I wrote this after the inauguration, when it became clear that part of Trump’s strategy was to destroy any referential meaning of language. Not that I think it was his actual strategy at the level of cognitive awareness, as I’m certain at this point that he’s not smart enough to understand how language works.
Everything he does is intended to make it harder to know what is true and what is false, so there doesn’t have to be a pattern. A lie is as useful as the truth, but he will not prefer one to the other. The objective is confusion for the sake of power, not clarity. In this context, words are made powerful by making them meaningless, so repeating what he says, posting what he says, reporting what he says all contribute to the overall degradation of language and meaning.
That was January or February. I don’t want to scroll back through Facebook’s impossibly clunky navigation to find the specific date. At the time, it seemed clear that journalists were going to have to take a different tactic. I finished the above quote with this: “If he says something, report the truth without the lie.” I still think that’s important, but I didn’t count on one factor, and it’s the reason I’ve barely gotten anything written this month.
It’s the noise. Even good words get lost in this much noise. I know, because I’m trying to read good stuff, too, but the temptation is to say too much about what is happening, because thanks to his twitter and the circus that is his communications team, there is always something to say, and it’s not normal, day-to-day shit that needs to be said; it’s commentary on the absurd or the shocking or the vile or the bigoted. When the knob is always set to high, all language is functioning under too much pressure; we recoil from so much absurdity, and language that attempts to draw us back toward the truth is perceived as too much, overstated, exaggerated. We have already watched the degradation of truth in the context of Church and politics, such that now conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t be bothered to challenge any pronouncement, any executive order, any outrage because Trump is their guy—is God’s guy.
What happens now is the competing truth claims will be stripped of the necessity of being truthful, and in the place of truthiness, we will embrace an agenda of linguistic pragmatism. If the words get what I want done done, then they are “the truth.” I have no idea how long we’ll cling to notions of truth, as we no longer have even the simulacra of truthfulness in political discourse, and now that evangelicals are abandoning truth in religious discourse, we are going to inherit a strange, strange world where the “will to power” will trump truth (sorry). It’s the dark half of Nietzsche’s vision of a world devoid of gods, and in answer to the madman’s question of what we will put in God’s place, the answer, as Nietzsche knew, was power. I’m certain he wouldn’t even be surprised that the Church was leading the charge toward its own corruption, nor would Dostoevsky, who knew a Church joined to a state apparatus no longer needs a Christ. Power fills the vacuum left by an absent Messiah, but the noise comes first.