One of the alleged strengths of Donald Trump’s campaign is his willingness to be politically incorrect. The meaning of “politically incorrect” is amorphous, but his supporters believe that what it means is that Trump is is willing to say the things that everyone else is afraid to say but are nevertheless acknowledged to be true.
And to be fair, there have been moments during this campaign when Trump really has made politically incorrect statements. Calling Jeb Bush “low energy” last summer stung because it had a ring of truth to it. When Trump said at the last debate that the Iraq War was a disaster and that George W. Bush bore some responsibility for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when he mocked the conservative idea that Bush “kept us safe” after those attacks, he was speaking politically incorrect truths — well, politically incorrect for conservatives, at least.
It’s worth asking, however, what to call the Trump campaign’s rhetoric when it says things that are patently untrue. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has kept tabs on the Trump’s campaign lies and his Big Lie about the global economy. On Wednesday, however, Trump managed to pull a double-whammy on the truth with respect to national security policy.
BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski writes up the first whammy, a radio interview with Trump’s campaign manager on Bashar al-Assad:
Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said in an interview on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “keeping things in check” in the war-torn country.
The conflict in Syria, which has been ongoing for four-and-a-half years, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and created a refugee crisis in the region. Trump has said he wants to work with Russia on Syria to defeat ISIS and opposes overthrowing Assad.
Appearing on the John Fredericks Show, Lewandowski, defending Trump’s position, said, “He is very, very bad individual, but he is an individual who, in his country, is keeping things in check because he is such a bad guy they’re afraid of him.”
Here’s the thing: if you want to argue that the United States shouldn’t get too heavily involved in Syria because it’s not in the national interest, that’s a politically incorrect thing to say. If you want to argue that opposing Assad simply helps the Islamic State and destabilizes the country, that’s a politically incorrect thing to say. But to argue that Assad has kept a civil war in check that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, an economic cost equivalent to Syria’s 2007 GDP, and converted millions of Syrians into refugees isn’t politically incorrect. It’s just factually incorrect.
“Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys — “Torture doesn’t work!” — believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question, What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding. That’s the way I feel. They’re chopping off heads. Believe me, we should go much stronger, because our country’s in trouble. We’re in danger. We have people that want to do really bad things! Remember the power of weaponry. This isn’t 100 years ago where we fight hand to hand combat. This is weapons that are so destructive — so destructive — that the world could end. We have to be very strong, we have to be very vigilant, we have to be very tough. Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough, OK?
Let’s put the fact that torture is legally and morally wrong to the side for just a second. Again, this isn’t a politically incorrect statement, it’s just flat-out wrong. There is no, zero, nada evidence that torture works — the best you will find are studies that say torture is simply ineffective. There is, however, ample evidence that torture can “contribute to the mobilization and radicalization of insurgent and terrorist organizations,” in the words of one recently published paper. So, contra Trump’s claims, this move would not deter terrorism, it would simply exacerbate it. Oh, and by the way, it’s legally and morally wrong.
This is a perfect example of Trump getting his foreign policy from “the shows” — namely, “24.”
It’s worth considering what Trump is doing to the English language with his foreign policy statements. In a lot of ways, Trump would agree with George Orwell, who wrote about politics and the English language 70 years ago. In that essay, Orwell blasted the deceptions and obfuscations of political rhetoric: “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Trump has come up with a twist on the Orwellian use of language. In claiming to speak plainly, he doesn’t speak truthfully. His lies are in plain sight, easy to observe for all. But Trump is banking on his supporters buying into his “truthiness” rather than bothering to find out if what he says is actually true. And so far, it appears to be working on 35 percent of GOP voters.
If you believe his statements — and there’s little reason to do so — then Trump should announce his foreign policy team sometime in the next week. It will be very interesting to see who, if anyone, willingly associates themselves with this kind of Orwellian foreign policy worldview.