The Constitution of Knowledge | Jonathan Rauch – National Affairs

Jonathan Rauch

Fall 2018

“Long before Donald Trump began his political career, he explained his attitude toward truth with characteristic brazenness. In a 2004 television interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, he marveled at the Republicans’ successful attacks on the wartime heroism of Senator John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential candidate. “[I]t’s almost coming out that [George W.] Bush is a war hero and Kerry isn’t,” Trump said, admiringly. “I think that could be the greatest spin I’ve ever seen.” Matthews then asked about Vice President Dick Cheney’s insinuations that Kerry’s election would lead to a devastating attack on the United States. “Well,” replied Trump, “it’s a terrible statement unless he gets away with it.” With that extraordinary declaration, Trump showed himself to be an attentive student of disinformation and its operative principle: Reality is what you can get away with.

Trump’s command of the basic concept of disinformation offers some insight into how he approaches the truth as president. The fact is that President Trump lies not only prolifically and shamelessly, but in a different way than previous presidents and national politicians. They may spin the truth, bend it, or break it, but they pay homage to it and regard it as a boundary. Trump’s approach is entirely different. It was no coincidence that one of his first actions after taking the oath of office was to force his press secretary to tell a preposterous lie about the size of the inaugural crowd. The intention was not to deceive anyone on the particular question of crowd size. The president sought to put the press and public on notice that he intended to bully his staff, bully the media, and bully the truth.

In case anyone missed the point, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, made it clear a few weeks later when he announced favorable employment statistics. In the Obama years, Trump had been fond of describing monthly jobs reports as “phony” and “totally fiction.” But now? “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly,” Spicer said. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” The president was not saying that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had improved its methodology. He was asserting that truth and falsehood were subject to his will.

Since then, such lies have only multiplied. Fact checkers say that, if anything, the rate has increased. For the president and his enablers, the lying reflects a strategy, not merely a character flaw or pathology.

America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. “These are truly uncharted waters for the country,” wrote Michael Hayden, former CIA director, in the Washington Post in April. “We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” To make the point another way: Trump and his troll armies seek to undermine the constitution of knowledge.”    . . . .

Source: The Constitution of Knowledge | National Affairs

Opinion | The Welfare State Is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It. – The New York Times

David Brooks

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

A ferry crossing the Mersey River at Liverpool, England.CreditCreditAndrea Bruce for The New York Times

“Ella is a British woman who grew up in a broken home and was abused by her stepdad. Her eldest son got thrown out of school and ended up sitting around the house drinking. By the time her daughter was 16, she was pregnant and had an eating disorder. Ella, though in her mid-30s, had never had a real job. Life was a series of endless crises — temper tantrums, broken washing machines, her son banging his head against the walls.

Every time the family came into contact with the authorities, another caseworker was brought in to provide a sliver of help. An astonishing 73 professionals spread across 20 different agencies and departments got involved with this family. Nobody had ever sat down with them to devise a comprehensive way forward.

In her mind-shifting book, “Radical Help,” the British social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam tracks how one of the social workers in Ella’s case spent his days. Roughly 74 percent of his time was spent on administrative matters — recording data, making referrals to other agencies and meeting with other agencies. Only 14 percent of the social worker’s time was actually spent with the family he was meant to be serving. And that face-to-face time was mostly with a clipboard, checking off boxes on the forms that went back to central administration.

The administrative system around Ella and her family costs roughly 250,000 pounds per year.

Cottam asked the government workers involved in Ella’s case if they could recall a time when they’d transformed a family so it no longer needed government help. They couldn’t think of one.”

Opinion | A Nation of Weavers – by David Brooks – the New York Times

The top commenters shred this piece as off the wall, but they are poor listeners. David Brooks speaks deeply about underlying problems and solutions.

“On Dec. 7, 1941, countless Americans saw that their nation was in peril and walked into recruiting stations. We don’t have anything as dramatic as Pearl Harbor, but when 47,000 Americans kill themselves every year and 72,000 more die from drug addiction, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor? When the basic norms of decency, civility and truthfulness are under threat, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor? Aren’t we all called at moments like these to do something extra?

My something extra was starting something nine months ago at the Aspen Institute called Weave: The Social Fabric Project. The first core idea was that social isolation is the problem underlying a lot of our other problems. The second idea was that this problem is being solved by people around the country, at the local level, who are building community and weaving the social fabric. How can we learn from their example and nationalize their effect?”

Opinion | The Trump Legions – By Thomas B. Edsall- NYT

Thomas B. Edsall
By Thomas B. Edsall
Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Nov. 1, 2018, 98
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Thumbs up on President Trump in Murphysboro, Ill., last week.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

“When reporters asked President Trump last week if he bore any responsibility for the pipe bombs sent to many of his critics and adversaries, he declared his innocence:

“Not at all, no. There is no blame. There is no anything.”

At the same time, an Oct. 29 PRRI survey revealed that 69 percent of voters believe that Trump has “damaged the dignity of the presidency.”

Trump reinforced this public assessment in his answer to another question: Did he plan to phone any of the officials who had been targeted with bombs, including his predecessors in the White House, the Clintons and the Obamas? His reply:

“I think we’ll probably pass, thank you very much.”

These exchanges raise the same two questions that have been posed repeatedly during the Trump presidency:

How could this man have been elected to the highest office in the land? And how can Trump not only remain in office but, for the moment at least, appear to stand a reasonable chance of being renominated and even re-elected?

To get some answers to these questions, I turned to a 2018 paper by Ronald Inglehart and two fellow political scientists at the University of Michigan, as well as to a new book by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, who are political scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In “The Silent Revolution in Reverse: Trump and the Xenophobic Authoritarian Populist Parties,” Inglehart, Jon Miller and Logan Woods provide fresh insight on a subject to which Inglehart, at times writing with Pippa Norris of Harvard, has devoted much of his career: the ongoing tension between materialist and post-materialist values and the political consequences of that tension.”

Opinion | Congress Has No Clue What Americans Want – By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger and Leah C. Stokes – NYT

By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger and Leah C. Stokes
Mr. Hertel-Fernandez is an assistant professor of public affairs at Columbia University. Mr. Mildenberger and Ms. Stokes are assistant professors of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Oct. 31, 2018

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People on Capitol Hill are often in the dark as to what policies Americans support.CreditCreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
Whether the Democrats or the Republicans seize control of Congress after the midterms, you can be sure of one thing: They will have very little idea what laws the public actually wants them to act on.

The current Republican-controlled Congress is a good example. Its signature accomplishment is a tax-cut bill that hardly anyone likes or asked for and that is estimated to add about $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Only about 30 percent of Americans supported it — unlike the well over 70 percent of Americans who consistently support raising the minimum wage, background checks for gun sales and taking action on the climate crisis. Bills were actually proposed on these issues, but you would hardly know it; they were barely considered, and it goes without saying that none passed.

Congress doesn’t know what policies Americans support. We know that because we asked the most senior staff members in Congress — the people who help their bosses decide what bills to pursue and support — what they believed public opinion was in their district or state on a range of issues.