It certainly has been a brisk few weeks in the media. Rarely have so many column inches been devoted to whether the word “lie” can or should be used to describe the steady stream of bullshit coming out of a politician’s mouth. But since the politician in question is the president of the United States, and that president happens to be the popular-vote-loser Donald J. Trump, the question answers itself. There is simply no other word in English that captures the perfidy that issues forth daily from the fat man’s spewing maw.
Ah, but apparently there is. Dan Barry wrote a whole News Analysis column about it in the New York Times. He quoted a language expert from academia: the “‘language has a rich vocabulary for describing statements that fall short of the truth,’ said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information. ‘They’re “baseless,” they’re “bogus,” they’re “lies,” they’re “untruths.”’” Barry also drags in a journalism professor from Harvard: “‘This is the very unique situation that we find ourselves in as journalists and as a country,’ said Joshua Benton, the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. ‘We have an administration that seems to be asserting a right to its own facts and doesn’t seem to be able to produce evidence to back those claims.’”
In addition to pointing out that a situation cannot be “very unique” (it’s either one of a kind or it isn’t, and a Harvard professor ought to know that), I question the words “seems” and “seem.” This isn’t a matter of distinguishing between appearance and reality, the situation to which “seems” should be limited. (For instance, “Donald Trump seems to be saying something coherent sometimes, but in actual fact his pronouncements are always disjointed and confused, the crazed ramblings of a wacko.”) If you take away the obfuscation, what both Benton and Barry are saying is simple: President Trump is a sociopathic liar.
Barry returns to Nunberg for some more verbiage: “‘A whole vocabulary has come bubbling up that would not have been used five years ago,’ Mr. Nunberg said in an interview. ‘People are going to have to sit down and decide: Are we going to want to go over the moral consequences of telling an untruth? The mere fact of it being untrue? Or the fact that it’s bogus, baseless, or groundless?’”
Oh my aching dick! We are not going to “have to sit down and decide” anything of the sort! The distinction between “the mere fact of it being untrue” (and what’s that unnerving “mere” doing there?) and “the fact that it’s bogus, baseless, or groundless” is — not seems — quite minuscule. The president of the United States is a liar. Period. He lies constantly. Period. He is a craven, boldface liar, and his lies are multitude. And yet the best this Harvard schmegege can muster is an absurd parsing of the distinctions between “untrue,” “bogus,” “baseless,” and “groundless?”
We’ve heard the word “Orwellian” used extensively for the last week and a half to describe Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “alternative facts” meme, but the term “Orwellian” doesn’t begin to capture the comedy element of Kellyanne’s new locution. If George Orwell had written a Looney Tunes cartoon while tripping on acid, then maybe Trump’s blend of horror, farce, and meaninglessness would be Orwellian. As it is, Orwell’s great novel “1984” — which has skyrocketed to the top of the Times bestseller list since Kellyanne coined her terrifying term — doesn’t begin to describe the situation in which we find ourselves in 2017.
We presume that the people who run Oceania in “1984” are brilliant in a terrifying sort of way. Not so with the current White House crew. They’re little better than the Three Stooges multiplied by 7 or 8. (What’s up with Steve Bannon’s gin-blossomy complexion? Even W.C. Fields had better skin!) And for the next four years we’ll all be under their thumbs. Actually, it’s beginning to remind me of my favorite line from Woody Allen’s “Bananas”: “It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham!”
Hey, you gotta pull your laughs out of anywhere you can find them. As the great Abraham Lincoln once said, “I laugh because I must not have a complete howling nervous breakdown, that is all, that is all.”
Headline of the Week: From the Washington Post: “America might need to buy 25 billion avocados so Mexico could pay for the wall.” That works out to a measly 78 avocadoes per person — just one and half a week! And don’t tell me either that you don’t like avocadoes or that you might get bored with guacamole. Your lack of patriotism sickens me.