Alternative facts are Nietzschean
Donald Trump and Kellyanne Conway are Nietzsche’s heirs.
“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here—not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” Hunter S. Thompson (1973) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72
When Kellyanne Conway uttered the words ‘alternative facts’ one could hear the collective moan that went up around the world.
Teeth were gnashed, garments rent, and long, passionate conversations that involved the words ’Goebbels’, ‘propaganda’, ‘idiots’, and ‘Orwellian’ were held by people who specialise in being very concerned about matters over which they have no control.
Deception and lies have always been involved in politics. Politics is theatre—as indeed is all life—and the theatre is an arena of lies.
When we say that a politician lies we really mean that he does not tell us the lies that we agree with.
Donald Trump is an expert in this regard. He is a radical truth-teller, but the truths he tells are the very private truths that are customarily hidden behind polite, acceptable lies.
This explains why Trump feels like a liberation for his supporters, and why one set of voters believes he is very dishonest and the other the truest man they have ever seen.
Take, for example, the opinions he voices about women. These were not customary remarks for a politician to make before Trump, even if the politician thought in this way—even if a politician acted as a ‘dirty dog’, as Clinton did, he must be ashamed about it.
Trump opened up about what he really thought, and people were greatly relieved that at least he did not pretend to be a virtuous family man while having sex with his secretary, as politicians—and the great mass of mankind—usually do.
The sin we condemn is not the deception, but not feeling bad about certain actions and failing to conceal one’s true motivations, and thoughts.
When Trump speaks, he speaks what is on his mind. This is in essence what people mean by ‘telling it how it is’. It is an existential position, one that is exhilarating because it reconnects us with experience rather than abstraction.
Our truth changes moment-to-moment. I think, ‘I want a cappuccino.’ Then I want to check Twitter. Then I decide to call my family. Then I decide not to. And then I decide to do it after all.
This contradictory nature is usually suppressed behind assumed social roles, and abstractions. When one speaks the truth of consciousness moment to moment what emerges is contradictory, but at the same time very true.
This is why some people perceive Trump to be ‘mad’. He seems to change from moment to moment. He seems to be out of control and unmeasured.
But he is merely comfortable about being open in his stream of consciousness.
And it is not clear that this openness is a weakness, though many perceive it to be so.
Trump does not need to ‘get his story straight’ as much many politicians do.
He allows the story to develop in a manner that Nassim Taleb might describe as anti-fragile.
In being open, Trump exposes himself to multiple small risks rather than concealing a great deal and risking one major disaster.
A politician who pretends to be a faithful family man, and promotes conservative family values while having sex with his secretary is in a very vulnerable position.
One text to the right journalist, and his career is in trouble.
Trump is immune to this. He can adopt conservative positions on social values if he wishes, but we are quite aware how he regards women and sex—if he was caught in an affair there would be no scandal.
We would shrug. ‘Well, that’s Donald being Donald’.
This also means that it is Trump, and not the media or his political enemies who sets the agenda.
His truth telling means that he is constantly surprising. His opponents do not know what he will do next.
Trump has them on edge.
This is political guerrilla warfare. The regular army lives by rules, regulations and expectation. The guerrilla may appear anywhere, anytime and dressed in any manner.
The Clinton and Theresa May approach is the opposite, with every detail regulated and controlled to last degree—a bland, safe message that the public rightly identify as robotic.
People react to Trump like a lover. A lover is, at first, usually very candid before the relationship retreats into a tangle of expectations. People who are in love often flip between love and hate as they experience the person for the first time.
I think most love affairs have this early, tempestuous phase. The ‘getting to know’ a person stage is the most frustrating, perilous and seductive moment in a love affair.
It is this fresh, expansive experience people seek out in affairs when a long-term relationship solidifies.
Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoon creator, said that Trump would say something he agreed with and then dash his expectations by saying something he didn’t agree with at all.
And then—just when Adams had given up altogether—Trump would say something he could agree with.
This alternation is the love affair alternation, an alternation that allows people to both love and hate Donald Trump at the same time.
The emotional intensity around Trump is high and labile.
Hillary Clinton’s problem was that she could provoke neither a deep enough hate, nor a deep enough love for people to rally to her.
When the stream of consciousness is exposed we feel great relief. This is why psychotherapy can be a liberation, if the client is open they emerge from the social role they play—‘father’, ‘doctor’, ‘lover’—and experience themselves as an ever-changing stream of consciousness.
Neurotic reactions to life emerge when people try to adhere to abstract social roles, and forget their stream of consciousness existence.
Trump provides this relief, especially from a liberal political structure that has become increasingly abstract, and neurotic.
The informal language policing regime, sometimes disparagingly called ‘political correctness’, that liberals created with a laudable aim—a more just society—has increasingly come to be experienced as a neurotic, misery-inducing burden.
The general pressure to adopt the ‘correct’ language and line on race, relations between the sexes, gay rights, transsexualism, minority religions such as Islam, and so on created a neurotic atmosphere where many people were constantly asking themselves, ‘What is the ‘right’ thing to say now?’
Since there are many ways to conceptualise these different ways people are people, and many moral stances on relations between people the ‘correct’ language to express these differences—the liberal attempt to create justice through language—was experienced as simultaneously an ultra-rational, normative imperative but also nonsensical.
Trump’s candour is an counter-reaction to this neuroticism, analogous to a priest who rigorously controls their sexuality for years, and years before losing himself in wild, orgiastic sexual indulgence.
Nietzsche is in the background here as the great personal truth teller against society’s acceptable lies.
An individual prepared to tell their truth against society’s general, necessary lies can bring about a reconfiguration in the generally accepted lie.
This is the realm of the artist, and Donald Trump is nothing if not a bullshit artist.
“There are no facts, only interpretations.” Nietzsche, Notebooks (Summer 1886—Fall 1887)
Those who oppose Trump believe themselves to be in possession of the ‘facts’. But as Hunter S. Thompson observed in the quote that heads this article, the facts are rather subjective—especially in the media.
This is one reason why appearing in the media is a very distressing experience—even if the coverage is positive, an individual is necessarily truncated.
We experience ourselves as an expansive flow, but the actor or media personality can re-experience themselves as a marionette that looks like their reflection in the mirror, but is strangely constricted.
All camps—even those who support Trump—have low awareness level that they are trapped in their own interpretations.
There are occasional moments when people understand that all they have is an interpretation, but this usually induces mental vertigo and causes people to retreat back into their camp—or embrace another more vehemently.
At the moment it is the losing camp, the liberals, who have least perspective. The change in power relations, the change in the acceptable social lie, has proved so distressing that many liberals are simply asserting their reality as ‘the’ reality.
This is manifested in those who accuse Trump of being a chronic liar, and also in the fascination with ‘fact checking’, and ‘science’.
It may be a fact that a US general spoke to his Russian counterpart. It may be a fact he did a deal with his Russian counterpart. But whether this fact is salient or unexceptional to politics depends on one’s interpretation of treason or patriotism.
One’s view of what is ‘patriotic’ or ‘treasonous’ is grounded in assumptions beyond fact, perhaps partly in instinct. This means that whether such a meeting is a ‘fact’ stands on non-factual grounds, and so one’s opponent may legitimately respond with an ‘alternative fact’.
‘Science’ is also value laden, one can say a great deal about daisies—but one’s scientific investigation starts by discarding everything particular about a daisy. A scientist can examine the genes, create a tally of certain petal configurations or count the insects attracted to a daisy.
These may produce useful information that can grow taller, stronger daisies— but it does not produce ‘the truth’ of daisies, or even a particular daisy.
It produces a selection of what we, as humans, have decided to study about daisies.
Get on your hands and knees and look at a daisy. You will see different salient aspects than I do. And if one is open enough, one daisy differs as completely from another as much as a rhino from a cocker spaniel.
We know this when we look at a Van Gogh, and realise that although biology and history tells us he was a human as we are he saw and rendered the world in a way unlike anyone else.
This means that appealing to ‘science’ as the most complete arbiter in disputes—particularly the very fleshy disputes of politics—is foolish.
That is not to deny science’s tremendous power, but its power derives from its very perspectival nature—its ability to exclude certain truths.
Trump and Conway are comfortable moving in this Nietzschean world, even though they may well never have read Nietzsche.
Their opponents in the academic left who have fashioned Nietzsche’s perspective-based way of knowing to create the so-called identity politics, and ‘politically correct’ movement are astounded that their rightist opponents have adapted their approach.
It was meant to be that conservatives held that unchanging, ‘objective’ truths derived from religion or science that governed all.
Leftists used Nietzsche’s thought to claim that there was no such ‘objective’ perspective. The so-called eternal truths were merely truths developed by ‘straight, white men’, and these ‘eternal truths’ were quite often developed to oppress women, ethnic minorities and the working class.
The weapon has fallen from their hand to an opponent who is integrated into the contemporary entertainment-industrial complex, and not the campus.
This means that Trump is as disturbing for conservatives who adhere to the old, ‘objective’ standards as he is for liberals.
We are coming to a general consciousness of that which was known in the 20th century but rarely openly stated.
The death of God, and the revaluation of all values.
In Trump’s election we see generalised bewilderment, universal consternation, a whirl as potent and total as the Milky Way.
“The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos—in the sense not of a lack of necessity but a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms…Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man… Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses… But when will we ever be done with our caution and care? When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we begin to “naturalize” humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?” from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, s.109, Walter Kaufmann translation.