Discover more from The Bulwark
Garbage All The Way Down
Plus: Is Trump lying or delusional? Does it Matter?
“And I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with — he’s become detached from reality, if he really believes this stuff” — Former Attorney General Bill Barr
In case that wasn’t clear enough, Barr went on to describe the former POTUS’s election claims as “bulls**t,” "idiotic" and "complete nonsense" in the recorded deposition played by the January 6 committee.
All of this raises the perennial question: Was Donald Trump lying, or was he delusional? Was the Big Lie a conscious fraud or did Trump actually believe his own bullshit?
Which would be worse?
Does it really matter?
Make sure you read Mona Charen’s piece in today’s Bulwark. We are, she reminds us “dealing with someone whose lies are a constitutive part of his psychology. And everyone knows this.”
Did he know that the election was not stolen or did he sincerely believe that it was? What does it matter? What is sincerity in the mind of a man who lies with every exhale? Asking whether Trump knew the election was free and fair is like asking whether a komodo dragon prefers smooth jazz or hip hop. It’s a category error.
So with Trump the question is not what he knew or even whether he believes his own lies. A much better question, she suggests is: “What was it that he knew or should have known?”
This is the standard in tort law. If you are the owner of a dye factory and an employee sues when he’s blinded by a malfunctioning machine, you can’t escape responsibility by saying that you didn’t know the machinery was faulty. If the negligence is bad enough, it can be criminal.
If Trump truly believed, despite all evidence, that the election was stolen, that might buy him some relief from criminal charges that require corrupt intent. But in terms of his fitness for office, the theory that he was deluded—not lying—is more alarming, not less.
I’d add only one thing. You ought to familiarize yourself with the term “willful blindness.” (It’s also sometimes referred to as willful ignorance, contrived ignorance, conscious avoidance, or intentional ignorance.) Here’s one definition:
Willful blindness is generally defined as an attempt to avoid liability for a wrongful act by intentionally failing to make reasonable inquiry when faced with the suspicion or awareness of the high likelihood of wrongdoing.
It is a deliberate attempt to keep one’s “head in the sand” when faced with information or facts that create a suspicion or awareness that there is a likelihood of wrongdoing.
The Supreme Court observed in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., that “[t]he traditional rationale for th[e] doctrine is that defendants who behave in [a willfully ignorant] manner are just as culpable as those who have actual knowledge.” The Ninth Circuit, in a seminal willful blindness case, explained that “[t]he substantive justification for the rule is that deliberate ignorance and positive knowledge are equally culpable.”
As former prosecutor Barbara McQuade explained to Greg Sargent yesterday, “If you close your eyes to the high probability that a fact exists, you can’t use that to evade responsibility.”
If you want to follow me down this particular rabbit hole, I’d also suggest a quick read about the Catholic concept of “vincible ignorance”:
It is culpable to remain willfully ignorant of matters that one is obligated to know.
While invincible ignorance eliminates culpability, vincible ignorance at most mitigates it, and may even aggravate guilt…. An individual is morally responsible for their ignorance and for the acts resulting from it…. When little or no effort is made to remove ignorance, the ignorance is termed crass or supine; it removes little or no guilt. Deliberately fostered ignorance is affected or studied; it can increase guilt.
[My colleague, Amanda Carpenter sends this to Morning Shots:]
Garbage All the Way Down
By Amanda Carpenter
Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney watched the second day of the Jan. 6th Committee hearings with undeserved haughtiness. “Trump’s inner circle in the end was…Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Peter Navarro…Garbage in. Garbage out,” he tweeted.
As if Mulvaney, like so many others who served Trump, didn’t happily stand on top of the pile and aren’t still stomping around in the mess.
But pay attention: This “garbage” position is symbolic of a large cadre of Trump backers. People like Mulvaney and, notably, Trump’s former campaign chairman Bill Stepien, featured prominently via video testimony during the second day of the hearings, are peddling the idea that Trump was merely the recipient of bad advice.
In reality, Trump relentlessly sought out people who told him what he wanted to hear.
What they can’t admit is that they were those people before Trump sent them rolling down the hill.
“Team Normal”? I think not. They were merely stand-ins until Trump settled on drunk Giuliani to carry out his strategy.
Recall this: While serving his dual role as Office of Management and Budget Director and Acting Chief of Staff, Mulvaney oversaw the holding up of funds to Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment. When reporters questioned the quid-pro-quo, he told them: “We do that all the time. Get over it.”
For that kind of astute analysis and experience, he’s been rewarded with a CBS contract, where he continues to offer the world his advice. His reaction to the hearings? The Democrats “are failing miserably.”
Also, remember this:
Under Stepien’s direction, Trump presidential campaign was converted into a “Stop the Steal” fundraising operation. As Jan. 6th committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren put it: “The big lie was a big rip-off.”
Stepien knew it.
He testified to that very fact. But whatever. He’s now a consultant for the Trump-endorsed primary opponent trying to oust Liz Cheney.
The committee’s second hearing was a masterful presentation that showcased how Trump was repeatedly told by his advisors that he did not win the election. That’s beside the point, though.
The real problem is that Trump wanted to spread the lies, and he always found enough men and women to help him do it. Advisors are disposable. Trump’s garbage flows from the top down.
The Griftiest Coup
It wasn’t just the “big lie,” according to the Jan. 6 committee. It was also “the big rip-off.”
In a video presentation that concluded its second hearing, the committee described how Mr. Trump and his campaign aides used baseless claims of election fraud to convince the president’s supporters to send millions of dollars to something called the “Election Defense Fund.” According to the committee, Mr. Trump’s supporters donated $100 million in the first week after the election, apparently in the hopes that their money would help the president fight to overturn the results.
But a committee investigator said there was no evidence that such a fund ever existed. Instead, millions of dollars flowed into a super PAC that the president set up on Nov. 9, just days after the election. According to the committee, that PAC sent $1 million to a charitable foundation run by Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, and another $1 million to a political group run by several of his former staff members, including Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda.
Wait. It gets better.
Former Fox News host and Trump campaign adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle was paid $60,000 for a two-minute-and-thirty-second speech on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, shortly before the attack at the U.S. Capitol…
1. Meltdowns have brought progressive advocacy groups to a standstill at a critical moment
Instead of fueling a groundswell of public support to reinvigorate the party’s ambitious agenda, most of the foundation-backed organizations that make up the backbone of the party’s ideological infrastructure were still spending their time locked in virtual retreats, Slack wars, and healing sessions, grappling with tensions over hierarchy, patriarchy, race, gender, and power.
“So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullshit that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” said one organization leader who departed his position. “It’s been huge, particularly over the last year and a half or so, the ability for groups to focus on their mission, whether it’s reproductive justice, or jobs, or fighting climate change.”
2. Do Ohio Republicans Really Want to Use Genital Exams to Ban Trans Athletes?
How to deal with transgender athletes in K-12 is a separate issue, entangled with far more fraught questions of the ethics of gender reassignment interventions for minors. Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, a Republican, won progressive plaudits in March for vetoing a bill that imposed an all-out ban on cross-sex participation in school sports, citing both compassion and the practicality; Gov. Cox’s statement pointed out that of 75,000 high school students playing sports in Utah, a total of four were transgender and only one of those was playing on a girls’ team. But it is noteworthy that Gov. Cox also acknowledged the real problems of fairness that trans inclusion could sometimes pose for girls’ sports and supported a commission to deal with such problems on a case-by-case basis. (The legislature overrode his veto, opening the way to legal challenges.)
It’s difficult to have an honest conversation on this issue, with emotions running so high and demagoguery running so loud. But perhaps right now, we are taking tentative steps in that direction.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll…finds 55 percent of Americans opposed to allowing transgender women and girls to compete with other women and girls in high school sports and 58 percent opposed to it for college and professional sports. About 3 in 10 Americans said transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete at each of those levels, while an additional 15 percent have no opinion.
A reader sends this along;
Gleeson Library | Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco welcomes applications for a grant-funded, paid Reparative and Inclusive Description (RID) Survey Scholar internship, scheduled for fall semester 2022.
The RID Survey Scholar will use our Harmful Language Statement and relevant literature as a framework for developing recommendations on descriptive practices that align with anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the library and across campus.
The Scholar will critically examine systemic harm or inequities in library descriptive practices by surveying existing collection records in both the Special Collections & University Archives and Metadata & Collection Management departments as well as identify potential community partners for collaborative projects. The Scholar will create a final paper or presentation that outlines recommendations for integrating reparative and inclusive descriptive practices into the library’s workflows, fostering an anti-oppressive approach to discovery and access. …
See here for the full job description and how to apply.