Monday, August 31, 2020
Bill Gates: Of all the things I’ve learned from Warren, the most important thing might be what friendship is all about. As Warren himself put it a few years ago when we spoke with some college students,
“You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. So it’s important to associate with people that are better than yourself. The friends you have will form you as you go through life. Make some good friends, keep them for the rest of your life, but have them be people that you admire as well as like.”
Sunday, August 30, 2020
The five dumbest Republican arguments for Trump
August 30, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. CDT
None of Republicans’ commonly deployed arguments for reelecting President Trump are tethered to reality. The paucity of logic and factual support for their rationales suggests many on the right, even “respectable” columnists and elected officials, actually support him for reasons they’re loath to admit, whether it’s because they share his apocalyptic view of crime encroaching on the suburbs or are eager to see a country purged of immigrants.
He will give us law and order: If public safety is the concern, the unnecessary deaths from covid-19, which might exceed 200,000 by Election Day, and the anxiety over leaving our homes for fear of joining 6 million infected Americans surely make Trump’s tenure the most dangerous for ordinary Americans. Each week, we have been losing twice the number of Americans killed on Sept. 11.
No wonder Trump loves to highlight any domestic scene of disorder, mayhem and looting he can to frighten White Americans, arguing that if law enforcement “dominates the streets,” we will have public order. This is preposterous. We cannot go to war with millions of demonstrators. That’s simply impossible, not to mention morally objectionable. The demands of the protesters, among them police reform and voting rights legislation are entirely legitimate. But so long as Trump denies the legitimacy of these concerns and the presence of systemic racism, we will not have domestic tranquility.
Trump celebrates violence, encourages police misconduct, honors Whites indicted for brandishing guns at marchers and tear-gassed peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square. Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway let on that the administration believes that the more violence happens in the streets, the better chance Trump has of being reelected.
Meanwhile, Trump smears our intelligence community, spinning false conspiracy theories and adopting Vladimir Putin’s version of the 2016 plot to interfere with our election. Trump tramples on laws and precedents ranging from the Hatch Act to turning over his tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee upon request. There is no president in recent memory who has hired and associated with so many convicted felons. He personally is under investigation by multiple authorities for potential financial crimes. He is his own crime spree.
He has vanquished the pandemic: The level of delusion necessary to sustain the fiction that Trump has handled the pandemic well is unfathomable. We have more deaths due to the disease than any other country on the planet, many more deaths per capita than many advanced countries and no national testing-and-tracing program. We remain cloistered at home and children cannot attend school in person in most places after weeks of shutdowns, largely because Trumped egged officials into reopening prematurely. He has hawked dangerous and unproven remedies and pressured government health experts to weaken or change guidelines to minimize dangers and restrictions on activities. As he did Thursday night, he gathers large crowds without masks and social distancing, creating his very own potential superspreading events.
He has been great for the economy: Multiple fact-checkers have repeatedly demonstrated that the economic successes Trump claims were questionable relative to the economy President Barack Obama built before Trump took office. This disparity was due in part to tariffs Trump imposed, which amount to a tax hike for U.S. consumers. If Trump falsely thinks he inherited a rotten economy, it’s inarguable that he crashed it by attempting to ignore a pandemic. It is now evident that some jobs lost will not return when — and if — the coronavirus is vanquished. Hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses have closed. Companies will not all emerge from bankruptcy. Trump ends his four years with record unemployment and debt — and without a plan to reduce either.
Joe Biden is a socialist: Not even the Republicans have the nerve to make that argument. Instead, they argue that Biden will be tricked or led around by the nose by forces on the left. This is entirely speculative and ignores Biden’s decades-long record in office (remember the 1994 crime bill?) and policy choices during the campaign, among them his opposition to Medicare-for-all. Moreover, we have yet to see in American politics a situation in which the wing of a party defeated in the presidential primary magically controls the executive branch after their rivals from the same party assume office.
Moreover, if “conservatives” are worried about the expansion of government, then Trump’s widespread abuse of executive power, meddling in investigations and enforcement actions to benefit cronies and punish enemies, threats to harm certain companies (as in his call for a boycott of Goodyear), protectionism and capitulation to illiberal regimes, as well as the mammoth debt he’s run up, his indiscriminate use of federal forces against protesters, his misuse of government property and government employees to serve his personal interests, and attacks on the courts and free press make Trump the least conservative president ever (if that word has any meaning anymore).
“Life”: One can respect those deeply opposed to abortion in evaluating the candidates, but by the same token, a president who prioritizes the economy over preventing a pandemic, rips children from the arms of their mothers, refuses to denounce killings of unarmed Black Americans and willfully declines to protect the lives of our troops on whose heads Russia placed bounties is not respectful of human life in any meaningful sense. Indeed, Trump has turned the party into a vicious death cult that trivializes the nearly 180,000 deaths caused by covid-19 to date. When you create superspreader crowds to soothe your ego, you are endangering human life.
When one party willfully ignores a pandemic and treats Black lives as expendable, it loses any moral authority regarding the sanctity of human life. In refusing to be guided by scientific facts (be it on air and water quality, climate change or covid-19), Trump puts at risk the health and lives of millions of people here and around the world. Those who value the essential worth of every human being should be repulsed by this administration.
Donald Trump’s Greatest Escape
His critics assume this crisis has to take Trump down, whether for the bungled response or the economic collapse. They’re missing something important: He’s been training for this moment his entire life.
04/17/2020 05:06 AM EDT
Michael Kruse is a senior staff writer for POLITICO.
His audacity masked his desperation.
It was the spring of 1995. Donald Trump was this close to finished. He had spent the previous five years constantly, and barely, avoiding financial ruin and what he worried would be a permanent stain of personal bankruptcy. In that time, his marriage had collapsed, he himself had incurred debts of almost a billion dollars, all three of his casinos in Atlantic City had filed for bankruptcy, and the best of the three, Trump Plaza, was losing almost $9 million a year.
The aura of success was gone. Banks wouldn’t anymore lend him the kind of money he needed. From this crouch, Trump hatched a bold, almost absurd plan: He chose this moment to take his company public—and sell stock in his casinos. He created a new company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc., and hoped to rustle up about $300 million from stock and junk bonds to expand the Plaza, develop a riverboat casino in Indiana and reduce his personal debt.
Analysts frowned on the idea. “We are not entirely confident,” one from Standard & Poor’s warned, “that Mr. Trump will respect the interests and preserve the capital of equity investors in his properties.” The media was harsher, a columnist at Newsday portraying Trump as part carny, part con man. “Step right up, cries the barker with the jaunty derby and twirling cane,” Sydney Schanberg wrote that April. “Donald Trump has a deal for you.”
A quarter of a century has passed. Trump, of course, is no longer the cash-strapped operator of gaudy gambling halls on the New Jersey shore but the president of the United States. Once again, though, he is in dire straits. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic wreckage, the possibility that he could be reelected has never seemed less certain. The annals of American history are littered with presidents brought down by their failures to deal with a national crisis, from Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War to Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage affair and the oil shock.
Those presidents, though, had something else in common, too. They were not Donald Trump.
Because from the early ‘90s, when bankers and lenders in New York and state regulators in New Jersey could have all but ended him, to his herky-jerky presidential campaign in 2015 and ’16, to his aberrant, hyperactive presidency, Trump has built an astonishingly consistent record of surviving crises, of dodging the comeuppance everyone assumes is coming his way, and then turning seeming calamity into his next great opportunity—and emerging not just intact but emboldened.
He dodged the “Access Hollywood” tape fiasco. He evaded the noose of impeachment over the Ukraine deal. Those might now seem minor compared to the challenge of trying to get reelected during a worldwide health crisis and a looming depression—but if one acknowledges that he has been training in some sense for this sort of a jam for the bulk of his adult existence, then this nightmarish predicament starts to look less like an uncrackable problem than a potential capstone accomplishment.
“He’s a magician that way,” said Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M University and the author of the forthcoming Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump. “Other people would stop and recognize that they were defeated. Or that they should be shamed. He refuses.”
George Arzt, a Democratic consultant in New York, who’s known Trump for going on 50 years, likens him to the world’s most noted escape artist.
“Houdini,” he said.
Few chapters exhibit this talent of Trump’s better than what happened in 1995. In the first week of June, Trump stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and watched over the successful debut of his publicly traded casino company, the stock symbol his initials—DJT. He got the low end of the price he wanted, $14 per share, but enough to bring in $140 million, plus an additional $155 million in 10-year junk bond notes for a total haul of just shy of $300 million.
Trump’s casinos could have been concrete blocks lashed to his ankles. But at that perilous juncture, he somehow transformed them into a personal lifeline. From that point until 2009, when Trump stepped down as the company’s chair, his Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts would pay him $44 million in salary and $82 million overall. The people who invested, who threw him that lifeline, didn’t do so well: The company lost $1.1 billion over that time, filing for bankruptcy twice. The stock price would peak at $35.50 in 1996—and ultimately fall to as low as 17 cents a share. “People who believed in him, that listened to his siren song,” the uber-investor Warren Buffett would say, “came away losing well over 90 cents on the dollar. They got back less than a dime.”
That day on Wall Street, though, was nothing short of a bounce-back win. The government-mandated “quiet period” surrounding an initial public offering meant Trump couldn’t make any comments. But he didn’t have to. The look on his face, according to reporting at the time, was all that needed to be said. He beamed. “He was,” said somebody who was there, “absolutely ebullient.”
And now, in his scattershot response to this once-in-a-lifetime crisis—his shoutfests with reporters, his back-and-forth proclamations and policy impulses, his odd tweets about miracle drugs—Trump’s aghast critics see a president backed into a corner, desperate and unmanned, in a frantic, final freefall. But people who’ve watched him for years, who’ve witnessed the dizzying pivots, the great escapes, the gobsmacking victories in the face of arguably more unforgiving audiences than American voters—what they see is Trump deploying tools and tactics that have worked before and could work again.
Before his campaign (calling John McCain “not a war hero,” stating he could shoot somebody and not lose supporters, boasting that he could “grab ‘em by the pussy”), and before his presidency (the Mueller report, his impeachment, so much of everything else over these last three years and not quite three months), Trump had no shortage of experience doing things that could have spelled doom—but did not.
He spent too much money that wasn’t his on too much stuff he didn’t need. The Plaza Hotel. The airline. The yacht. And by the early ‘90s it became exasperatingly clear to the bankers that Trump’s debilitating issues weren’t just his. They were theirs, too. His creditors had so enabled him that they were now “partners,” as a bankruptcy lawyer put it to the Boston Globe. “Because he owed all this money,” his longtime political adviser Roger Stone once said, “he had the leverage!” He had, thanks to the banks, gotten bigger and bigger and bigger—until he was “too big to fail.” For Trump, though, this was not an admonishment. It was a revelation. I’m in trouble. But so are you. And so you can’t get rid of me now.
Ditto for the New Jersey gaming regulators. Throughout the first half of the ‘90s, they could have stripped Trump of his casinos, on account of his manifest lack of “financial stability.” The assessments of Trump by the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement were stark. The Trump Organization was “near insolvent.” His “fiscal health” was “worrisome.” His casinos’ ability to obtain the necessary credit and funds was “significantly diminished.” Trump, the division reported to the commission, was on track to have personal income of $1.7 million in ’91. Then $700,000 in ‘92. Then $300,000 in ’93. Trump was, the numbers made plain, in the throes of financial death. “Unsettling,” understated one member of the commission. In the end, though, the gatekeepers always gave Trump green lights, granted leeway, extended deadlines. They cited his “progress,” which always was more wishful thinking than defensible fact. They let Trump live because they feared a dead Trump would lead to a dead or at least severely staggered Atlantic City. “Too big to fail”—again.
What played out around this time on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was a version of the same. Trump had tried for years to put on a sprawling tract of land that he owned a mammoth development anchored by the tallest building in the world. He wanted to call it Trump City. But he was stymied by neighborhood resistance and his own persistent spats with government officials. This property, like his casinos, could have been a waterloo. Thanks, though, to investors from Hong Kong, it proved to be the opposite. His grandiose vision had to be ratcheted down to a more modest project, but the collection of buildings (formerly) known as Trump Place made the plot a moneymaker instead of a money loser. Here, too, Trump had jimmied his way out of a tight spot, and with a product to promote.
“Donald is pretty fast on his feet,” Kent Barwick, who clashed with Trump as the president of the Municipal Art Society at the time, told me. “I mean, he may not be a Mensa candidate, but he’s shrewd.”
“The dodging and the weaving and the bullshit,” said Steve Robinson, an architect involved in the Upper West Side resistance, recounting Trump’s methods.
Indeed, Trump spent the first half of his worst decade not just scrambling to survive but constructing a runway of rhetoric for what he eventually was able to pull off with the IPO of ’95.
“What Donald Trump has done, essentially, is sell some assets and reduce debt,” Trump wrote in 1991 in a letter to the editor in the Washington Post. “Donald Trump is doing very well.”
The Taj filed for bankruptcy that year. The Plaza did the next year. So did the Castle. It didn’t matter. Trump, undaunted and unabashed, began hammering away about a “comeback.” And he didn’t do it on his own. He had help. Because for all of the media’s harder-hitting, stacks-of-facts chronicling of his failures, and for all the many occasions Trump disparaged “sick” and “nasty” reporters who “should be ashamed,” journalists at times also helped push his preferred version of himself. “He’s Ba-ack,” Business Week said as early as 1992. “You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump. He’s one of the few shooting stars from the ‘80s who can boast of a comeback in the ‘90s,” ABC News’ Sam Donaldson said on “Primetime Live” in 1994.
“I think he is the world’s greatest promoter and P.R. person,” Wilbur Ross, who is the Secretary of Commerce now but was a prominent investment banker then, told Vanity Fair that year. “He has captured the public imagination and turned it into a resource for himself. People may joke that he’s always promoting himself, but he’s figured out a way to make it more than an ego trip.”
Underwriters of the stock deal had promoted the sheen of Trump’s well-known name and the sway it held with his typical day-tripping, relatively small-sum customers. “Defying reason,” Forbes said that fall, investors bit. “There’s a lot of brand equity in Trump’s name,” a stock analyst told USA Today in November of 1995, “in middle America.” Trump was quoted in the article, too. “The general public loves Trump again. They really never stopped loving Trump,” he said.
Trump spun from the confidence of a certain portion of the population money for himself. “The ’95 thing injected him with new cash,” said David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered Trump and his casinos for the Philadelphia Inquirer and then the New York Times, “and allowed him to argue that he was this great genius.”
That in turn allowed him in ’96 to fold into his publicly traded company his other two Atlantic City casinos, first his Taj Mahal, then his Castle. And maybe equally importantly, people buying what Trump was selling let him buy time—time, it turned out, until 2004, when television impresario Mark Burnett began to re-pitch him to watchers of “The Apprentice” on primetime as the epitome of American business brawn. Buffed and on screen, Trump appeared to be an infallible, decisive CEO with a Midas touch past.
That catchy pop-culture depiction buried the much less flattering reporting repeatedly laid out in the business pages of the biggest and most mainstream newspapers and magazines. Gauged as a whole, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts was “a flop,” Shawn Tully of Fortune wrote in March of 2016, as Trump as a presidential candidate left in his wake the Republican primary pack and began to take aim at Hillary Clinton. It “damaged thousands of shareholders, bondholders, and workers.” Losers everywhere. “The sole ‘winner,’” explained Tully, an experienced financial scribe, “now packs arenas across America, mesmerizing tens of thousands of cheering fans with tales of his business triumphs.”
Tales remains the operative term. Because the contest at hand is not only between Trump and the ravages of Covid-19, or Trump and “Democrat” governors, or Trump and any of the reporters spread out in the seats in the briefing room these evenings at the White House. All of it is part of the larger war for Trump between the numbers and the narrative. Will this president, as has been the case with other presidents, be punished at the ballot box for a woeful reality, not always of their making—or will enough of the voters of 2020, like the investors of the mid-1990s, be susceptible to Trump’s proven brand of brazen persuasion?
There are people I talked with for this story who side with the implacable numbers. Death tolls and unemployment and impossibly long lines at food banks, they say, simply can’t be swamped by even the most tenacious attempts to scramble storylines.
“I am definitely in the camp of not this time,” said political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, who predicted with startling accuracy the results of the 2018 midterms. “Body bags,” she said, leave “an indelible impression.”
“The Trump magic only works if he’s got gullible audiences, or at least curious audiences,” said Mercieca. She’s the author of the book due out this summer about the “rhetorical genius” of Trump. But she still thinks this skill set has its limits. “And if we’re really miserable in November and we may well be very miserable, then I think people probably are going to associate that with Trump.”
There are also, though, those I spoke with who believe Trump has the capacity to cloak the numbers and recast them as positives, not negatives—that he, in essence, totally could talk his way out of this by telling a better story. Could Trump get reelected? In spite of a plague? In the midst of wide-ranging economic devastation? These people all but sighed when I asked.
“Yes,” said former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell.
“Yes,” said Tim O’Brien, the Trump biographer who’s a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and served as a senior adviser for Mike Bloomberg’s presidential bid. “He is so uniquely pathologic and uniquely remorseless, and I think it gives him this reptilian energy to continuously deny, spin and move forward,” O’Brien continued. “And November’s a long way off.”
O’Donnell, O’Brien and others see him doing what he did in those years leading up to that spring and summer of 1995.
“Trump is a simple guy with a few basic moves,” former Trump P.R. man Alan Marcus told me. “He always goes back to what’s worked in the past.”
“He’s obviously positioning himself for the long haul here,” O’Donnell said. “For all his lack of knowledge about so many things, he’s pretty darn media-savvy, and he’s working this right now almost brilliantly to the extent that he realizes the value of putting himself out there every day, and even if he doesn’t say the right thing every day, and even if he contradicts himself, what he’s doing is he’s laying a framework to defend himself. He’s spinning this every day now: 2 million would have died if it wasn’t for me—and it’s pretty clear it’s not going to get to 2 million—so whatever that number is beneath it, whether it’s 100,000 or 200,000, which is just horrible, to him it’s a victory. And he’s going to present it as that.”
It’s what he’s done for decades, hawking these kinds of alternative narratives—first and foremost the lie that he’s a self-made man—and these narratives have been remarkably successful, and protective, too.
“He also has been uniquely insulated from the consequences of his own mistakes his entire life,” O’Brien explained, “first by his father’s wealth that insulated him from his educational and then business mistakes; and then celebrity, which insulated him from being forgotten, even though he was a joke as a businessman at that point; and then this third ring of fire—the presidency—which has insulated him legally from the consequences of his corrupt behavior. And I would say there’s a likelihood that in 2020 he gets insulated from being defeated because he’s able to make a pandemic a winner for himself.”
Many people I talked with said Trump’s already turned this calamity into opportunity, pointing to his nearly daily briefings, which by some accounts are like his rallies only better—because they happen more often and are watched by more people. Their efficacy is very much an open question. Polling is showing the benefits are fading, as the briefings have grown longer, less focused and more contentious. Struggling with mounting coverage painting him as a heedless, feckless ditherer who ignored numerous dire warnings, Trump has stuck unwaveringly to a characteristic P.R. offensive, accepting no “responsibility,” claiming “total” authority, and presenting himself as an on-it and unassailable manager—putting his name on mailed-out CDC guidelines and stimulus checks while relentlessly shifting blame for this “invisible enemy” to the World Health Organization, China, states he says weren’t prepared enough, governors he thinks don’t thank him enough.
“Never underestimate Donald Trump,” said Sam Nunberg, a Trump adviser during the 2016 campaign. “He’s able to adapt to any situation.”
In the past, too, Trump stared down these existential threats with small, sometimes seat-of-the-pants teams on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, not as an incumbent president backed by a sweeping, sophisticated, funds-flush reelection operation—his campaign and adjacent entities raised $212 million in the first quarter and have raked in more than $1 billion overall—well-equipped, ready and willing to fight these next six and a half months on a narrowed, drastically altered front, a “virtual” campaign that could be defined by screens and fear.
Come November, Trump could win again, say political strategists associated with both major parties, not in spite of the coronavirus but because of it.
“If I was Brad Parscale,” Greta Carnes, the national organizing director for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, told me, referring to Trump’s campaign manager, “I would be salivating right now, because this is the exact kind of environment where Trump will do well.”
Anger, anxiety and an onslaught of misinformation online were engines of Trump’s political ascent, and this unprecedented, disjointed general election is shaping up to be rife with all three.
“This year is going to be so scary, so volatile, so anxiety-inducing,” Carnes said, “I just think in my heart of hearts that it’s going to take a really uphill battle for people to want to pick somebody else”—an extreme version, perhaps, of what saved post-Sept. 11 George W. Bush in 2004, the strong pull to not change course even during a deeply unpopular war.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden “before Covid actually had a better chance of being elected than he does now,” Rick Wilson, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, told me. Wilson’s reasoning: Biden’s comparatively absent from the national conversation right now—and Trump is making sure of it. “Trump’s numbers depend in part on Trump absorbing all of the spotlight. We learned this in ’16,” Wilson said, “and right now he’s absorbing all of it.”
Attention can be good or bad, but a central gambit of the life of Trump is that that’s actually not true. That it’s all good. That attention is power. That if you’re watching, he’s winning.
“Anybody who studies him and studies the nature of power and propaganda when melded together should understand that this is not going to be easy,” veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said of his party’s shot to make Trump a one-term president.
“Americans are suckers for a good story,” he said. “Donald Trump is going to give ‘em a good story.”
And that story is?
“The story is,” he said, shifting into the ominous voice of a classic political ad narrator, “the nation faced its greatest crisis since the Second World War. And we were led by a president who had been hobbled by people who had tried to destroy him from Day One.
The economy was in tatters. Millions were out of work. What did Donald Trump do? He did what all great American leaders have done. X, Y, Z. Now, despite what we’ve been through, this most extraordinary nation, blessed by God, is on its way back. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to get there, because Donald Trump is leading the way.”
The video the president showed at the beginning of Monday’s briefing that many described as propaganda marked an escalation in this effort and a likely preview of what’s to come. “PRESIDENT TRUMP TOOK DECISIVE ACTION,” the screen said.
And on Thursday, on the heels of the latest dismal unemployment numbers, the Trump campaign blasted out an email, with a quote attributable to its communications director, trying to flip the narrative. It echoed Sheinkopf’s mock script. “Under the president’s leadership the economy reached unprecedented heights before it was artificially interrupted and it will be though his guidance that we’ll restore it to greatness …”
Don’t believe this can work?
Don’t believe Trump can win?
“Talk to President Hillary Clinton,” Sheinkopf said.
Fact-checking Trump’s lies is essential. It’s also increasingly fruitless.
August 29, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. CDT
Daniel Dale met President Trump’s convention speech with a tirade of truth Thursday night — a tour de force of fact-checking that left CNN anchor Anderson Cooper looking slightly stunned.
The cable network’s resident fact-checker motored through at least 21 falsehoods and misstatements he had found in Trump’s 70-minute speech, breathlessly debunking them at such a pace that when he finished, Cooper, looking bemused, paused for a moment and then deadpanned, “Oh, that’s it?”
So, so much was simply wrong. Claims about the border wall, about drug prices, about unemployment, about his response to the pandemic, about rival Joe Biden’s supposed desire to defund the police (which Biden has said he opposes).
Dale is a national treasure, imported last year from the Toronto Star, where he won accolades for bravely tackling the Sisyphean task of fact-checking Trump. My skilled colleagues of The Washington Post Fact-Checker team, who recently published a whole book on the president’s lies, have similarly done their best to hold back the tide of Trumpian falsehoods.
Dozens of organizations, from Snopes.com to FactCheck.org and many others, are kept busy chasing political lies, so many of which come from the current White House. But here’s the rub. More than a decade after the innovative Florida-based fact-checking organization Politifact.org won a Pulitzer Prize, fact-checking may make less of a difference than ever.
More and more, fact-checkers seem to be trying to bail out an ancient, rusty and sinking freighter with the energetic use of measuring cups and thimbles.
“My biggest takeaway of the last four years is probably realizing the extent to which big chunks of America are living in a different universe of news/facts with basically no shared reality,” was how Charlie Warzel, who writes about the information wars for the New York Times put it last week.
I happened to be sitting in the WAMU studio in late 2016 when Scottie Nell Hughes — then a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the 2016 campaign — said something startling, live on the Diane Rehm radio show: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, (as) facts.”
Rehm had pressed her about Trump’s false assertion that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally. That was a claim he seemingly had heard on Infowars — the conspiracy-theory-crazed site run by Alex Jones, who at one time claimed that the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six staff members at an Connecticut elementary school was a government-sponsored hoax.
Hughes gave not an inch of ground: Trump’s false claims, she insisted, “amongst a certain crowd . . . a large part of the population, are truth.”
Belief, therefore, takes the place of fact.
The situation has only become worse since then. And as scholars have observed, calling out falsehoods forcefully may actually cause people to hold tighter to their beliefs.
That’s the “backfire effect” that academics Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler wrote about in their study “When Corrections Fail” about the persistence of political misperceptions: “Direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual beliefs.”
Not knowing what media sources to believe — and the growing mistrust in the press among many segments of the public — has added to the problem of politicians who lie.
Last week, I was asked to settle a family dispute about the believability of a news report that had been circulating on a group text-message chain.
One family member (I’m being vague since I hope to continue to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner) was outraged by the supposed revelations in a Newsweek article whose headline read “Brand New Mail Sorting Machine Thrown Out at USPS Center, Leaving Workers Sorting by Hand.”
Another family member had serious doubts about whether this was true. He dismissed it as “hearsay.”
And a third asked me to take a look: Would I have published the article?
It didn’t take me long to decide it wasn’t credible or publication-worthy. Newsweek, despite its legacy name, is suspect from the start these days. The article’s sourcing was thin. And a hyperlink, its main piece of evidence, led me to a local news site that already corrected the main element of its story. (Days later, Newsweek still hadn’t updated its story.)
These family members care about the facts, and were engaged enough to be curious about whether a report is accurate. And while it may have suited their politics better if it were true, they were open to hearing that it wasn’t.
But most people don’t have the time or energy to do research projects on the news they are reading, or the claims they are hearing from the White House, or the conspiracy theories that flood their Facebook feeds.
Most people no longer share with their fellow citizens the trust in news organizations — or in political actors — that would give them confidence in a shared basis of reality. And worst of all, the flow of disinformation on social media is both vile and unstoppable.
In this world, challenging official lies and seeking truth remains necessary, even essential. The yeoman’s work of Daniel Dale, and others like him, remains appreciated.
But I’m with Warzel on this: As Americans, we’re in trouble when it comes to a common ground of reality on which to stand.
And no amount of fact-checking is going to solve that overwhelming problem.
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- GREAT NEW NY TIMES VIDEO : PLANS ARE DUMB - RNC PL...
- The Republican case against Mr. Biden assumes bot...
- Dean McFrownypants Is Sorely Disappointed in Colle...
- BLOOD ON RUMP'S TINY, GREEDY LITTLE PAWS
- ANOTHER HYPOCRITE FOR RUMP
- Kellyanne Conway undermined the truth like no othe...
- COMMENTS FROM DAN RATHER
- GOOD RIDDANCE TO RUMP AND HIS GARBAGE FAMILY
- The Lie at the Heart of Melania’s Speech
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- Colleges Lost the Moral Authority to Blame Students
- The moral rot of Trump and his enablers has spread...
- New York’s School Chaos Is Breaking MeSo this ish...
- NEW INC. MAGAZINE COLUMN BY HOWARD TULLMAN
- RUMP IS A CHUMP
- What Katie Porter taught us at the DeJoy hearing
- NEW PAWS CHICAGO MEDICAL CENTER MURAL BY JEFF ZIMM...
- Media Anchors and Editors Enable Rump's Lies
- When will we really see 5G?
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- WHAT TO DO WHEN EVERYONE AT THE REPUBLICAN CONVENT...
- In 1,267 days, President Trump has made 20,055 fal...
- No administration is 100 percent candid or factua...
- THE WIZARD OF OZ
- Rump is a Sad and Bad Joke
- Rump Vincibility Watch
- Just imagine the answers Trump will give in the de...
- Hannity - The Main Whore and Hypocrite at Fox and ...
- Rump - the Scumbag Strikes Again
- Digital arts school looks to sublease Loop home
- Rump the Racist Pig
- Frank Bruni
- BLM is Drowning in Ignorance
- Smollett Case: Special Prosecutor Finds ‘Abuses of...
- NEW INC. MAGAZINE COLUMN BY HOWARD TULLMAN
- Divisions over Chicago protests highlight challeng...
- BLM: Thugs and Thieves and Proud of It
- A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast
- LETTER TO LORI LIGHTWEIGHT
- STUPID CROOKED KIM FOXX HAS GOT TO GO
- JOHN KASS COLUMN
- DON'T MAKE THE KIDS....
- RUMP AND HIS BUDDIES ON THE ROCKS
- SERIOUSLY - CAN THESE IDIOTS FROM BLM GET ANY WORSE?
- A Dry Run at a Socially Distanced Classroom
- Rump's Lies
- Keep Campus Closed - What Higher Ed is Too Afraid ...
- Useless Lying Piece of Crap
- Another Disgusting Concession to Rump's Craziness ...
- Why Rump is Losing
- Kim Foxx is a Filthy Liar - Putting Looters and Sh...
- NEW INC. MAGAZINE BLOGPOST BY HOWARD TULLMAN
- RUMP'S REALITY SHOW
- It is what it is
- The lost days of summer: How Rump struggled to con...
- FALWELL - FAVORITE PICTURE OF THE WEEK - HYPOCRITI...
- Trump's Worst
- Gaming the System
- All the Problems With Trump's TikTok Fee
- A LIE A MINUTE FROM RUMP - THE CHUMP IN CHIEF
- MSM: STOP SUCKING UP AND DO YOUR JOB
- New INC. Magazine Blog Post by Howard Tullman
- NANCY P - IF NEED BE - ANYTHING BUT RUMP
- The Tanned Man Has a Green Monster
- Is it all ober for Uber?
- A Righteous Man Screwed by the Scumbag Rump
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