By Bob Gaydos
There have been times, like now, when I saw little point in writing about what the pretend president is saying or doing because millions of Americans don’t seem to care. At those times, I often wondered how the scribes who get paid to inform the world of the latest news — and even moreso, those who get paid to have opinions about it — find the energy to cover Trump day after day. It has to be depressing, I thought to myself. I’m depressed and I don’t have to write about it. Does a paycheck work as an antidepressant?
Maureen Dowd finally answered my question. I admit to not being a religious, or even semi-religious, reader of Dowd’s column in The New York Times up to now. That’s changed since I read her May 25 column that carried the headline, “Crazy Is As Crazy Does.” Yes, it was about Trump.
She begins by describing her waking thoughts as another morning arrives. About the talents of an actress and an actor she admires and their TV shows. About a book she has apparently just read or is reading. And then, abruptly, reality sets in: “Once I’m completely awake, a gravitational pull takes hold and I am once more bedeviled by our preposterous president.
“I flip on the TV and gird for the endless stream of vitriol coming from the White House, bracing for another day of overflowing, overlapping, overwrought news stories about Trump. I’m sapped before I arise. …
“My head hurts, puzzling over whether Trump is just a big blowhard … or a sinister genius …”
Me too, I sighed. Glad to know I’m not alone.
I’m also not alone in my belief in synchronicity. Serendipity, if you prefer.
Coincidence? I’m with Carl Jung on that. The Swiss psychologist who gave us the word defined synchronicity as “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”
As in, what are the chances that, being shamed into participating in a decluttering exercise at home, I would “stumble upon” a slim book I’d never heard of that instantly uncluttered my mind on how to explain what in the world was going on in Donald Trump’s mind.
Some explanation is necessary.
The house decluttering was precipitated by a prevailing notion that I had collected too much stuff (an occupational hazard, I believe) and some of it had to go, but we would find a safe resting place for the stuff that was worth keeping. One of the safe places was a lovely, old cabinet in which other stuff was resting. Old tapes, photos and books. Among the books was the aforementioned slim volume.
I read the title: “On Bullshit.”
The decluttering came to a momentary halt. Was this a joke? As it turns out, no. Oh, there is humor in this 67-page essay, but the author, Harry G. Frankfurt, it also turns out, is a distinguished philosopher, professor emeritus at Princeton University, which published the book. This was serious. In fact, the book was a New York Times best-seller in 2005 and Frankfurt discusses it on YouTube, which tells you something about my attention to literary news.
But the point, and I’m finally getting to it, is that after months of trying to out-pundit everyone else writing about Trump and continuing to muse on why he does what he does, Frankfurt lays it out in a way that anyone, except maybe Trump, can understand — the man is a bullshit artist.
It dawned on me as I read Frankfurt’s explanation of the difference between liars — which Trump has been crowned champion of all time by those who keep score — and bullshitters. (If the language offends you, I apologize, but Frankfurt says “humbug” is not the same. Also, the times have changed and I’ve already been labeled an enemy of the people for treating the truth with respect.)
As Frankfurt explains, the difference between liars and bullshitters is that liars are acquainted with the truth. They have to be to maintain their lies. There is a discipline involved. Bullshitters don’t care. They make stuff up as they go along, saying whatever seems necessary to them at the time to appear to know what’s going on. It isn’t a matter so much of bullshit being false, Frankfort says, as of it being phony. It’s meant to convey an impression. It’s like bluffing. And too much of it can carry over into a general laxity about how things really are.
As Frankfurt writes, “The bullshitter is faking things.” It’s not a matter of concealing the truth, because sometimes the bullshitter will speak the truth. It is matter of concealing “what he is up to.”
Indeed. And those who are good at it seem to have no trouble attracting gullible believers. But that’s a mystery for another day.
Frankfurt mentions patriotic politicians who, on the Fourth of July, give grand speeches extolling all the wonderful things this country represents, not that those things are false or lies or B.S., but because the speaker wants others to believe he believes in them and is a true patriot. There’s a good chance we’ll hear some of that this coming Independence Day, with Trump taking center stage at the Lincoln Memorial.
I know in advance that I don’t necessarily have to write about it because it’s more of the same B.S. Instead, I can read what Dowd writes about it and focus instead on what synchronicity offers as a topic. Like the fact that Frankfurt and I share the same birthdate, May 29. Some stuff you just can’t make up.
Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer, email@example.com