. Karl Rove went into the Obama years explicitly stating his strategy was to make the public mad. Republicans openly admitted their only idea for trying to defeat Obama was to try to stop him from accomplishing anything, so they could blame the failure on him. Now you've got an electorate where a sizable chunk has been trained over the last 8 years to be angry, to ignore facts, and to blame whoever looks different for everything that makes them angry instead of looking at the choices people make.

Trump isn't stupid. He's just figured out that appealing to the angry idiots in the electorate is going to get him attention.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I'm not against him or advocate him. You will choose how mad/crazy can be Trump to not advocate Illegal Immigration, deport Illegals and open application around the world to apply H-B1 to replace illegals? Or wanna eradicate ISIS? Or maybe not permit the entrance of Islamic people who has "issues" not just in America around the world how badly/unnecessary will be a country without them? Or wanna some modifications tax cuts to bring companies back to America? Or keep Medicare and Social Security intact?

You'll choose if he don't deserve to be president or not and what the other candidates can offer better or worse and than Donald proposal to America.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Maybe it's the wine, but I had trouble following this article. I get he it was anti-Trump, but it was all over the place. Superman, kryptonite, universe A, universe B, Daniel Moynihan.... I want whatever she's smoking.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

For "Kryptonite" against the "Truth", the political left need only rummage in-house for yuuuge Pinocchios.

** Lie of the Year: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," President Barack Obama

** AP news article: Not only did Clinton blame the attack on a video "offensive" to Islam, the Obama administration and the State Department purchased $80,000 worth of commercial airtime in Pakistan apologizing for the video.

People are simply sick and tired of the political class. So who can blame millions of Americans, many counting among the 100 million or so out of the labor force, to resonate with someone who has the chutzpah to call a spade for what it is.

You can say that Trump may well prove to be the antidote, the "Kryptonite" as you say, - against the entire demagogic political establishment and their enablers in the mainstream media.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Trump might be way over the top..and his ideas WAAAY too far, but he does have a point with many of his main goals. He wants to stop terrorism at the source- good. He is willing to step on toes to do it- good. Willing to force all Muslims to carry ID- bad.

...I just wonder if it's all an elaborate bait and switch- you know, ask mom for 50 bucks, so when she says no you scale it down to your actual target of, say, $25. If you had asked for $25 from the start, she might not have given it up.

Trump certainly acts the fool-and he very well may be- but I am interested to see how he will play out the next few months.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Truth is as foreign in politics as snow in hell, so the headline of the article could be equally applied to every other candidate running. Gitmo is still open, who promised to close it after he was elected? Who promised before his healthcare law was passed that people could keep their doctors, and that the cost of their insurance would not increase? A certain female candidate who was married to Bill Clinton gave a stirring speech about Saddam's WMD before voting for Bush's war in Iraq, did she tell the truth?

Politician = liar as much as 1+1=2.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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