30 November 2015

Donald Trump is a bullshitter, not an ideologue

Across the internet, I've heard liberals react with indignant outrage at Donald Trump's latest barrage of brutish, asinine behavior. He appeared to mock a disabled reporter, and predictably refused to apologize. He said he would ban Syrian refugees and create a giant 'safe zone' in Syria; how he would pay for it is anyone's guess. But he really rattled a lot of feathers by suggesting that Muslims should be registered in some kind of national database. When asked by a reporter how that is any different than Jews being forced to register in Nazi Germany, he replied, "You tell me".

But Donald Trump is not a fascist. It's a mistake to think that, like most normal humans, Donald Trump believes the things that he is saying; the truth is, Donald Trump is a bullshitter. And I mean this in the sense described by philosopher Henry Frankfurt in his short essay entitled, "On Bullshit". A quote:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he 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 insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting 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.

That, folks, is Donald Trump in a nutshell. To some extent, this Frankfurtian bullshit is endemic to politics; virtually all politicians engage in disingenuous pandering. But most of them, like most humans, have at least some measure of concern for what they believe to be true and right. They care about how what they say reflects on them and whether it's consistent with their past positions.

Not Trump. The Donald is not a Republican in any meaningful sense, but rather the sole candidate in the party of No Fucks Given. He does not care if what he says is true or false, or whether it's consistent with his past statements. He does not care if he offends someone, nor does he care who out there thinks he's an asshat. He's not trying to be all things to all people; he's just a raging narcissist who is, like any good bullshitter, indifferent to the truth. He says whatever he thinks will gain him the notoriety and influence he desires.

That's why he can't answer straight questions on policy; he doesn't think about that shit. Are you kidding? I dare anyone to ask him how he'd purchase, and pay for, the massive resettlement of Syrian refugees. Ask him how he'd protect it. He has no fucking clue. And his fans don't care. When my conservative friends reposted his blurb on Syrian refugees, they were as concerned with logistics as much as Trump was: zero. They just want a way of saying "Stay the hell out of my country!" without sounding like raging xenophobes incapable of basic human empathy (they still failed). But of course, Trump didn't make that statement with any concern about logistics, any more than he was concerned about what most bipedal creatures would recognize as predictable fallout from insulting a disabled reporter or insinuating that a female reporter asked a tough question because she was on her period. He just does not give a fuck, because he's not an ideologue — he's a bullshitter.

29 November 2015

My dad turned 75 today

Tonight was a pretty cool night — Vanessa and I had dinner at a favorite local Italian joint with my parents and several of their good friends, in celebration of my Dad's 75th birthday.

I feel pretty lucky to have my father, and to have a good relationship with him. I know plenty of people my age (36) who've lost their parents, or whose parents are in failing health; I'm happy to report that my parents are both very healthy and enjoying their retirement to the fullest with travel, volunteer work, friends, family, exercise, hobbies, and leisure. My dad's as sharp as he's ever been, politically opinionated (democrat til the end!), full of anecdotes and fond of corny dad-humor. As I've gotten older, I've felt increasingly appreciative of the time I have to spend with him.

Tonight he made a short (for him) speech about his life, how surreal it feels to be 75, and the many sublime moments he's experienced along the way. He mentioned meeting my mom, getting choked up remembering "the day she said yes"; he mentioned seeing my brother marry his wife, and me marrying Vanessa several years later. But what was most interesting for me was that he talked about all the small miracles, as he described him, that he's privileged to enjoy every day. Waking up next to his wife, watching Penn State football (that's where he got his doctorate in the late 60s), any day he gets to go fishing, the people he volunteers with, etc. etc.
My Dad and me at my wedding. It still seems weird seeing myself without a beard. 
My dad is at that point in his life where there is more behind him than ahead. We'll all get there, hopefully after a long and happy trek through this mortal coil. But even at 36, I've found that my outlook on life has changed a great deal, particular since I got married last year. Increasingly I've found life to be about the day to day things, the little moments and pleasures we're afforded, rather than any sort of major life goals.

I can't tell you how many years (all of them?) I hoped to meet the right woman. I spent my twenties and early thirties dating lots of women, a couple of times thinking I'd found 'the one'. Now that I'm married, it's somewhat surreal to have something I've wanted since I was old enough to have some vague understanding of what romantic love is. I've also found success in my career after going freelance, following nearly a decade of working for a meager income. And now, Vanessa and I are opening our very own gym. We have two dogs and cat, a pretty cool mid-century modern house, a mutual love of cooking, and... well, we don't need much else. Life is good. And while, unlike my father, I still (hopefully) still have more time on the clock ahead than behind, I think that I can appreciate his perspective. If we forget to live in the present, it's all too easy to let it slip away.