Intent

A great oldie from the Castaways is a good theme for this post.

As a follow-up to my previous post speculating on the effect of dishonest President, here’s a little more speculation on the difference between lying and simply being misinformed.

The difference in a word is intent.

The liar knows that they are lying.

It is also possible to spread lies unintentionally.

Here are a couple of examples of that.

People who are ill informed believe what they are saying is true, but that belief is based on inaccurate information.

People who are delusional believe that what they are saying is true, just like those who are ill informed. The difference is those who are suffering from delusion are unable to discern the difference between fact and fiction. That may be because of some illness or disability that is affecting their capacity to make rational judgments.

The way that you tell the difference between the two is how they react to learning that their previous statement isn’t supported by the facts. The ill-informed person will reconsider their statement based on new facts. The delusional person will continue lie because they are either unable or unwilling to accept the fact that what they are saying is not supported by the facts.

Within this context, let’s examine Trump’s behavior.

We start with the basic fact that he and his administration produce statements that are contradicted by the facts at a volume and rate unprecedented in the history of our country. He also repeats these statements long after the error of those statements has been widely documented. You can choose to argue around the margins of some of these claims but the shear volume of material makes it difficult to avoid the obvious. This administration can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Here’s a link to discussion by CNN’s Brian Stelter where he goes through the challenge of parsing each of the statements that come from this administration.

While this discussion is interesting, I’m less concerned about how many of the President’s statements are distortions versus how many are lies. This is not a discussion of degree. This is a discussion of intent.

The second point before we go further in this discussion is something that Trump told Leslie Stahl. While this conversation was off the record, Trump has not disputed it. Since he disputes pretty much everything that is either printed or broadcast that he feels is negative, I think it safe to assume that Leslie Stahl quoted him accurately.

President Donald Trump told the veteran journalist Lesley Stahl of the CBS program “60 Minutes” that he bashes the press to “demean” and “discredit” reporters so that the public will not believe “negative stories” about him, Stahl said.

Why this is important is that it speaks to intent. Let’s parse this statement. First he says that his attacks on the trustworthiness of the press are intentional. Second, the attacks are in reaction to reporting that he perceives as negative. Third, he purposefully attempts to erode the trust of the public in those reporters that criticize him and the publications that publish those stories as punishment.

There was nothing in this statement about facts.

There was nothing in this statement about accountability.

“And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'”

His only purpose is to punish those who write negative stories about him and make it more difficult for those who might consider writing negative stories about him the future.

It is possible that he believes that he is perfect. As a result, any criticism of his actions by definition had to be a malicious lie. If true, that in itself is evidence of a dangerous delusion which we will try to dig into. If not, he just doesn’t like being criticized and has determined that he is going to use the vast power of his office to punish and undermine anyone who criticizes him. That is authoritarianism.

The Phantom Spokesman
The facts in this case are pretty simple. Trump objected to a NYT article regarding the potential rescheduling of a US NK meeting. Specifically he was upset regarding this part of the article.

“a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

Here’s what he tweeted.

The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.

The problem with all of this is that the “senior White House official” was in fact someone that the White House made available to a pool of reporters to provide background on the quickly changing situation in NK. The meeting, organized by the White House, included 50 reporters in the briefing room and another 200 on the phone.

According to the NYT, the White House was the one who declined to make the name of the person giving the briefing public. They were the ones who provided the term “senior White House official”.

If there was any question of whether this briefing took place, beyond the testimony of all of the journalists who participated, Politifact includes a tweet from a NY Magazine and Huffpost journalist who happened to record the first minute or so of the briefing by accident. Matthew Pottinger is introduced in the audio. He’s the one who provided the briefing. He is the NSC’s senior director for Asian affairs. So it makes sense that he would be someone the White House would trot out to talk about NK.

Trump was clearly wrong.

We don’t know whether he was misinformed, delusional, or malicious. Using our gauge, however, there has been no admission from the White House that Trump was unaware of the briefing and as a result was simply misinformed. That leaves delusional or malicious.

Here’s why those are the only choices. If he only became aware of the briefing AFTER his tweet and then chose NOT to retract that tweet, he has now become malicious. He is taking advantage of the situation to continue his attack on the press even though he KNOWS that it is based on false information.

If he WAS aware of the briefing BEFORE his tweet, then he is certainly being malicious and this is a lie. It is possible that the White House setup this briefing for the purpose of providing another opportunity for Trump to continue his attack on the press. Politifact called this statement Pants on Fire. Their worst rating.

The ONLY OTHER choice is that he is delusional which is also dangerous a possibility.

Revisionist History
When he first fired James Comey, Trump claimed that a memo by the deputy AG criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation was the reason. That excuse lasted about a day. Then Trump told Russians and later Lester Holt on national TV that he fired Comey because he was unwilling to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn. That claim was supported by Comey in his congressional testimony, his notes, and his book. It was also recently supported by memos that Deputy Director McCabe released.

Yet on May 31st, Trump tweeted.

Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!

Let’s go through our analysis again.

Could this be a case of being misinformed? Hardly. Trump himself has said on multiple occasions both in public and private that Comey’s Russian investigation figured into his decision to fire Comey. No information from any reliable source has disputed this claim.

That leaves us with malicious or delusional.

If it is malicious, it is the same argument as the previous situation. It is clearly a lie and the liar is simply following a strategy that he has already shared with the public. He will lie to undermine the credibility of the press in the minds of the public.

At the risk of putting a finer point on it, Trump’s own attorney Giuliani has admitted that they are actively engaged in a campaign to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation too. As a result, they continue to spread lies about that investigation as well.

Or he is delusional. He simply doesn’t remember what he has said in the past and has convinced himself that whatever has been written in the press about his past statements was a fabrication.

Conclusion
Hopefully you can appreciate the challenge that an untrustworthy executive branch presents to our democracy. If not, here’s a brief summary from my previous post.

We don’t know whether the President is intentional or delusional. What we do know is that he is abusing his power to discredit the press and the justice department. If that is the result of intention, as he suggested to Leslie Stahl, then he is a dangerous man following an authoritarian playbook. If it is delusion that is the result of some early stage dementia, he is also dangerous for different reasons. He really does believe what he is saying because his recollection of past and his grasp of the present is damaged. That makes him unreliable, unstable, and incapable of responsibly doing the job that he was elected to do.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Neither choice is good for democracy. But under normal circumstances, the other branches of government should check an executive who is abusing his power or is suffering from diminished mental capacity.

This has become a dangerous situation because the Republican controlled Congress and the leaders in the Republican party have been unwilling to provide a check on either a malicious or mentally ill President.

We had a similar situation in waning years of Reagan’s second term. You can see in the Iran Contra hearings that he was suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Even though Democrats had control of the House during both of Reagan’s terms, voters also turned the Senate over the Democrats in the last two years of Reagan’s second term because of concerns over his ability to govern.

What does that mean?
It means that when the President says that the NYT FALSELY reported information that came from a White House briefing, leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he is wrong and needs to set the record straight for the integrity of the office and the good of the country.

It means that when the President says that he NEVER said that the Russian investigation figured in his decision to fire Comey, that leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he DID in fact say exactly that in private and in public. As a result it is his responsibility for the good of the country and the integrity of the office to own his past statements rather than claim that they were falsely reported.

What are we going to do?
The only thing that we CAN do is to encourage everyone with a shred of conscience and patriotism to vote for a Democrat this next election cycle. It’s not because of policy or platform. It is also not because I think that Trump should be impeached. It’s because the ONLY way to prevent further damage to the fabric of our democracy is for that democracy to register a vote of no confidence in this president and the Republican Party that supports him. That vote will place control of at least one house of Congress in the hands of Democrats. It doesn’t matter whether or not they have enough votes to pass anything. It only matters that Democrats CAN be trusted to serve as a check on the executive branch until the country has a chance to vote for the next president.

I’ll close with Thomas Friedman who is not a liberal and very much a free marketer.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

In the end, I don’t want to see Trump impeached, unless there is overwhelming evidence. I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.

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