They can’t stop the presses, but they can stop the mob from believing them. In a democracy, declaring fake is Censor’s strongest weapon.
POLITUSIC has written a lot about information bubbles and echo chambers. We’ve compared the Republican Party to North Korea, mocked the brains of the right-wing, questioned what defines state controlled media, and incorrectly predicted that facts would overcome political fervor. And yet, even with all those elitist critiques, we still underestimated the stupidity of the average American and their ego-driven inability to accept facts that fall outside their own biases.
In 2017 we find a new tipping point in the battle for the direction of Humanity’s Evolution: The Presidency of Donald Trump redefining “fake”.
Such an act might seem small: redefining one word by means of its use in broadcast and online media. But if it takes hold beyond his presidency, the result is going to make Kim Jong-un jealous. No one saw this one coming – or at least no one thought it would stick – and for that we must give a knights nod to alt-right strategist Steve Bannon…. well played, sir. You won this round.
Trump Is Doing A Good Job
The republican echo chamber has convinced the die-hard GOP base that the Trump Administration is doing a good job. But that’s predictable: we already know that political affiliation is tribal, and in the Seventh Circle of Hell that is Social Media, an individual is able to physically live in a diverse community while accessing only information that reaffirms an isolated worldview.
Seven to eight years ago Facebook, Twitter, and the Koch Bother’s “grass roots” Tea Party turned politics into a trench war. In that environment, Trump could be in impeachment proceedings for colluding with Russia, but thanks to Facebook and right-wing radio, a large part of America would still believe he’s trustworthy. But that’s not dangerous to how a society functions. The danger facing America is the new weapon the right wing is using against national news: defining fake as a synonym of disagree.
Right Wing War On Media
Rush Limbaugh became the first King of Republicanland by telling his listeners he was the only person telling the truth, and therefore the only person they can trust. That marketing method created an information bubble, but it wasn’t necessarily dangerous. It gave us the Tea Party and a boatload of conspiracy theories, but the only long term impact was the monetization of republican politics1.
For many years, conservative anti-news language has been “liberal” and “biased”, but after the 2016 election that changed. Immediately following Trump’s ascension, we saw a huge uptick in stories discussing the “fake news” taking over conservative social media. These were websites pretending to be news outlets posting fake stories and conspiracy theories for one reason: make money from the clicks of angry republicans. They sell snake oil to the gullible; something we’ve done to one another for hundreds of years. It’s not personal, it’s business.
When the President of The United States started using the same phrase to label national news outlets, however, then we started to enter dark territory.
Fake Can Be The Most Powerful Four Letter Word
Under the direction of Steve Bannon, Trump starting using “fake news” to define stories that put him in a negative light. And his followers believe it. They love it. Even Fox News hosts aren’t safe. If one dares to criticize the president, the Trump supporter backlash is quick and brutal. “Fake news” is the new rallying cry of Trumpland – they use it discredit anything and everything with which they disagree.
That is dangerous.
Steve Bannon isn’t an idiot: the change from “liberal bias” to “fake” was deliberate and key to the “us against the rest of the world” narrative that keeps Trumpsters aggressively loyal. Bannon is trying to create permanent distrust of facts and demonize dissent. With enough effort, he hopes to turn voices of dissent into something that is literally not real in the isolated minds of the republican base.
Access to diverse information and questioning authority are the foundation of a free society – Trump and Bannon are chiseling away at both. They are using authority and the bully pulpit to restrict access to information by means of delegitimizing it. They can’t stop the presses, but they can stop the mob from believing them. In a democracy, declaring fake is Censor’s strongest weapon.
Trump’s press conferences make good TV, but if his message of “Disagree = Fake” seeps deeper into the belief systems of right-wing America, then the inevitable next step is the scary one: increased politicization of education. If you don’t agree with that progression2 there are countless examples. Most recent is red state school boards removing contraception and adding creationism to science text books. Look further and find “faith-based” home school education of the Evangelical movement. Books and movies sold to faith-based home schoolers frame agreed upon science as “fake” – because a fact doesn’t jibe with a religious belief. Saying something is fake – second only to evil – is the easiest way to solidify distrust in a person’s mind; especially a young mind.
National Media Needs To Get Its Act Together
The more Trump bastardizes media, the more his supporters trust him. The establishment might politely disagree, but Trump’s power is in the base, not Washington politicians.
Adding “falsely claims” to every Trump headline isn’t enough to break the information bubble. Here’s a hint: the republican base isn’t watching you anymore! National broadcast and cable news can wave flags of falsehoods all they want: Trumpsters either don’t watch them, or tune in just so they can make fun of the “crybabies and whiners” complaining about their dearest Donald Trump. As far as Trumpsters are concerned they are at war and dissent is an act of treason.
So reporters need to stop searching for the perfect headline, stop trying to rile up liberals, and stop writing stories about Trump making up stories. He’s literally got you chasing your own tails. Go back to the boring work of reporting: digging up the truth on events and happenings that matter. Do it quietly, and without the desperation of wanting to be the first to “report” it on freakin’ Twitter.
If an impeachment-level story exists: find it, prove it, and print it. Make Trumpsters hold it in their hands. Get the hell out of the Seventh Circle of Social Media: make facts tangible and you will force them to know they’re real. Stop complaining about Trump and do something about Trump…
…but for now… thanks the the redefinition of one little word – fake – the piling-on of “Trump Falsely Claims ____” news reports is creating an even greater partisan divide…. and the walls of Republicanland’s echo chamber are growing even stronger. Well played, Bannon… well played.
1 Republicanism can sell its base everything from hats to commemorative plates and gold-plated inauguration coins. Democrats can’t even sell their base the will to vote. back
2 … well, then you’re wrong. Go back and study human history. Indoctrination closely followed by belief-based slaughtering of “Other” is what homo sapiens do best – and most often. back