President-Elect Donald Trump does not speak in a normal way. Everybody noticed that, supporter and enemy alike. But I think that most people misinterpreted his modus operandi. They assumed his “plain spoken” outbursts were evidence of an earnest person merely speaking his mind, from the normal, common sense, everyday standpoint.
That could hardly be further from the truth.
Indeed, it is his relationship with the truth that interests me most. I do not think — perhaps have never thought — that the things he has said were, are, or will be attempts at the truth.
Instead, anything he says must be interpreted as a gambit in some sort of negotiation. He is a negotiator, he says — yes. And that means he is not truthful but manipulative, speaking to change others’ behavior.
Normal people tend to look at speech as primarily a series of truth-statements or lie-statements. Trump, on the other hand, does not. He speaks to get effects, and always has done so. He uses the appearance of truth the better to set up others to do what he wants.
This is why he is proceeding to turn back on many of his promises, already. Before being sworn in.
They were never promises. They never had truth-value. They were manipulative efforts. I’d say they were lies — and technically, they were and are — but when a person does not care about the truth, then the word “lie” barely applies. I am not even sure he knows what the truth is. Truth is surely not an idealized concept for him. He sees utterances as having utility, but truth-value — which is, if not another thing altogether, is another thing in part — well, no.
Trump is more a bullshitter. A fantasist, or fabulist. He is a salesman who buys his own pitch, and must, since it all comes down to selling himself. And he is and always has been more fictional than real. He is a personal contstruct resting on carefully manipulated social constructs. He is a sociopath who “displays” as a common sense “get ’r done” kind of guy. That is, he is . . . a base rhetorician.
I repeat: I believe nearly everybody, for and against, has been fooled by the man — because they have judged his statements in something like the normal framework of speech. But his speech must be seen primarily as “speech acts.” This is a man deeply orthogonal to the normal standpoint. And we must judge him, now, primarily by whether we like what he manages to accomplish, not by such apparently crude standards as truthfulness . . . or any other virtue, for that matter. Except prudence. The standard is what he accomplishes. Not what he said he was going to do, not what his followers wanted him to do, not what his opponents wanted him to do. His efforts must be judged by their actual intentions.
Which is hard to do, since we cannot rely upon his own report of his intentions. So, as we judge his acts, we must, as best we can, speculate on his real motivation.
This is what American politics has come to.