Now we shall have a President-elect who just lets the Big Lies fly.
It’s not as if past Presidents have never misled us. But in the past Presidential lies were relatively rare and then carefully constructed. They were reviewed and polished by high-level wordsmiths and cautious handlers before being rolled out to the public. Think Condi Rice’s line, “…there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” That was a work of art delivered on behalf of her President. It was scary as hell, and uncheckable by the press. True, it was checkable by U.N weapons inspectors, but that’s another long story.
But now Trump. Now we have a President-elect who wakes up at 3 in the morning and delivers a load of obvious rubbish via Twitter. Being who he is, he has 16.5 million Twitter followers, which includes of course at least half the reporters in America. He has no filters of his own. At 3 AM, in his gold-embroidered pajamas, he has no handlers. This will be our new world:
The idea that busloads, or thousands, or now (in the fevered brain of a President-elect) millions of people are illegally voting in U.S elections really got rolling about 6 years ago. It’s still got momentum. And it’s always been baseless. It was a lie manufactured out of nothing by GOP governors and GOP state legislators working to make voting more difficult and suppress voting among Democratic constituencies. There was never any evidence of voter fraud. When the governors and legislators were pressed for evidence, none was forthcoming.
This was, in a way, quite sadly instructive. Turns out, propaganda campaigns are easy. No jingles are necessary, no clever ad-copy is needed. No actual evidence is required. Propaganda simply needs to be repeated, like any other advertising.
Look at the voter fraud lie. Begin by simply asserting (against all evidence) that some horrible thing (voter fraud) is going on. When challenged for evidence, ignore the challenge. Simply go back to the original assertion. Do it over and over. Remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.
These GOP governors and legislators never paid any price for peddling this lie. The mainstream press remained largely predictably supine.
And now we have a man ascending to the pinnacle of world power — a U.S. President-elect — who merrily repeats the “illegal voter” b-s.
By now millions of Americans believe that busloads, or thousands, or (ludicrously) millions of people are voting in our elections illegally. Millions of us also believe that President Obama is a Muslim, or was born in Kenya.
When repeated over and over, even the most absurd claptrap finds a home in the minds of the gullible, and the lightly-informed, or the predisposed. And remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.
Is there any hope that we shall survive this collapse in the public dialog? Probably not. Really. Probably not. But let’s enjoy a small moment of progress. Here are a couple of headlines from our most valuable national press outlets– the New York Times and the Washington Post (h/t Melissa Block at NPR):
Now the first headline (from the NY Times) is the better. The debunking is located right in the headline. The WaPo’s debunk is in the sub-headline. But it too is a step forward. This is progress, but should the public have waited for this for six years? When some politician is spouting what is well known as rubbish, headlines that repeat or reinforce the rubbish do the public great harm. And those headlines happen all too often.
It’s nice to be polite, but if you’re a journalist being polite to a barrel of rubbish? And maintaining that pose over a span of years? What should we suppose might happen?