A Post-Trump Guide to Stopping the Lies and Healing Our Politics – Mother Jones
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Cass Sunstein is a public intellectual and provocative – and he thought of a topical issue: public lies.
A longtime Harvard law professor and behavioral economist, Sunstein has written numerous books, including volumes on cost-benefit analysis, conspiracy theories, animal rights, authoritarianism in the United States, decision-making, and Star Wars. He is currently co-writing a book with Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman on the human crisis. He was recently appointed senior adviser to the Department of Homeland Security, overseeing the overthrow of Donald Trump’s Biden administration. (Some progressives, who criticized Sunstein for strangling regulations when it was the Tsar for President Barack Obama, were worried about returning to government service for Sunstein, but his appointment to the DHS did not cause a stir.) But shortly before rejoining federal government, released his latest work: Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception.
The book is certainly a product of the Trump era, to the extent that the “former guy” made 30,583 false or misleading allegations while serving as president, according to the Washington Post. All his lies worked. Donald Trump was elected rather than – or because – because of his serial false speech. He almost won re-election after his tsunami that rejects the truth. And after the election, Trump spread the Big Lie that his victory had been stolen and his crusade provoked a revolt in the Capitol that threatened to certify the number of elections. After all – and after Trump’s misleading statements about the COVID-19 pandemic led to the prevention of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans – Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party and a hero to tens of millions of Americans.
So what can be done to prevent this lie? Especially in an age of expanding misinformation, wild and faint social media, QAnon, deepfakes and widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories?
In his book, Sunstein discusses why lies can succeed (“fish are more likely to spread than the truth”) and how difficult it is – especially given First Amendment freedoms – to deal with them. He notes that certain forms of lying can be punished: forgery, defamation and false advertising. He asserted that his confession had been obtained through torture and that his confession had been obtained through torture. Although this is much more difficult than he said.
I talked to Sunstein about all of this on the Mother Jones Podcast. And we faced the big issue: since a debate about lies and what we should do about it is, in a way, a debate about reality, how can we function as a democratic society if we do not agree on what it is and does not is not it true?