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Bullshit Artists August 10, 2016

Politics and truth have never been known to make for ideal bedfellows. In fact, to stretch the point, their happenstance would be incestuous to say the least.

To put that into the context of the current political campaigns in the US, independent fact checking websites like PolitiFact found that 27 percent of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s statements are false, whereas nearly 70 percent of those of the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump are patently false. Even in knee jerk reactions, Clinton’s falsities ranged at two percent while those of Trump’s were at 19 percent.

So just as there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists, but only terrorists, there are no good or bad politicians, only Bullshit Artists.

A few days ago, thanks to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, I found legitimacy in the term “Bullshit Artist”. Zakaria used it to characterize Trump, referring to the much ridiculed billionnaire’s capacity for lying through his teeth – lies that come more from absolute ignorance, machismo and pigheadedness than from a tendency to hide the truth. Trump simply does not know any better, that’s all. And hence a bullshit artist.

I myself could use the term Bullshit Artist to describe many an acquaintance among journalists, whom old school scribes used to euphemistically call ‘kite flyers’. But theorizing the larger sense of the term was Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and Princeton professor who talked about ‘Bullshit’ as an ignorant act of impunity, as against outright lying, which implies knowledge of the truth.

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about,” Frankfurt wrote in his 1986 essay, ‘On Bullshit’. “Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.” While that sentence reads as though it was written yesterday specifically for Trump, the very opening statement of Frankfurt’s essay insinuates that we are all in on it, willfully or not. “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,” Frankfurt had said.

So in all fairness to Trump, we can use bullshit to explain away Hillary Clinton and the reluctance of a sizeable number of American voters to trust her sincerity. Interestingly, Frankfurt’s concludes essay saying: “…. sincerity itself is bullshit.”

So what we are left with in this election cycle is a consolatory acceptance of the lesser evil that is Hillary Clinton, or in this context, tolerate the lightness of her bullshit.

I have my own take on bullshit when it comes to taking a ‘Hill’side view. I wish to state upfront I am apolitical, irreligious and a citizen of the world.  And though I know you can’t win arguments that have been judged and declared void even before you have made them, I will go ahead and talk anyway about Khizr Khan. Khan has become a darling of the liberal media since his speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he unequivocally challenged Trump’s inability to sacrifice anything.

Don’t we all know that electoral politics are all about drama and rhetoric? One can actually visualize a campaign strategist coming up with a trump (pun unintended) card speaker that is intended as a bait and challenge for the rival candidate to take on, and at the end of the day when everyone has gone home with the new President enthroned in the White House, writing a book about it. Khizr Khan is just one such strategy prop.

This father of the Pakistani-American soldier (respect) who died during combat in Iraq in 2004, was the ace up Hillary Clinton’s sleeve during the Democratic convention.

Forget Trump for a moment for missing the hyperbole of the immigrant+Muslim+slain soldier drama, and consider the view which sees Khizr Khan as a prop that was clichéd, if not ironical. My question to this honorable man with the Pakistani roots is whether he would stand at a public podium in the land of his origin and stab a finger at Islamic leaders for indirectly causing the death of his son who died fighting terror which is actively abetted by Pakistan – a country which also sheltered Osama bin Laden who set off the events leading up to the war in Iraq.

I don’t think so. Well, sorry Hill-siders, this particular liberal trick, even if true, was pure bullshit according to me.

Anyway, coming back to Trump, I am tempted to pick some more from Frankfurt’s essay because it is so darn appropriate. The eminent academic wrote: “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” Frankfurt further wrote. “… the bullshitter is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are …  except when he can get away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

I have been hearing murmurs, but to consider that Trump may opt out of the race at this stage would be wishful – no, farfetched thinking.

In a country where political opinion is influenced by late night television comedians and comediennes it would come as no surprise to Americans if Donald Trump were to wake up tomorrow and say: Hey you suckers, I am out of this stupid race for President. I was only proving a point to Rosie O’Donnell. So the joke is on you …”

The joke would indeed be cruelly on all of us if Trump does stay and go on to win the Presidency. Because scarily enough, it would mean that we are living amongst Americans who still live like frogs in the well thinking of themselves as superior to the rest of the world. And that, someone needs to tell the Trumpeteers, is a whole load of bullshit.

Srirekha Chakravarty