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Stephen Holmes on Fake News - Dictionary of Arguments

Krastev I 173
Fake News/Krastev/Holmes: Behind [Trumps] constant complaints about 'fake news', we can discern a very specific and very peculiar attitude towards the truth. Here again, associating Trump with post-communist leaders such as Putin, known for publicly denying easily checkable facts, helps illuminate behaviour that would otherwise seem anomaIous. >Misinformation/Policy of Russia.
Gessen: As the Russian-born American journalist Masha Gessen argues, Trump and
Putin share a similar contempt for objective truth. 'Lying is the message,' she writes. 'It's not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.(1)
Krastev: Curiously, they both tell lies that can be quickly and effortlessly exposed as false.
The purpose of their lying, given that much of their intended audience has access to alternative sources of information, cannot be to deceive. One aim, at least, is to show that leaders can prevaricate without suffering untoward consequences. Paying no price for telling easily exposable untruths is an effective way to display one's power and impunity.
Motivation: When deciding what to say, Trump always asks whether truths or untruths are more likely to help him 'win'. In his mind, obviously, there is no reason to believe that truth-tellers are more likely to get what they want than liars. But if his blatant lies betray consciousness of guilt, his sometimes surprising truths (that elected politicians are owned by their donors, for example)(2) do the same, since he is retailing such truths not because they are true but only to dramatize his de-
fiance of political correctness and to throw his enemies off balance.
Krastev I 174
Truth-tellers can inadvertently give aid and comfort to their enemies. That is why they often lose, and why liars often win.
Krastev I 175
[Trump] also believes that his enemies speak truths not because they have some sort of impartial devotion to veracity but because (and when) it serves their interest to do so. Shifting opportunistically between telling truths and telling lies, he is always 'projecting his own unruliness' onto others,(3) and that means assuming everyone else does the same. Cf. >Sincerity/Bernard Williams.
Putin: When Putin denies that Moscow had anything to do with the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, he is obviously defending his country's sovereignty, which includes the right to deny the validity of 'truths' that are used by political adversaries to attack Russia. >Sincerity/Bernard Williams.
Krastev I 177
Loyalty: (...) deeply felt loyalty to a leader or a movement cannot be shaken by offcial documents or other such bureaucratic niceties. The willingness to repeat such factual untruths is a test of loyalty.


1. Masha Gessen, 'The Putin Paradigm', New York Review of Books (13 December 2016).
2. 'As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.' Peter Nicholas, 'Donald Trump Walks Back His Past Praise of Hillary Clinton', Wall Street Journal (29 July 2015).
3. Nancy Pelosi, cited in Jennifer Rubin, 'Trump's Fruitless Struggle to Stop Transparency', Washington Post (7 February 2019).


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

LawHolm I
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The Common Law Mineola, NY 1991

Krastev I
Ivan Krastev
Stephen Holmes
The Light that Failed: A Reckoning London 2019


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-15
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