THE POLITICS OF MORAL STAMPEDE: Picking and choosing what Rudy said!


Part 4—Our liberal thumbs on the scales:
Back in 1969, Harvard professor Stanley Cavell published a set of essays under this title:

"Must We Mean What We Say?"

In a world where we're told to say what we mean, the title was somewhat eye-catching. It was also the title of the volume's first essay.

Forty-eight years later, Cavell's book is still in print. At the time it appeared, we were writing our senior thesis under Cavell's award-winning supervision. A study of Wittgenstein's "private language argument," it could perhaps be summarized thusly:

"Say what?" Or words to that effect.

Whatever! In recent weeks, we've thought of the title of Cavell's book as a certain moral stampede has been taking shape. As a key part of that stampede, we liberals have pleasured ourselves by interpreting what The Others have meant by a variety of extemporaneous emissions and comments.

We've performed this task with great aplomb, and with repetitive dumbness. Moral stampedes are bad for the head. They're also quite bad for the soul.

Might we make a general point? Quite routinely, it's hard to know what someone else has meant by some comment.

Routinely, this will be the case even when you're speaking with your closest friends. The problem of interpretation may grow when you try to interpret fleeting, extemporaneous remarks by public figures you've never met, folk you don't happen to know.

If we're willing to try to be honest for once, the interpretation of fleeting remarks may be especially difficult in the case of a person like Donald J. Trump, who is remarkably inarticulate in almost all instances; rarely has the slightest idea what the heck he's talking about; and contradicts himself with remarkable frequency, often within single statements.

You can actually ask your friends what they meant by some comment. You can't do that with Donald J. Trump. That said, another fact is clear:

Over and over, again and again, our tribal leaders pleasure us with their accounts of what The Others plainly meant by the various things they have said. These leaders—they're often corporate hacks—will tend to adopt the least flattering interpretation of whatever The Others have said.

Thus pleasured, we continue to watch our leaders' TV shows. We also get meaner and dumber. We end up being even dumber than we were at the start.

It's hard to believe that we need to massage Trump's remarks to build a case against him. The fact that we're strongly inclined to do so only shows—if we remember our Shakespeare correctly—"what tribals we mortals be."

Alas! As it turns out, the bard was right in that widely-cited assessment.

Alas! Our tribal leaders will rarely admit that it's frequently hard to say what someone else "meant" by whatever it is they said. Instead, we're handed the most pleasing account of what somebody meant, as has been done in the case of the statement transcribed shown below.

Yesterday, we discussed these remarks. Today, we'll mark a few highlights:
DONALD J. TRUMP (2/28/17): Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just—they wanted to do. They came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals—who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades, I would—I believe. And they lost Ryan. And I was at the airport when the casket came in, the body came in, and it was a very sad—with the family,and it's a great family incredible wife and the children. I met most of the family. And I can understand people saying that. I'd feel, you know, I'd feel— What's worse? There's nothing worse.

But again, this was something they were looking at for a long time doing. And according to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission. They got tremendous amounts of information.
In that statement, was Donald J. Trump "blaming the generals" for what happened in Yemen?

In fairness, that's a highly unflattering account of what Trump meant. For that reason, it's tribally pleasing.

It's the least flattering account of what he said, but to what extent is it accurate? If we might borrow from our Wittgenstein: "No such thing was in question here, only how the opportunity to pleasure us rubes was used."

Was Donald J. Trump "blaming the generals" for what happened in Yemen? We'll note that, in the statement in question, he praised the generals for their greatness, and declared the mission a howling success.

Surely there was something more salient and overarching for which we could have blasted Trump that day. But tribal loathing must always be fed, and our leaders are massively paid for their skill at providing comfort food.

We're offering a basic thought here—the tribal soul loves to loathe. We'll also suggest a more sweeping point—we humans love to complete the circle!

We humans! We hate to say that it isn't clear what Person A meant by Statement Y. We humans love to finish the story. All too often, we finish the story in a low-IQ way which fluffs the views of our tribe.

Rachel does this; Lawrence does too. To state what is blindingly obvious, they're paid huge sums to perform this task. You are left with a decision:

Are you willing to get swept away?

Donald J. Trump is the craziest, most dangerous person who ever got anywhere near the Oval Office. We badly need to seek out ways to explain this fact to the wider public.

Instead, on cable TV each night, we play our reindeer games.

We did the same thing, not long ago, with Rudy Giuliani. At this point in his career, he too is an inarticulate, blustering blunderbuss. In fairness, though, we'll show you the gentleman's full remarks on the occasion in question.

He was asked, by Jeanne Pirro, about the so-called travel or Muslim ban. To watch the exchange, click here:
PIRRO (1/28/17): I want to ask you about this ban and the protests. Does the ban have anything to so with religion? How did the president decide the seven countries? I understand the permanent ban on the refugees. OK—talk to me about it.

GIULIANI: I’ll tell you the whole history of it. When he first announced it, he said "Muslim ban." He called me up, he said, "Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally."

I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis.

Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that's what the ban is based on. It's not based on religion. It's based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.
As you know, our tribe has selected shards from that statement to prove a pleasing point. We've claimed that Giuliani acknowledged that the current plan really is a "Muslim ban."

To make that claim, we engaged in picking-and-choosing at its very best. We built our case around the meaning of the word "it" in the reported statement, "Show me the right way to do it legally." (Yesterday, we saw Hewitt and Maddow battling over the meaning of the word "they" in the statement by Trump which we've posted above.)

With respect to Rudy's remarks, we built our case a second way—by disappearing the repeated statements in which he said that the new directive wasn't based on religion. Our leaders felt we'd be better off if we weren't asked to consider those remarks.

Back in the day, Olivia Newton-John was hopelessly devoted to you. Today, as part of our tribal stampede, we're hopelessly devoted to this.

We aren't very bright and we aren't super honest. We still can't see that we aren't very bright, even after we managed to lose an election to the craziest, dumbest person who ever sought the office.

We still can't see how hapless We are. We're still blaming Them.

We also aren't especially moral, even as we stampede. But let's set our moral squalor aside for now. Tomorrow, we'll show you this:

We'll show you how preternaturally dumb we liberals actually are. How preternaturally dumb, and how preternaturally lazy.

Tomorrow: What did they mean by what they said? Our useless leaders nap in the woods on two consequential occasions.


  1. Somerby pretends that liberals are doing something wrong when they interpret language but everyone interprets. That's because language is not enact but requires interpretation. Language is inherently flexible because it must operate within the constraints of human cognition while being able to describe a variety of changing events, including new ones not previously encountered. Interpretation is not only necessary, language doesn't work without it.

    Excessively literality is a reliable sign of brain damage or mental illness because interpretation includes context, figurative language and layers of meaning that reflect both the consciously intended and subconscious messages. Language is rich and not ever the exact, unambiguous symbol system that logic and mathematics are. But Somerby wants to pretend that language should be what it cannot be and never is.

    Then you have to ask what Somerby's purpose is in chiding us like this. It has nothing to do with proper language "interpretation." It has to do with self-hatred or Bernie loving or wanting to be both Southern and Northern at once, or something Irish, but it has nothing to do with how dumb liberals are and whether we can attract Trump voters.

    1. You provide the perfect example of interpretation that Bob describes.

    2. I have as much antipathy toward Trump as anyone (and, contrary to the weakly reasoned logic of some commenters here, so does TDH), but it ain't too smart to focus so much on things like whether Trump was passing the blame onto, as he puts it, "my generals" - I would think more focus ought to be on the negative effects of his (and the now dominant Tea-Party congress') policies and also calling him out on his Orwellian style of communicating (though that would need to be done skillfully).

    3. Trump seems to be able to sucker Somerby with ease.

      Trump often offers pretty speech for those he uses to avoid responsibility. Indeed Trump praises the generals in order to shield himself from responsibility. If the generals were suspect, then Trump would look even worse for blindly following them. In any case, that is not likely what happened, the generals likely conveyed the risks. Obama thought the mission was too risky, declined to proceed, and requested more intelligence. Trump blustered forward and the mission was a horrible failure. It did not result in any useful intelligence:

      but did result in the death of many civilians including 9 children.

      Trump deflects blame and then falsely claims the mission was a success. Obama showed leadership when he spent time to consider the raid and it's possible consequences and then decided it was too risky.

      Rudy's "it" clearly refers to "muslim ban". Trump wanted a muslim ban, said as much, but knew it would not pass muster, so he asked Rudy to find a way to make it seem legal. Rudy claims he used danger as a basis, but this is disingenuous as the countries chosen do not present a threat in the context of refugee or immigrant terror.

  2. Any defense attorney for someone charged by the US Justice Department who doesn't bring up the fact that the Attorney General lied under oath, should lose his law license due to incompetence.

  3. Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone thinks the moral stampede over the imaginary Russia-Trump scandal is about to trample the Democrats.

    "This is the former Director of National Intelligence telling all of us that as of 12:01 a.m. on January 20th, when he left government, the intelligence agencies had no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
    Virtually all of the explosive breaking news stories on the Trump-Russia front dating back months contain some version of this same disclaimer."

    "The notion that the president is either an agent or a useful idiot of the Russian state is so freely accepted in some quarters that Beck Bennett's shirtless representation of Putin palling with Alec Baldwin's Trump is already a no-questions-asked yuks routine for the urban smart set.
    And yet, this is an extraordinarily complex tale that derives much of its power from suppositions and assumptions."

    "We can't afford to bolster these accusations of establishment bias and overreach by using the techniques of conspiracy theorists to push this Russia story. Unfortunately, that is happening."

    "Setting all of that aside, look at the techniques involved within the more "legitimate" reports. Many are framed in terms of what they might mean, should other information surface.
    There are inevitably uses of phrases like "so far," "to date" and "as yet." These make visible the outline of a future story that isn't currently reportable, further heightening expectations.
    Take the Times story about Trump surrogates having "repeated contacts" with Russian intelligence officials (an assertion that can mean anything, incidentally – as a reporter in Russia I had contact with Russian intelligence officials, as did most of my colleagues and friends in business, and there was nothing newsworthy about those interactions)."

    "If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future."

    Too late.

    1. Big deal.
      If the 8 official investigations of this works as well as the the 8 which exonerated Hillary Clinton of any wrong-doing, the Left will have nothing to complain about.

    2. "...Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future."

      Just like Hillary Clinton was, we hope.

    3. And even if Trump was found guilty, again I ask, what's the big deal? All he has to do is say something bigoted, and 63 million Americans will stop caring about this.

  4. Why hasn't Trump divested? Why is he still getting business benefits from his presidency, like those trademarks in China? Why doesn't anyone care about this? Russia is a larger scale version of his business opportunism.

    1. "Why doesn't anyone care about this?"

      He's going to keep minorities in their place.

    2. "Why doesn't anyone care about this?"

      To be fair, his trademark licensing in China who just happened to coincide with his decision to change his mind to the One China Policy, doesn't actually provide and aid to impoverished children suffering from AIDS in other countries, so it doesn't upset the Beltway political press grand poobahs.

      Plus, his name isn't Hillary Clinton, so anything goes.

      In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
      Was looked on as something shocking.
      But now, God knows,
      Anything goes.

      Read more: Cole Porter - Anything Goes Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    3. mm -- Evidently you're a Cole Porter fan, so you and I have something in common.

    4. David, we all have things in common. I enjoy white working class lyrics:

      I've been thinkin' 'bout
      Thinkin' 'bout sex
      Always hungry for somethin'
      That I haven't had yet
      Well maybe baby, you got somethin' to lose
      Well I got somethin'
      I got somethin' for you

      My way, your way
      Anything goes tonight
      My way, your way
      Anything goes

      Read more: Guns 'N Roses - Anything Goes Lyrics | MetroLyrics

  5. Did anyone see this? An experiment switching the sexes of the debaters in the Trump Clinton debates with unexpected result.