Monday, 24 July 2017

Donald Trump, the Baron Munchausen of our time, brings back memories of Sir William McMahon

At the weekend Kellyanne Conway, one of the US President's attack dogs, went on television to argue that lies told by her boss Donald Trump are ok because ‘he doesn’t think he’s lying’.  Think Progress described the amazing interlude:
On Sunday morning’s broadcast of CNN’s Reliable Sources, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway continued to wage war on the media—and CNN specifically—by arguing the network shouldn’t be so critical toward the president because Donald Trump simply doesn’t know any better.
Conway took umbrage with the media’s insistence on covering such “non-stories” as the president of the United States continually lying to the American public. After host Brian Stelter argued that his network was committed to covering the many scandals emanating from the White House, an incredulous Conway pushed back, demanding to know what “scandals” Stelter was referring to.
“The scandals are about the president’s lies,” replied Stelter. “About voter fraud; about wire-tapping; his repeated lies about those issues. That’s the scandal.”
Despite overwhelming evidence that the White House is indeed lying in both of those cases—there is zero evidence to support Donald Trump’s claim that 3 million people voted illegally, or that his office was wire-tapped—the administration continues to promise “investigations” into both matters. But Conway’s response on Sunday was a new approach to how the administration handles allegations of lying.
“[Donald Trump] doesn’t think he’s lying about those issues, and you know it,” she said.

Host Stelter quickly pointed out that just because a person doesn’t know they are lying doesn’t mean what they said isn’t a lie. What it probably does mean is that the lying President is a modern day Baron Munchausen.
The idea that a person can believe that something is true simply because them saying it makes it true was introduced to me years ago by my old and late good friend Jim Killen just after he was sacked from the federal ministry by William McMahon. "He's got Munchausen syndrome" said Jim which sent me off to discover what that was all about. 
In those days the Encyclopedia Britannica would have been my source but these days Wikipedia tells a similar tale about the real Baron and the fictional one based on him.
In some of his best-known stories, the Baron rides a cannonball, travels to the Moon, is swallowed by a giant fish in the Mediterranean Sea, saves himself from drowning by pulling on his own hair, fights a forty-foot crocodile, enlists a wolf to pull his sleigh, and uses laurel tree branches to fix his horse when the animal is accidentally cut in two.
Munchausen rides the cannonball, as pictured by August von Wille.
In the stories he narrates, the Baron is shown as a calm, rational man, describing what he experiences with simple objectivity; absurd happenings elicit, at most, mild surprise from him, and he shows serious doubt about any unlikely events he has not witnessed himself. The resulting narrative effect is an ironic tone, encouraging skepticism in the reader and marked by a running undercurrent of subtle social satire. In addition to his fearlessness when hunting and fighting, he is suggested to be a debonair, polite gentleman given to moments of gallantry, with a scholarly penchant for knowledge, a tendency to be pedantically accurate about details in his stories, and a deep appreciation for food and drink of all kinds. The Baron also provides a solid geographical and social context for his narratives, peppering them with topical allusions and satire about recent events; indeed, many of the references in Raspe's original text are to historical incidents in the real-life Münchhausen's military career.
Because the feats the Baron describes are overtly implausible, they are easily recognizable as fiction, with a strong implication that the Baron is a liar. Whether he expects his audience to believe him varies from version to version; in Raspe's original 1785 text, he simply narrates his stories without further comment, but in the later extended versions he is insistent that he is telling the truth. In any case, the Baron appears to believe every word of his own stories, no matter how internally inconsistent they become, and he usually appears tolerantly indifferent to any disbelief he encounters in others.

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