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Will Anyone Dare Tell the Emperor That He Goes Around Naked?

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Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it, so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”–Jonathan Swift “Facts are a stubborn thing”–John Adams “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.” –Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]ruthful hyperbole” as defined in the last quote above by Donald Trump may go a long way in explaining, at least partially, why he won the presidency.

It is a formula by which one gives oneself permission to lie. Truth is not objective, it is not determined by the stubborn facts out there staring me in the face, whether I like them or not, but what I say it is, what is convenient and useful for me at the moment. This is the mind-set that is convinced that the end always justifies the means, no matter how reprehensible those means are.

It also explains the success of a used car salesman. This is a great car, you will be very happy with it; it’s a winner of a car. You will get tired of being a winner with this car. And so the car gets handly sold. The unpleasant surprise will come later when the unfortunate client realizes that he has been sold a lemon by a con-man.

The metaphor of the used car explains what happened a few days ago to all those who voted for Trump and expected a replacement of Obama Care. Yes, a replacement was presented by the GPO legislators but what it misguidedly proposed was to deduct 900 billion dollars from health benefits to the poor and transfer them to the rich in the form of tax relief.

Intriguing too the fact that Trump did not put his name on the bill. He refused to dub it Trump care. That would have been appropriate given that Obamacare was invented as an insult of sorts; the proper name of the original bill was and remains Affordable Health Care Act. The aim of the Republicans in the last seven years has been to make it unaffordable and a mere privilege for the well-to-do.

Be that as it may, the first legislative act of Donald Trump, the Health Bill that would have replaced Obama Care went down in flames and proved to be a big loser. Only 17% of the people approved of it. But the used car salesman is still enthusiastically selling his used cars by telling those disappointed voters that the car they presently still owe (that is, Obama Care) is a lemon and will soon explode in their face. Then they will be left with nothing and will have to walk to work. You get the picture: after it explodes, come back to me and I have a used car to sell you.

Let’s now briefly analyze this concept of “truthful hyperbole” under the light of the philosophical branch of philosophy called “epistemology,” that is to say: the investigation of how do we get to know anything and how do we know if what we do actually know is true or false; in short, how do we know that we know. Ultimately it is the question by cynical Pilate: What is truth?

It should be quite obvious that Trump’s conception of truth is quite elastic. Even relativism wouldn’t fit very well. Relativism says that everything is relative to the situation and the society in which one finds oneself; that truth is not something transcendent outside of time and space, but has to be determined existentially in the context of the real world in which we live and have our being. Truthful hyperbole, on the other hand, says that truth is what I wish you to believe. It really didn’t rain during my inauguration, even though the evidence is still on the ground and there are pictures with their umbrellas open, the crowds were more numerous at my inauguration than at President Obama’s, even though there are pictures that prove the opposite. I lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but I want you to believe that 3 million illegal aliens voted illegally. I want you to believe that Senator Cruz’s father was linked to Kennedy’s assassination, that president Obama tapped my phone during my campaign for the presidency; and the list goes on and on.

Recently Trump held an interview with Time’s Michael Scherer where he explains that instead of weighing evidence he much prefers to trust his gut. As Trump put it: “I am an instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right.” The question arises: how does one make instinctual decisions based on instinctual beliefs? With Trump there are three possibilities: one, he is already correct to begin with, or two, he will be proven correct at some point in the immediate or remote future, or three, he will correct the record of the past saying that he already subscribed to whatever view is proven right now; to wit, the Iraq War. In other words, when confronted with statements made without evidence, Trump will simply respond that what happened retroactively more than justifies the claims he made. That is to say, lies are magically transformed into truths after the fact. All you need is the magic wand called “instinctual decision making.”

If this again sounds like a used car salesman, it is because it is that, even though Trump wants us to believe that he is similar to the scholarly historian revising his judgment after studying the facts carefully, but he is no scholar even if he went to the Warton School of Business (another trumped up fact) and he certainly does not respects facts.

What Trump has discovered in his business career is that while truth may be real, it may be to one’s short-term advantage to disown it and present a contrary claim. To support those claims there is plenty of biased press on cable TV to tell him that he is always right. Fox news is an example; so it The National Inquirer which he reads dutifully.

Mussolini came to believe that “Mussolini is always right!” That is to say, falsehood works much better for Trump and other assorted authoritarian personalities and dictators, and the fact that they sit at the pinnacle of power more than confirms it for them.

But this is far from being an original insight. As the initial quote above by the 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift, intimates, it is an age-old stratagem of all dishonest and manipulative people. Eventually, as Plato and Aristotle pointed out, the truth catches up, even after the damage has been done.

One can of course continue to sell used lemon cars as a successful business entrepreneur and accumulate wealth and even fame, and call it “art,” or one may, as an entertainer and expert in reality shows, rely on selective TV-edited reality, and people are usually willing to suspend their disbelief while they enjoy the show. One may continue to trust only the stories, like those in the National Inquirer, which affirm one’s biases and prejudices, but the “stubborn facts,” as John Adams put in in his defense of British soldiers who had to defend themselves against a mob, remain therefore incontrovertible, and will give pause to a wise man to make him aware of his limitations and the constraints imposed on one’s likes and dislikes by a reality-based truth.

Not so for Trump. He disregards rational consensus by experts and acts on emotions and guts. This is found liberating by many people, including Vice-president Pence who goes around praising the fact that Trump “tells it like it is.” They have never seen before the kind of president who simply disregards expertise and relies on instincts. It’s a strange marvelous phenomenon. But here the question arises: are issues of national security, say the initiation of World War III, to be decided on instincts?

Of course the confirmation of one’s biases comes easy to someone like a Caligula who was constantly surrounded by sycophants who served at his pleasure, catered to every one of his whims, who interpreted every criticism of the emperor as bad faith. He may even begin to think of himself as a demigod and have his guards kneel before him, even kiss his ass from time to time. We know what happened to Caligula.

In more democratic times a different scenario may ensue. Now presidents have to resist the temptation to think of themselves as demigods by relying on longtime friends and confidants. Those friends usually keep them grounded in reality so that they don’t end up saying that 2+2=5 because I the president say so. At that point, the only solution in enlightened democratic times is impeachment, or resignation, or perhaps an ambulance to the insane asylum, or perhaps to jail.

Adams had it on target. Facts are a stubborn thing. They tend to catch up with one’s lies and fantasies. The urgent question now is this: will enough journalists find the courage to do their job–which is that of searching for the truth–and have the backbone to shout to the four winds that “the emperor is naked?”

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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