The Post-Trump Lesson I Pray We’ll All Learn

I promised four years ago that I’d leave this website free of commentary on Donald Trump. Unlike the former president, I’ve kept to my word.  Well, until now, I guess.

The demise of The Donald – and my god it feels good to write that sentence! – gives us a brief moment to assess the important lessons to be learned from his time in power.  There are many.  Don’t nominate a Clinton again.  There’s one.

The lesson I’m mostly interested in, however, is the one Joe Biden alluded to in his inaugural address when he talked about truth and lies.  It’s something that I first wrote about in detail way back in 2017, in this post.

My short definition of Fake News back then:

…anything that Donald Trump doesn’t agree with

The longer, and just as accurate version (corrected for tense):

Fake News is a news story that looks like it could be true, but isn’t. It bears some resemblance to ‘a’ truth if you squint hard enough while reading it, but it smells a little bit funny and eventually, is proven to be untrue.

Donald Trump stuck to his own definition pretty religiously.  If anybody said anything critical about him or his actions, his gut reaction was to label it as Fake News and feed it as such to his base.

Fake News took a more sinister turn during the Trump presidency, too, which is the part I’m most hopeful that the world will find a way through.  Between 2016 and 2020, Fake News jumped from being something slightly warped from an actual reality, to an alternate reality with its own ecosystem of support.

These typical examples will be familiar to you all:

The Crowd – on day 2 of Trump’s presidency, the White House communications director, Sean Spicer, stepped up to the White House podium and said, on camera and unequivocally, that Trump’s inauguration was the best-attended inauguration ceremony in the country’s history.

Quote:

[It was] the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.

Unquote.

It’s a harmless lie, I’ll admit, but it’s a lie nonetheless and what’s more, it was a pretty good indication as to what was to come.

The Sharpie

This is another harmless lie in the overall scheme of things, but the lie being so harmless begs the question – why do it?

Trump incorrectly included Alabama in a hurricane warning.  The residents of Alabama were rightly quite frightened by this news.  The local authorities assured them they were safe.  Rather than admit the mistake, Trump presented a map that had been quite crudely altered using a black Sharpie pen as evidence to show he wasn’t in error.

Read more here.

The Virus

A lie made often in vain hope, but perhaps the most destructive lie Trump told in his four years as president.

Comments like “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” in Feb 2020 and “it’ll disappear, you watch” were made somewhat in hope (though it should be noted that the first of these comments was made after Trump’s conversation with Bob Woodward, where he acknowledged that the Coronavirus was much more dangerous that people were being told).

Comments like “Some people say you can test too much” were more sinister, designed to cover up his Administration’s lack of commitment to, and incompetence in, handling the pandemic as it emerged in 2020.  This includes incompetence that led to some of the most unbelievable headlines you could ever imagine.

As of the time I’m writing this, the USA has more than a quarter of the world’s total cases.  More than 417,000 people have died with coronavirus in the USA.  The last 7 days have seen an average of 3,076 deaths per day.  The virus didn’t disappear.

The Steal

Donald Trump promoted The Steal starting way back in 2016.  Even then, he promoted the twin ideas of voter fraud and a stolen election as his numbers vs Hilary Clinton started dipping in the polls:

Later, at the evening rally in Wilkes-Barre, Mr. Trump raised more concerns about voting fraud. “I just hear such reports about Philadelphia,” he said. “I hear these horror shows, and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us.”

Trump raised this argument again and again in 2020.  It was one of his primary talking points during the campaign, morphing into an obsession that would completely dwarf his duties as president once the election was run and lost.

The Trump campaign lodged, and lost, more than 60 court cases alleging election fraud in states all around the country.  In speech after speech, at rally after rally, and in interview after interview, Trump and his boosters alleged that the election had been stolen.  Meanwhile, state electoral bodies – the majority of them in question being under Republican control – conducted recount after recount and audit after audit, confirming that the 2020 general election was statistically free of fraud and/or error.

 

 

The presentation of opinion-as-news – and more pointedly, lies-as-news – became “new normals” while Trump was president.  Fabrication became a cultural norm, given tacit approval by a spineless Republican party that was happy to look the other way in exchange for tax cuts and judicial appointments.

This new normal transformed into its own ecosystem thanks to cults such as Q-Anon, constructing an alternate reality mixing real-world people and events into a fantasy that has, quite literally, millions around the world sucked into its web.  A combination of choose-your-own-adventure and fan-fiction but with very real story endings.

Weeks of escalating post-election rhetoric and tension fomented into a rally in Washington where Trump, Giuliani and others whipped up the crowd and inspired them to march to the Capitol.

The January 6 insurrection was the culmination of all this.  Trump’s hand-built narrative of stolen elections was combined with the Q-Anon paranoid belief that he was some sort of anointed warrior destined to bust open rings of corruption and paedophilia, opposed by a non-existent Deep State determined to bring him down.  Anti-government militias and bovver-boy mobs bought into the idea of Trump’s outsider status and his determination for revolution.  They can be seen moving through the crowd in organised formations.  Many reports (such as this one) talk about calls in the crowd for vice President, Mike Pence, to be hanged.  For House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocazio-Cortez to be kidnapped or killed.

Inside the Capitol itself, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were doing more than just playing a PR game.  They were attempting to use senate procedures to overturn free and fair elections in selected states.  A handful of senators voted with them, along with nearly a third of the House.

 

 

I don’t fear another Trump-led attempt at revolution.

Trump was never in politics for the public good.  Trump was in it for Trump.  This whole stolen election campaign has been about him saving face, staying relevant, and being the person that he is – someone who’s always been allowed an escape clause.  His time, and that of his ragtag group of goons has passed.

What I fear is the next version of Trump being competent.

I fear a public that doesn’t know how to think critically anymore, a public that stops listening to the news and lives on a Murdochesque diet of opinion-as-news and is blind to its own fate.  I fear a protagonist who’s better at spin, better at mixing lies with the truth and exploiting the public’s fears, its need to get one up on the ‘other’ in their lives.

Somewhere out there, there’s a young, charismatic right-wing thinker who knows that he can be more measured than Trump.  More precise.  More targeted.  And somewhere out there is a party-machine specialist who’s seen how effective this movement was.  It didn’t overturn an election this time, but with a bit more finesse…….

The antidote to this is critical thinking.

As I mentioned to an old mate on social media last week:  you might have a kid that comes home screaming that the sky is red, that water isn’t wet, that the earth is flat, or whatever.  For a while, you humour them and their curious beliefs in the interests of keeping a peaceful house.  You might spar with them a little and poke fun in a light-hearted way.  Eventually, though, you owe it to your kids to educate them to think critically, to seek real evidence and evaluate it in a balanced way.  You owe it to them to think for themselves.

Journalism is not a loved profession.  There are genuine reasons for that.  Media owners have morphed news services into entertainment and we’re all worse off for it.

But good journalism has never been more important.

Critical thinking has never been more important.

Considered judgement has never been more important.

If I can leave you all with one thing to think about from this piece, it’s this:  Read.  Think.  Discuss.

Don’t tell me what your preferred commentator thinks about an issue.  Tell me in your own words what YOU think.  Back it up with reasons why.  Back that up with sources that involve expertise and/or recorded events from reputable sources, not commentary or opinion.

I am a bleeding heart lefty, as long-time readers of this website will know.  I’m a team player when it comes to society and I wear my heart on my sleeve.  You may not believe that we’re all in this together, but we are.  Your world affects mine, and vice versa.

Let’s come at it honestly.

 


 

A final word…..

Comments are open on this piece but if your name is Peter G or Dick L, don’t bother.  Your comments will be erased as soon as I see them.  You have no place here.

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16 Comments

    1. Yup, the first intelligent piece I’ve read about the whole nightmare called Trump! Thank god we’ve woken up!
      Thanks Steven, great to read your work again!

  1. Excellent post.
    In the UK we suffered at the hands of May, a cabal of civil servants telling us one thing while plotting with the EU to thwart the will of the people regarding Brexit. The BBC have literally morphed into the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation.
    BTW I hope the Australian government stick to their guns regarding Google.

  2. Thank you Steven for your insights. My wife and I are extremely frustrated because we know many otherwise good people who still adore Trump and think he was treated unfairly. It seems unfathomable to us that they feel that way but it seems each of them only listened to his Tweets or beyond-far-right or conspiracy theory news sources. I guess modern social media and online “news” sources has a downside.
    Oh well, I enjoyed reading the educated thoughts of someone who knows Australia, Sweden and Europe.
    BTW, I assume the remark “Don’t nominate a Clinton again” is because they aren’t electable?

    1. G’day Ted.

      I remember doing a post back in the SU days which gently probed readers’ persuasions. I was very surprised to see just how right-leaning the audience was and simply couldn’t understand it. People are a mystery, even when you think you know them. Thankfully life isn’t ALL about politics.

      Clintons – yes. As competent as Hilary would have been – and we can only imagine how much better off you’d all be in this pandemic if she’d had the reins – she’s just too polarising. I don’t think Chelsea has the same aspirations (correct me if I’m wrote) so it’s a bit of a moot question.

      Great to hear from you, mate!

      1. What? nothing from Angelo? I’m a little disappointed. We used to go around a little on your blogs about things, right and left in the States. Nothing stays the same. Let’s all hope that as all us macho cars guys age, we come to the understanding that it’s not really that important to be right, as long as we treat other with respect and not lie, Then we can get along, I hope.

    2. Steve,

      Strange, the BBC International Service has gone in the opposite direction. I stopped listening eventually, after they cancelled science reporting (basic science, not even things that conservatives consider controversial), and limited their “experts” to US conservative think-tank talkers (“there’s no problem where the solution isn’t cutting taxes, education and health care”). Can you get them in the UK, or is this branch of the BBC reserved for those of us who live elsewhere?

      Also, it’s interesting that the blame is shifting to May. One would think that there are bigger fish to fry.

  3. “Murdochesque diet of opinion-as-news” say it all. The popular – repeat that POPULAR – shows are mostly opinion with just enough news mixed to provide a cloak of respectability. This applies to TV on both sides of the argument. What slays me is the use of “it was on xyz last night” and the “truth” of any statements made during the show.

    When a report or documentary is aired with facts not skewed by opinion is where the disconnect occurs. The liars surface with their “alternate” facts that have to be disproved again and again. Critical thinking is hard to do when consistently assailed by misleading and inaccurate reporting.

    The extent of opinion reporting has led to creation or expansion of truthfulness ratings. Snopes, Politifact and new comer Media Bias Chart seem to be good at quashing the opinion facts to an extent. I find Media Bias Chart https://www.adfontesmedia.com/ to be most useful in rooting out both bias and reportage.

    To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to TV other than streamed clips off YouTube. I do not watch TV, I dumped cable years ago and OTA is near impossible in my area.

      1. I didn’t mention in my earlier comments, but put much of the blame on opinion “news” on Murdoch and News Corp. In the 1980’s Murdoch made his move from Australia to the US with purchase of Field Enterprises based in Chicago, Illinois.

        Field Entrerprises consisted of the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post, WFLD-TV (Chicago, Channel 32) and a New York City television station as the primary assets of the Field family of Chicago. The Field family harkens back to Gilded Age Marshall Fields Department store in Chicago.

        Murdoch’s purchase of the TV stations kicked in a FCC rule that ownership of electronic media be held by a US citizen. So Australia’s loss was America’s gain….. …..

        When Murdoch bought Field Enterprises (which has morphed into the Fox Network of today), the Sun-Times had Mike Royko, a Pulitzer awarded reporter, writer & columnist on its’ staff. Royko was well known for his criticism & admiration of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. At any rate Royko took a dislike of Murdoch naming Murdoch as “Alien” but never by direct name. After leaving the Sun-Times for the Chicago Tribune Royko continued his sniping of Murdoch for another decade plus in his daily column.

        swade…..please reply with a private e-mail. I have some “news” that I think is inappropriate for this wider forum.

    1. Hey Richard.

      Sky is news during much of the day, and a shitstorm of ideology in the evenings. I wouldn’t pay a cent for it.

      I wouldn’t pay a cent for any of Rupert’s media. I’ve even boycotted footy subscriptions as I don’t want to put money in his pockets in any way. He’s a cancer on society.

      Hope all’s well down south.

  4. I hear you Steve. Hope you are doing ok 👍

    All is good in the world context. Just been away with Justin up to Symmons Plains for a long weekend to watch car racing being run by the ARG. It was great included new categories;S5000 (open wheelers), TCR (turbo 2 L international – even Alfa’s), Trans Am (Camaro, Mustang, Challenger – current models USA) and the TCM (Torana’s, Ford’s etc.).

    Still on the treadmill had a big birthday last year – 60 shhh!). Grace graduated from Uni with a Bachelor of Science and has plans to go back to USA – yeah I know what you are thinking…has a boyfriend back there.

    Mat and Scott have bought caravan’s and Scott’s still away this week caravanning. (I keep thinking of the old Top Gear caravan episodes) LOL 😃

  5. Nice to read your thoughts written down so clearly, as always. We have discussed the idea of entertainment vs reporting in our household many times and have come to your conclusion as well.
    Be safe and stay healthy.
    mvh/