Exit of the Bullshitter of the Century
In the search for explanations for the phenomenon that is Donald Trump, many have sought inspiration over the last four years in a famous essay, originally published in 1986, by the Princeton philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt: „On Bullshit“. The central point of this essay is the distinction between liar and bullshitter: A liar must at least refer to truth as he seeks to replace it by his lie, whereas a bullshitter needs no relation whatsoever to truth. Bullshit doesn’t even have to be necessarily untrue. The truth has no place in it at all, not even ex negativo. That is why it is called bullshit: „Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative content, so excrement is matter from which everything nutritive has been removed“1) Bullshit is speech that is not supposed to (mis)inform. The deception inherent in it does not refer to facts out there, but to the game the bullshitter plays by his very bullshitting. The bullshitter does not deceive about the facts, he deceives about himself, as a bullshitter. He bullshits the world dizzy to the extent that it doesn’t even realize any more what unspeakable bullshit is being showered upon it along the way.
In October 2015 I was in New York and visited the constitutionalist Mattias Kumm, our longtime friend and supporter, who teaches half the year in Berlin and the other half at NYU. We went to a café near Washington Square, and soon came to talk about Trump, who a few weeks earlier had announced to run for the 2016 presidential election to the great amusement of most. Trump, Kumm said, was the paragon of a bullshitter, a fact known to everyone in the USA. Wrestling matches, beauty pageants, „the Apprentice“, the man is pure, unfiltered bullshit in the shape of a celebrity, recognizable to everyone, highly successful at it and therefore attractive.
If Trump claims, against all evidence, that Barrack Obama was born in Kenya, there’s no need for him to convince anyone. A liar would have to, but not him. All he has to is get away with it. He has to bullshit successfully. Then people love him.
That’s what Trump has been doing also for those last four years, never mind how many untruths were detected in his speech by the fact-checkers of the New York Times. That’s what he still does when he talks about vote rigging and claims that he and not Biden had won the election „by a lot“. Only this time he is bullshitting against a collectively binding decision of the people of the USA. We, the people, in the dreadfully rusty and absurd and unequal, but nonetheless astonishingly robust procedure it has used to make these decisions since forever, has chosen Joe Biden as its president for the next four years. This is not just a truth which could be a matter of contestation. This is, first and foremost, a decision. Something has happened. Reality has been altered. An empowerment has taken place. Trump’s bluff has been called. As of 20 January 2021, Biden is President of the United States of America. No ever so fantastic amount of bullshit will be able to change that.
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