Donald Trump said Lester Holt, tonight's debate moderator, was a Democrat. Holt is in fact a Republican. Leaving aside why Trump assumed he was a Democrat, when called on this mistake, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway gave this response:
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) September 26, 2016
Trump 'didn't lie' about Lester Holt, 'a lie would mean that he knew the man's party registration'
In other words, it's not a lie if you don't know whether it's true or not when you say it.
You know what? She's not even wrong.
This distinction was the crux of Harry Frankfurt's book "On Bullshit," which sought to give useful definition to a crude word. Whereas a lie cares about the truth, bullshit is indifferent to the truth, and often plainly ignorant of it.
Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.
Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Lies honor the underlying truth and the picture of realty that facts describe. Bullshit does neither, and is far more dangerous.
Everything you see about Trump, from the Nazi memes to his incoherent rally gibberish–is bullshit. When we're ordered not to bring facts into the matter at hand, as Holt has been, everyone is selling this bullshit.
But it's also true that when we call it a lie, bullshit smiles and oozes a little closer to victory.