Why the lies

Thanks to ohwilleke for directing me to this terrific Tyler Cowen column on Trump’s lies:

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members…

Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded. The lie needs to be understood as more than just the lie. For one thing, a lot of Americans, especially many Trump supporters, are more comfortable with that style than with the “fancier” lies they believe they are hearing from the establishment. For another, joining the Trump coalition has been made costlier for marginal outsiders and ignoring the Trump coalition is now less likely for committed opponents. In other words, the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.

These lower-status lies are also a short-run strategy. They represent a belief that a lot can be pushed through fairly quickly, bundled with some obfuscation of the truth, and that long-term credibility does not need to be maintained. Once we get past blaming Trump for various misdeeds, it’s worth taking a moment to admit we should be scared he might be right about that.

So the overall picture is this: The Trump administration trusts neither its own appointees nor its own supporters, and is creating a situation where that lack of trust is reciprocal. That is of all things a strategy for getting things done, and these first one hundred days are going to be a doozy.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Why the lies

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Lies imply an intent to deceive. I’m not so sure these “lies” are not actually delusions.
    He chooses Alex Jones, the father of conspiracy theories, to learn the “news”. He finds this “inside knowledge” more believable than established news sources. It give some people a sense of power to “know” things that are not known to the general public and to spread that “news” to save the public.

    • itchy says:

      Yes. He’s gullible and easily manipulated.

      I think this Cowen article gives the implication that Trump is more calculating than the intellectual and emotional toddler he really is. It may be true that forcing your subordinates to lie has all these effects. But the cause could as likely be a criminal mastermind as an emotionally stunted, bullying, big brother.

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