A few years ago, when frankly things looked better than they do now, we started using the word “declinism” to describe the feeling that society was getting worse. There’s already a word for that: pejorism, but it sucks. In addition to sounding like a Victorian disorder, it does not do the important job of implying some recent peak. Anyone can think things are getting worse. A person who believes society is in decline must also believe it had a golden age. To embrace declinism, then, is to endorse the past. It is a patriot’s complaint, which probably explains why it’s so popular among old people. Today is Friday, and if any condition of society can be said to be better or worse than any other, it follows that society is at any moment on an upward- or downward-tending line. Won’t you experience confusion and fear at the new rap names with me?
In 1882, Mark Twain published “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” an essay lamenting the disappearance of quality falsehoods from the world. Twain’s complaint wasn’t that people had stopped lying. It was that they were lying poorly—”injudiciously,” as he puts it, which neatly captures the elements of both technical sloppiness and tactical unwisdom. “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie
injudiciously,” he writes. “An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.” I’m sure he didn’t mean that and only let his emotions get the better of him. But his words have become true in the 21st century: ill-conceived, injudicious lies—lies without even internal coherence—threaten to reduce all statements, true and untrue, to the same ineffectual broth. Today is Friday, and we’re all Just Sayin’ Stuff now. Won’t you stop even trying to make your lies sound true with me?
If you want your name to live forever in politics, come up with a reason why helping rich people is good for everybody. That’s what Arthur Laffer did in 1974, when he drew his famous curve on a napkin. The Laffer Curve illustrates the theory that lowering tax rates can sometimes increase overall tax revenues by stimulating economic growth. This argument makes sense, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us much. To many people, though, the Laffer Curve means that cutting taxes raises revenue. That’s the argument Treasury Secretary Paul Mnuchin made this week to justify President Trump’s plan to dramatically reduce corporate taxes. Won’t lowering taxes add to the deficit? Nah. “The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” Mnuchin said. Well then. That sounds fortuitous.
If the internet has reduced your brain to a stimulus/response meme generator, the most exciting part of Tuesday night’s debate was Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” remark. It was weird! He kind of misspoke! Let’s put it on that “walk into Mordor” thing! For my money, however, the strangest moment in the presidential debate was when moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney regarding Obama’s use of the word “terror” after the attack on the US consulate in Libya. He did say that in the Rose Garden the day after the attack. What Romney claimed was not factually accurate, or strictly correct or, you know, true. But was he lying?