From the Honest History vault: Trump as bullshitter-in-chief

As President Trump disappears gradually but inevitably into his own unreality bubble, it is worth recalling that Professor Harry Frankfurt, American philosopher and doyen of bullshit analysis – that’s the academic study of bullshit – revisited his earlier work in the field, especially to consider Donald J. Trump as an examplar. In some ways, Trump as bullshitter is more interesting than Trump as liar.

We’ve given Frankfurt on bullshit a couple of runs over the years. Here’s a link to our resources on bullshit. Our first run with the Professor marked Trump’s inauguration; it is fitting that we mark his election defeat.

Here’s a taste. Note that bullshit is not the same as lying; bullshitters don’t care whether they are telling the truth or not.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth [says Frankfurt]. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false.

For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose …

David Stephens

9 November 2020


Professor Frankfurt (American Academy in Berlin)