Monday, February 6, 2017

Trump's Fake News Trope Is a Purposeful Attempt to Assassinate Facts

Epistemic closure and cognitive bias aside, autocrats and would-be dictators rely on a constant stream of challenges to the truth. After all, truth is not the friend of those who would chase power by any means.

Trump is deeply unpopular, so polls have to be "fake news."

Trump is at it again. And I do mean again. He's been at war with the media from the beginning. Here's a reminder:
 The operating principle behind the Trump administration’s communications strategy appears to be to flood the zone with a litany of lies in order to obfuscate the facts.
But obfuscation alone isn't sufficient for Trump. He also needs to do away with the distributors of facts, the news media. Trump's approach here follows the authoritarian playbook — denigrate and delegitimize the news media while simultaneously building up an alternative media of sycophants.
To him, everything has been "rigged," especially when he wants them to be. The election was "rigged" until he won it. He lost the popular vote, though, so that part of the election was "rigged." Now he more than remains unpopular -- his numbers continue to slip -- so the current polls are "fake news," a nomenclature that grew up around actual efforts by his supporters to create a stream of misinformation mostly aimed at maligning Hillary Clinton. Some of these fake news efforts were driven by conservative allies, and some were managed by Russia, two facts that, naturally, Trump would contest.

Okay, the most recent poll says that American are against the Muslim ban -- and the wall against Mexico -- but, hey, that's a CNN poll. Advantage Trump? Who knows anymore? (That's the point.)

The Times itself pointed to the story they thought Trump hated, the one about his early stumbles. (I dunno, sorta looked like he's been stumbling a lot.)

These efforts to denigrate mainstream media are purposeful. As chief adviser Steve Bannon has declared, the Trump White House believes that the media is "the opposition party." How best to deal with the media? Marginalize them. How best to marginalize them? Make as many people as possible begin to doubt the media. Clearly the effort is not new but continues its success.

For concrete, measurable reasons, conservatives are victimized by fake news more than liberals. According to recent studies, both liberals and conservatives tend equally to believe stories about beneficial things, while conservatives believe stories about hazardous things to a far greater extent, regardless of their truthfulness (the stories used in the study, except two, were fabrications).

Yes, conservatives envisage a dark, dangerous future, while liberals see the arc of history bending toward progress. It's apparently in their particular DNA. And, boy, does it show up in their relative trust in the news.

Conservatives have always been more skeptical, while independents chart their usual centrist path. Only liberals remain trusting of mass media, though that has slipped, too.

As for now, Trump doesn't want you to trust mass media. Not that it's uniformly against him -- he's got the Wall St. Journal and a smattering of other newspapers on his side, not to mention talk radio and Fox News -- but that ANYONE is against him is more than he can stand. Being more or less still a 12-year-old, we can count on him tweeting in his own defense for the bulk of his presidency, which, one can only hope, doesn't run its full course.

Yes, I know I'm putting this Samantha Bee interview with Masha Gessen in to counter Trump, but he needs countering. And as Samantha Bee says, "We love Masha Gessen for so many things, but chief among them is her calming way of reminding us we're fucked." Watch the whole thing for so many reasons.

To wrap up this Trump-as-truth-denier mashup, let's throw in some thoughts about Trump and Putin from Garry Kasparov, noted Russian activist who also decided living in Russia wasn't life-affirming (or life-preserving). Except:
Trump also refers regularly to how he will demolish any and all critics and obstacles, from entire nations like Mexico to elected officials like Speaker Paul Ryan. He doesn’t talk about boring things like legality or procedure or how any of these threats and promises will be carried out. Before anyone can even ask, he’s on to the next audacious claim. “It will be taken care of!” “He’d better watch out!” “We’ll take the oil!” “They’ll pay for it all!” “It will be amazing!” Bold, decisive, fact-free, impossible, who cares? His followers love it.
All of these rhetorical habits are quite familiar to me and to anyone who has listened to Russian media—all state controlled—in the past decade. The repetition of the same themes of fear and hatred and racism, of victimhood, of a country beset by internal and external enemies, of how those enemies will be destroyed, of a return to national glory. How the Dear Leader apologizing or admitting error shows weakness and must never be done. Inspiring anger and hatred and then disavowing responsibility when violence occurs. It’s a match. As is the fixation with a leader’s personal strength and weakness, intentionally conflated with national strength and weakness.

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