CNN host Fareed Zakaria took the feud between CNN and Donald Trump to a new level yesterday, describing Trump as a “bullshit artist.” I’ve reviewed the literature on bullshit, including my own past analysis, and I agree. Trump’s bullshit passes (or perhaps, fails) the sniff test.
Here’s the clip:
What is bullshit?
I’ve tried to be precise about bullshit. My definition is as follows:
Bullshit is communication that wastes the reader’s time by failing to communicate clearly and accurately.
Obviously, I’m describing written communication, but the key element here is a failure to communicate clearly. You can compare that to the description offered by Harry G. Frankfurt, the author of On Bullshit:
This is the crux of the distinction between [the bullshitter] and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. . . .But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality. . . . The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him . . . his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. . . . unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.
Bullshit is in the mind of the consumer
To unify these concepts, consider them from the reader or listener’s perspective. You begin reading or listening and some little devil starts stirring in the back of your mind. You begin thinking “I can’t figure this out. Something’s not right. This person isn’t making sense. I think they’re full of crap.”
This may happen because the speaker has no interest in the truth, as Frankfurt says.
It may happen because the speaker uses passive, jargon-filled bloviation in place of clear communication, which is what I’m railing against.
Or it may happen because a politician has no actual idea what’s going on, and is making shit up and changing it as they go along. That’s the behavior that caused Zakaria to label Trump a bullshit artist.
Either way, if you begin to suspect they’re feeding you a load of crap, you say to yourself, “This is bullshit.” And I think Frankfurt, Zakaria, and I would all agree: if you suspect it’s bullshit, it probably is.
Conclusion: Donald Trump, is, in fact, a bullshit artist. As the Mythbusters would say: CONFIRMED.