On Bullshit: Donald Trump, Harry Frankfurt, and Indifference to Truth with Lindsay Beyerstein
Donald Trump’s primary campaign is a landmark in the history of bullshit. As of this writing, 78% of Trump’s campaign trail claims evaluated by the non-partisan website PolitiFact have been rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. Trump’s deceptions range from the inflammatory, to the self-serving, to the conspiratorial: That he saw New Jersey Muslims celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center on 9/11. That he never went bankrupt. That vaccines cause autism.
In his classic paper, “On Bullshit,” philosopher Harry Frankfurt argues that the hallmark of bullshit is indifference to truth. A liar knows the truth and takes pains to misrepresent it convincingly. A bullshitter casually mixes fact and fiction because, for him, the truth is beside the point. Trump is the epitome of a Frankfurtian bullshitter in that his rhetoric is crafted purely to impress his audience in the moment. We will discuss how Trump’s success reflects our post-factual politics and what we can do to resist disinformation.
Lindsay Beyerstein is an investigative journalist in Brooklyn, New York. She co-hosts CFI’s flagship radio show and podcast, “Point of Inquiry.” Her reporting has appeared in The New Republic, Al Jazeera America, The Columbia Journalism Review, Salon, Slate, Newsweek, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. She is the recipient of a 2015 Beacon of Reason Award from Oregonians for Science and Reason. She holds a Master’s degree in philosophy from Tufts University.