Trump and the Big Lie
Yesterday, elsewhere in another venue, I wrote the following --
"So, the author of the Pew Report that Trump quotes about how there was rampant voter fraud says -- clearly -- there was NO voter fraud coming from registration that was outdated. And what does Trump do when confronted with that reality? He calls the author 'grovelling.' Once again, he tries to delegitimize facts and truth so that his fake 'alternative facts' can creep through."
I thought that his words about the author leaped past outrageous and hit pathetic. I mean, seriously now, Trump quotes a study, and the very author of that very study says that Trump is completely, unalterably wrong. You can't get a better source than that. It's like the scene in the movie Annie Hall, when someone in a movie line completely misquotes the author Marshall McCluhan, and Woody Allen walks over and grabs from off-screen the actual Marshall McLuhan to come over and tell the guy in line that he's wrong and misunderstands everything, Only this with Trump was real life!!
Yet even though In real life, Trump, being Trump, sickeningly does what he always does -- rather than correctly his mistake, he instead attacks the actual author who he himself had misquoted, all an effort to make the public mistrust facts, mistrust the truth, mistrust and reality.
And that's where I planned to leave it. I was all set to write a piece here about this ongoing Trump effort to undermine the truth with lies, "alternative facts," hatred and manipulation.
But then I read about Steve Bannon and the New York Times.
It turned out that earlier in the day, Bannon -- Trump's hate-filled, white supremacist, anti-Semitic chief adviser and head of Breitbart Media -- contacted the New York Times to set up an interview with himself. And among the many things he said was that the media should "keep its mouth shut" and that the media was the "enemy opposition."
Yes, you read that right.
Okay, so it's one thing for me to note that Trump is trying to delegitimize the news media, experts, truth and facts, so that he can tell his alternate reality. But it's another thing entirely that now we have his chief advisor going on the record to acknowledge it.
Creepy and sick as it is what Breitbart said (all the more so since he himself is a media mogul, so he's really just slamming those who disagree with him) and what Trump relentlessly does, it's worse than this. Because it is well-accepted among those who study or even just observe such things that one of the core tenets of a dictatorship or of fascism is to control the media and control what is seen and accepted as the truth. The Nazis took it to a level that even garnered its own name: The Big Lie. Tell a lie over and over and over enough until people accept it.
It's hateful what Trump is doing and dangerous. And it's not just creating The Big Lie -- we're at the point where he and his "alternative fact" spokespeople find comfort in creating as many Big Lies as possible.
Happily, based on everything I can see at the moment, it won't work.
Oh, it will work for the 25% of people who will blindly follow Trump into hell. And it will get spread thanks to social media where "fake news" and "alternative facts" find a home. There are several massive problems with the effort to expand beyond this willfully-ignorant base though --
First, this very same social media allows for contradicting the Big Lies and instead spreading the truth and calls of lying just as fast and as far. Where once an authoritarian regime could control the sole source of communication, that time is long gone. Not just social media, but with email, instant messaging, hundreds of cable channels and more.
Second, there are several intensely-sacred beliefs that Americans of all views hold united, and one of those few is Free Speech and the First Amendment. Americans may have different opinions of how that Free Speech should be handled, but the core value against "violating my Free Speech!" exists for pretty much everyone. And as much a beating as the media -- and especially the so-called "main stream media" -- has taken in recent years, it's taken that beating in a certain safety bubble, since underneath it all the public cherishes the First Amendment. Calling the media "dishonest" may get cheers at Trump rallies, but people still voraciously read news websites, watch TV, listen to radio, and read newspapers to get informed. Whatever tilt that news may be. And for the vast majority of Americans, having the head of government try to create a foundation of telling the media to "keep its mouth shut" is too antithetical to one of America's core beliefs to get as far as it needs to in order to have its desired Big Lie impact.
Indeed, one of America's Founding Fathers, the very man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, thought that the First Amendment and newspapers was SO critical to a democracy and to this very country that he defended them over government, in order to keep government in check. In 1787, he wrote to Edward Carrington, who Jefferson had sent as a delegate to the Continent Congress -- "...and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." That's how foundational Free Speech and a Free Press is to the United States.
But third, and perhaps most of all why the Big Lies by Trump are doomed to failure is the reality that Trump -- after only one week in office, indeed during the height of his Honeymoon Period -- has a ghastly-low 36% approval rating. Getting people to believe you when two-thirds of the public hates what you're doing just doesn't ever fly.
Recently, I was talking with someone whose concern was that when Trump lies on TV that's all that people hear, and so they believe it, not the corrections which they don't hear. I explained that, first of all, people do hear the corrections, whether because they're watching or reading the news, or because they follow social media. And secondly, yes, there will always be that 25% vast-minority who will believe anything that Trump says. But...and it's a critically important "but"...that is only 25%. A full two-thirds of the country already DO NOT LIKE HIM. Two-thirds of the country does not mystically believe whatever he says just purely because he says it. In fact, the opposite is true. When two-thirds of people don't approve of someone, their default response to anything out of his mouth is not belief, but rather skepticism.
In fact, there's an added, subtle problem for Trump attached to this. When you lie -- and when two-thirds of the people don't approve of you and are skeptical and think you're usually not telling the truth -- you run up against a central concept from our legal system. That's when a judge admonishes the jury that if they think a witness is lying about one thing, they may assume he's lying about everything. What we're dealing with here with Trump is , of course, not a Legal Case, so people don't naturally get admonished to make that same leap. But we all at our core understand the concept. Because it's ingrained in our legal system. And in ourselves. And in Jeffersonian foundations. And that makes the hurdle for Trump even higher to get past, because the lies feed on themselves. And at a certain point, when we deal with a sociopathic congenital liar, we tune that person out and stop believing whatever they say.
And the hurdle is even higher when you add in the scandals that are already hitting the Trump administration, like investigation into Russian influence and and questions of legal ethics. All of which help to tear down one's credibility.
To be clear, I'm not talking here about politics and Congress and passing legislation. That's for another discussion, with its own critical, dangerous challenges the country faces. This here is only, solely about the Trump effort to manipulate the truth, lie and delegitimize the media.
And to be clear, I'm not being a Pollyanna here, and cheery about all, that there's no problem. There's a massive problem. And it's critical. And it takes daily, even hourly vigilance to fight it. But we just saw a Women's March a mere one day into the Trump Presidency that had 3 million people, multiple times as many people as went to the Trump inauguration. The vigilance is already there. The fight, too. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm saying that as hard as it is -- and it's very hard -- it's far, far, far harder for Trump.
Ultimately, in the end, how much do Americans value Free Speech, cherish the First Amendment and actual facts? Consider not only is it the very "First" Amendment, above all others -- but the very first sentence in the Declaration of Independence is --
"We hold these truths..."
The Founding Fathers made "truth" the fourth word.
Unlike most corners of the world, this is our foundation. However messy, ugly and scary it gets -- and with Trump in the White House it will get very ugly with lots of real and deeply serious problems -- and however bitter the divide the political discourse becomes -- that's the foundation that binds us all.
Finally, related to this all, just yesterday, as well, Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made a statement that “There’s an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen".
Well, horrors! Who would dare try to delegitimize a president?? This is known as the height of ironic cluelessness.
It's been only one week in office, and already they can't take the shining light of criticism. Consider that Trump himself tried to delegitimize a president for five years. And that was based on a lie.
Yet they are already whining that the press points out the FACT that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than he did. And the FACT that Barack Obama's first Inauguration had more people in attendance. And the substantive FACTUAL EVIDENCE that the CIA, FBI and Intelligence Services have gathered showing Russian efforts to impact the election.
But beyond that, there's something enchanting about probably the most obsessive president in U.S. history having his spokesman call other people obsessive...
That's the trouble this administration is in -- after only one week -- trying to get "their story" out to a disbelieving, disapproving public. You can proclaim that "they all love me," but when they actually, really don't, it doesn't make it so. And that's a big part of the Big Lie problem. You can keep the Big Lie going by insisting "the public doesn't care about seeing Trump's tax returns," but when they actually do, then the public gets really pissed off and even more distrusting when you don't release them. And on and on.
It helps too that Trump actually, really, truly, literally is wildly unqualified and hot, empty air. After a while, you need something to sustain whatever position you take. And hot, empty air doesn't cut it.
Neither does 36-percent approval. During your Honeymoon...
1/27/2017 09:20:46 am
I'm not quite as optimistic. The free press only works will if it has legitimacy and readers have confidence in what they read (or view). Trump's natural tendency to attack and insult everyone that criticizes him or reports unfavorable facts combines with the Bannon/Breitbart extreme right wing desire to bring down the "establishment" and the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural society we currently have and with the GOP desire to lie,distort and hide the facts in order to achieve their conservative (and unpopular) agenda.
1/27/2017 09:41:43 am
I think all of what you say is valid. But I stand by the reasons I give in the article.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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