On Contact: Trump & the ‘permanent lie’
Chris Hedges talks to Mark Green, former New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner and Public Advocate, about the "permanent lie" used by US President Donald Trump to cancel out reality. Mark Green is co-author, with Ralph Nader, of "Fake President: Decoding Trump's gaslighting, corruption, and general bullsh*t."
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CH: Welcome to “On Contact.” Today, we discuss the nature of the permanent lie with author Mark Green.
MG: Another 20% did vote for him, traditional Republican, so if he can convince them that black is white or white is black according to how they are paid, to quote Jonathan Swift, he’s gotten it. So he doesn’t care about blue states, doesn’t care about you or me, doesn’t care about reality. So he will repeat and repeat a permanent lie, as Goebbels knew so well, as Mussolini knew so well. A permanent big lie to people who are 5-second voters--“Oh, yeah, that sounds good,” and then they go back to what they’re doing—enables him to overwhelm their love of family or their love of truth, because they believe Trump, even though the air is dirtier, the water is dirtier, the rich are getting epically richer while they in real dollar are getting poorer. They don’t understand that because they grab onto the life preserver of the permanent lie.
CH: Donald Trump, like all demagogues, engages in the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. Clinton—when he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement promised “NAFTA means jobs, American jobs, and good-paying American jobs.” George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Clinton did not continue to pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class, when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found. The permanent lie, however, is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. The iron refusal by those engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis. As Hannah Erendt wrote, “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we are taking our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.” Joining me to discuss the nature of the permanent lie and its danger to democracy is Mark Green, the former New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner and New York City public advocate, who, with Ralph Nader, wrote “Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullcrap.” I’m gonna substitute “Bullcrap” for the word you wrote, Mark. So you quite interestingly lay out the mechanics of the permanent lie at the beginning of the book, you know, how that permanent lie works, and I kind of just want to go through them. Let’s start with what you call the “Black Swan” fallacy or “Cherry Picking.” This phenomena of you write of spotting a black swan and then implying that all swans are black, what’s this about?
MG: Well, we have massive evidence against you. You have to search for one example. So Trump’s lied 18,000+times, according to the “Washington Post.” And all he has to do is say, “Oh, once Bill Clinton—once Barack Obama—this is true—said there were 57 states, so who are you to tell me that I don’t tell the truth?” Now, Obama said that late in the campaign trail. He knows there aren’t 57 states. And Obama’s a standard politician. He may puff, exaggerate to make his point, but he doesn’t, as you say, have a permanent lie that’s the crux of his candidacy or his presidency. And that’s a very good phrase. Thank you for it. We’ll steal it, as we will. It’s sort of like “Fake President.” That is, he is President, according to the 1787 Connecticut Compromise, which overweighted slave southern state in the electoral vote, and here we are 240 years later. He loses the popular vote, becomes President. But he’s fake in that he can’t tell the truth. He can’t do the job. Job is to console people during a pandemic. It’s too [audio cuts out]. It’s like if you asked me to high-jump 8 feet. I can high-jump 3 feet. I just couldn’t do it. He can’t do it because it’s so ingrained that he is a self-centered, narcissistic, malicious guy that everything goes through that prism. So, Chris, we don’t know each other well or not, but you’re—I’m almost scared to be on with you, with someone as smart as Nader. I usually don’t do that, but I’m making an exception for you. Someone says to me or you “The sky is blue.” We may look at it and see the sky is blue or red. We want empirical reinforcement. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is being the David Blaine, a master hypnotist, to about 25% of Americans are the fringe fourth. That’s an estimate that’s true of all Western society. People who are racist or ignorant believe “Well, slavery was good for the black people.” And there’s no—they’re irredeemable. Another 20% did vote for him traditional Republican, so if he can convince them that black is white or white is black according to how they are paid, to quote Jonathan Swift, he’s gotten it. So he doesn’t care about blue states, doesn’t care about you or me, doesn’t care about reality. So he will repeat and repeat a permanent lie, as Goebbels knew so well, as Mussolini knew so well. A permanent big lie to people who are 5-second voters--“Oh, yeah, that sounds good,” and then they go back to what they’re doing—enables him to overwhelm their love of family or their love of truth, because they believe Trump, even though the air is dirtier, the water is dirtier, the rich are getting epically richer while they in real dollar are getting poorer. They don’t understand that because they grab onto the life preserver of the permanent lie.
CH: But we should—you know, the power of the permanent lie is that it’s emotionally appealing, which is why people who engage in the permanent lie, as Trump does, will frequently contradict themselves, often within a 24-hour period. I want to just keep going through your kind of anatomy of the permanent lie. “Assertions & Adjectives.” Explain that idea.
MG: Well, the current press secretary does this all the time. Instead of evidence, like, “Oh, you say that voting by mail is inherently fraudulent. It could be fraudulent. Nothing is perfect. We drive cars, and we know there’s a .00001% chance we’ll die, but what’s your basis for that?” And she and Trump have no evidence, so they say, “It’s well-known that it’s a total fraud on voters in our democracy.” Really? And so Trump keeps saying, “Our performance has been great in the pandemic.” And then he’ll find “Oh, look, there was once a scenario out of a British epidemiologist that said if I don’t do anything, there’ll be 2.2 million people dying.” And let’s say that’s true. So that’s the black sheep. You take one example, you exaggerate it, you then self-proclaim… Muhammad Ali was the greatest, but Trump says, “I’m the greatest. I’m a success. I’m a great success.” And isn’t it easier to attach a fabulous adjective to you and what you’re saying than having to do what’s called scholarship—you know an article, footnotes. And a lot of people will believe the adjective rather than the fact.
CH: You talk about performance art as part of this permanent lie. You have that great quote by Ronald Reagan. “If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.” Talk about the nature of performance art as integral to the permanent lie.
MG: Well, it’s hard to know who the real Donald Trump is. By the way, I know him personally pretty well. I ran for mayor of New York City at a time where I was favored to win. So he gave me money, not because he loves me. He’s a transactional guy. And he now has adopted—of course, he adopted—Reagan adopted a persona as an actor. We get that. He adopted a persona as a tough, brilliant boss in “The Apprentice.” We get that. Now when he’s in public, his…his body language, his head nodding, his fake sincerity… “Black people—what do they have to lose?” His voice goes up. It’s a performance meant to dupe the credulous. And I find myself sometimes when he says something, I go, “Oh, really?” And then I remember, “Oh, wait a second. Mark, you who co-wrote ‘The Fake President’ with Ralph Nader, you’re a sucker.” For an instant, we all go for the visual sincerity. “If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.” And so, I couldn’t tell you when he says the 20th time, “I wrote the law that gave our military big pay increases.” Now 20 times, the “Washington Post” and Mr. Dale of the “Toronto Star” have said, “That’s a lie.” Obama wrote and signed the law that gave the military pay increases. So when he says that the 20th time after being told it’s a lie, is he insane? Is he pathological? Has he convinced himself? Or is he saying “What do I care what this … reporter says? I got a mic that’s a million times bigger. I’m just gonna say it.” So he’s performing for us, and it convinces a lot of people.
CH: Thanks. We’ll stop there, and we’ll come back after the break with Mark Green, the author of “Fake President” with Ralph Nader.
CH: Welcome back to “On Contact.” We continue our discussion of “Fake President:” with author Mark Green. So let’s move on to the next category of the permanent lie, which you call “the insult machine.” This is a daily phenomena for Trump. What is its role in the permanent lie?
MG: Well, he has a few approaches. We had in our book 21 tricks, like a magician has a trick, so you can spot when he’s doing it. And they all add up to lie, deny, blame, and berate. And like, “I’m as good as Tiger Woods in basketball.” He’s a greater athlete, but—so he’s great at golf, obviously, but it doesn’t transfer. Trump is a genius at instantly deploy—so he’s at a press conference answering questions. And whatever anybody says, he has the skill, having done this thousands of times--whether it’s real or not, doesn’t matter—to immediately “Oh, that didn’t happen.” “Oh, that’s not true.” “Oh, blame Carter.” “Oh, Nancy Pelosi is mentally unstable.” The “New York Times” did an aggregation of all these, and there are 500 people that he’s personally denounced with the megaphone, of course, of the White House ‘cause of our habit, and it’s really creating a problem, that when a President says something, that “Today’s a day of infamy” or “Voting by mail is fraudulent,” whether it’s true or not, it’s news ‘cause it comes out of his mouth. And so it’s hard to get around that because of his repetitive untruths. Oh, one second. You had also [audio cuts out] insult. You had asked about insults, forgive me. So…
MG: There are limits. Suppose he tweeted “Mark Green is overrated.” Could be true, could not be true. Who cares? When he doesn’t like Joe and Mika on “Inside Joe—“ “Coffee Joe in the Morning:” on MSNBC—
CH: “Morning Joe.”
MG: When he says of Mika and Joe on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, not “they’re overrated,” “they’re pretty,” “they’re not pretty,” but he says, implies, “Joe committed murder decades ago of a young woman in his office with whom he may have had an affair.” Now, if I said, “Donald Trump is a polygamist and a pervert who does men,” people would be outraged. I would have as much credibility—and I would be chased out of the public square for slander. He does that all the time, in effect. He crossed the line—crossed the line. He crosses every line. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s crossed the line. And when he said of “Morning Joe” that he—“Some people say he commits murder…” Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney said, “You’ve crossed the line. Cut it out.” And we’ll see, since he—part of his performance art is never apologize, which is odd. Who among us is perfect? But when you never apologize, you don’t learn. So if he makes a mistake—who doesn’t?—early on, he should have had earlier testing and masks. He said, “You know, the CDC, they don’t come better.” For months, he said, “You don’t need a mask. You know, they know more than I do, than you do. Now they say everyone should wear a mask to protect you from them and them from you. That was a mistake, and we’re gonna do better.” If you’re unteachable and you’re ignorant and you refuse to admit error, then there’s only one way he or society goes, and that’s downhill. And for 3 years, we’ve barely survived his willful lying or his self-delusion. Psychiatrists can figure out which. We’re now at a point where in our book, we said before the pandemic, you know, he wants to lie about his golf score, what the hell. But if he lies about life-and-death decisions, this country’s health and democracy will be at risk ‘cause who will believe him? Well, here we are now 100,000 deaths later, and Eugene Jerecki among others has posted an analysis that the best epidemiology experts have said that 2/3 of the 100,000 deaths would have been avoided if Trump had listened to the experts in February and March when he did nothing. When, if he reacted better, according to the scientific evidence, said, “Gee, we made a mistake,” 65,000 people who are not listening to us would be alive. Trump, by policy, murdered them. And so I tell you, I—I—yes.
CH: I want—
MG: Go ahead.
CH: I just want to move on. I mean, the one aspect—the thing about the insults is that it’s a form of dehumanization. I mean, you know, you look back on dictatorships of the past, and it’s a way—not only are you destroying the credibility of the person who’s attacking you, you are denying them their own humanity, as he did with the disabled “New York Times” reporter. But I just want to move on. You talk about the—you did, I think, mention about the unscientific method, but you also, you and Ralph, have this category called “upside-downism—no, you’re the puppet.” Explain what that is.
MG: Well, we use the phrase “projection”--I don’t know if that’s the right psychological phrase--where if you’re Willie Sutton, you go, “Me? 20 people out there are the bank robbers, not me.” And so, he’s constantly saying, Pelosi, et. al, “They’re liars,” “They’re mentally unstable.” Black reporters, 4 times in a month—female black reporters he said are “stupid.” He has an inferiority complex that he overcompensates big-time. And so when he says something critical about a person, it’s often to preempt an attack on him for the same thing. And so, “Oh, you’re blaming me for the pandemic? Obama left the cupboard bare when it came to masks and testing.” Well, whether he did or not, I couldn’t tell you, but that was 3 years ago. And he ignored Obama’s transition team laying out a way to fight pandemics. So he’ll blame someone else for what he does, and it’s a rhetorical trick. And in terms of dehumanizing people, as you just said, to use an extreme but glowingly scary analogy, when Hitler said, “Oh, he said that, but he’s a Jew.” And people go, “Oh, well, we can’t believe Einstein.” And so when he disdains African-American people--all reporters are enemies of the state, a phrase from Stalin, he admitted it once. Give him credit. He can’t control his bragging. He said to Lesley Stahl off-camera on CBS after a “60 Minutes” interview—Lesley said, “Enough with the fake news. It’s ridiculous, it’s belittling, and it’s not true.” He said, “No, no. You don’t get it, Les—When I say it, I so delegitimize all media critics that I can always say—and he does—any criticism is “Oh, that’s the fake media.” And that’s like a dog whistle to the listener saying, “Oh, I don’t have to listen to that anymore.” And it works, not with everybody, but we’ll see. It worked with 46% of Americans that got him slightly through the graduating the electoral college. We’ll see if he can do it, not when Trump brags about how he’ll do something. He now has a record of doing bad things.
CH: Let me go on to--it’s “Fear” itself. Talk about that, that, you know, how fear is deployed in such a way as to solidify the kind of permanent lie.
MG: Well, we’ve seen it over centuries by Rome fearing Greece or Mussolini fearing the West. It’s hobgoblins. And so we live through it, people of our age, the Soviets. They appeared to be in iconography and imagery 10 feet tall, they could beat us at nuclear war, they can beat us at conventional war, and all you had to do—of course, during the McCarthy era—is say someone’s a commie, and their life was ruined. Well, now Trump tries to do that with any critic. And so he’ll say, “If you elect Joe Biden, we’re gonna go back to…” and then he fills in a word--a “depression,” forget that we’re closing in on one, or “big government eating you up.” And so the only thing he wants people to fear are Democrats or minorities or blue states. And some people who are insecure in their lives psychologically or economically, they may grab on to this as people would believe Elmer Gantry.
CH: You talk about nicknames, but I think that we’ve covered that with insults. But I want to talk. You have a section called the “Hyperbolic & The Apocalyptic,” especially the “Apocalyptic.” Talk about that ideas, again, a kind of foundational concept for the permanent lie.
MG: Well, that’s simply fearing something. But speaking of apocalyptic, he said that if he hadn’t been elected in 2016—I’m closely paraphrasing—we would be having a nuclear war with North Korea. Now, can I disprove that? You can’t disprove a non-event. By the way, we’ve avoided nuclear war with North Korea since they were at nuclear capacity, what, 15 years? But he simply says that. Now, there are people—I saw a woman who was asked why she wasn’t testing herself for COVID-19. And she said to the reporter, “I don’t have to. I’m bathed in Jesus’ blood.” Whether I believe that is true or not is not relevant. People can have any religious belief they want, but language like that leads people like that to believe in the Rapture and…in a coming Armageddon, according to some religious book. And how do they unlearn that? So this is not simply exaggeration. You may not like Nancy Pelosi’s policies. Is she mentally unstable? Ha! I wish more of us were that mentally unstable. And it’s a form of denigration where you don’t have to answer her criticism. Now, she tries to criticize Trump on the merits, but every so often, I’m delighted. She goes, “Well, I don’t want to really talk about how he’s ignoring the health of old, overweight people, and he is morbidly obese.” Ha ha! It’s true. But normally, you don’t engage in these 5-year-old insults, but what are you gonna do when Trump…
CH: Well, at that point, Trump wins because you’ve brought it right down into the gutter at his level. I’m running out of time, so I want to get one of your last points about “Political Correctness.”
MG: Well, when you—by the way, political correctness exists and it—on both sides. But conservatives now use it as a way to imply that someone is not saying what he or she believes, but is saying it because of a…the masses, the wisdom of crowds. And so, this week, when a reporter asked him a question at a White House press conference and was wearing a mask, Trump said, “You can take it off. I want to hear you.” He said, “No, I want to be safe.” And then Trump said, “Oh, you’re being politically correct.” So that’s, again, like denigrating a black female reporter or minorities. He’s using a phrase that has no content. Now, in fact, the reporter’s not allowed to do this. You or I could have said, “You’re an idiot. I’m following the guidelines of your own CDC. Why are you viol—why aren’t you wearing a mask?” So, again, it’s a trick that works with people who are 5-minute or 5-second voters. He has leaps of logic that people have a hard time penetrating when they’re said in a—by someone who’s a speed liar.
CH: Well, I think, you know, as we—and you alluded to it—as we enter an economic dislocation that could very well rival the depression of the 1930s, people who engage in the permanent lie, which is really about emotionally catering to the distress of a public become increasingly effective, which is why we saw demagogues arise in the 1930s and why we’ve seen one arise out of our own failed democracy. But we’ll have to stop there. Thank you very much, Mark Green. That was Mark Green, the author, with Ralph Nader” of “Fake President.”