The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
-Doctor Who, “The Face of Evil”
Well, it’s only been one week in the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name, and prior to all the stupid shit that happened just on Saturday January 28, the Trump Administration became noteworthy for a set of events that happened in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, starting with the fact that his speech was written by either special advisor Steve Bannon or Walter Kovacs. But after the speech, the press reported, in accordance with aerial photographs and other evidence such as Washington Metro subway passenger figures, that attendance at the 2017 inaugural was considerably less than attendance at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural ceremony. In response to media feedback, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, at his first press briefing, insisted to the media that Trump’s inaugural was the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration – period”. The day after that, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared for an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet The Press, and not only insisted that “there’s no way to really quantify crowds” but when Todd insisted that Spicer’s claim was a “provable falsehood”, Conway responded, “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and … our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.” To his credit, Todd stated what had been obvious before Trump ran for president: “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”
The Trump Administration’s blatant confrontation of the press when corrected is of a piece with their antagonistic relationship to the rest of the Washington establishment. On Saturday January 28, while everyone was screaming about Trump banning legal immigrants from Middle East countries and sparking a confrontation with a New York court that suspended his executive order on a national basis, it was less reported that on the same day, Trump signed an executive order rearranging the National Security Council so that his “chief strategist” Steve Bannon would be included along with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, while excluding the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence. Bannon is the same guy who publicly stated that “the media here is the opposition party.” All of this was parallel to the hostility Trump expressed toward the CIA when evidence kept piling up about Russian partisanship in the 2016 election.
In some respect this is all typical of the modern “conservative” contempt for information in general, especially the institutions that America traditionally relied on for information. Not that there isn’t some objective evidence for suspicion.
But what we’re dealing with is not the Administration’s enemies being caught in a lie, but the other way around. We are not dealing with alternative facts in the sense of facts that are not considered or emphasized by mainstream media. We’re dealing with “alternative facts” as in things that did not happen and claims that are not true, because partisans want to rewrite reality. Or as some liberal critics call it, “alt-facts.” In the same way that “alt-right” does not mean an alternative to the oldthink of establishment Republicans so much as an alternative to being right.
But this makes sense given that most of the Trumpets I’ve talked to are really not stupid per se, just possessed of a stubborn, blind faith that would make Torquemada look like a postmodern atheist. And the more that faith contradicts the reality, the more clear it is that such faith is based on a pre-existing concept of reality that was in place even before Donald Trump entered the picture. It was often said of Barack Obama that he was something of a Rorschach test (to his critics and especially his fans) in that they projected what they wanted to see on him. That is no less true of Trump “conservatism.” Again, that’s how David Duke, and Sheldon Adelson, and Christians and Ayn Rand fans can all think he’s their guy, and how each is inevitably going to be disappointed, at least to the extent that they do not deny evidence.
But given that Trumpets are immune to airy fripperies like “facts,” “logic” and “evidence”, alt-facts really aren’t needed for them. As we’ve seen, alt-righters and other Trumpets have a lot more experience in lying to themselves than Sean Spicer has in lying to the Washington press, and they’re actually more subtle about it. The goal of the disinformation campaign is to convince the rest of the unconvinced public that Trump’s opinion, changeable as it is, is the new normal and must not be questioned.
Because the one area in life where Donald Trump has demonstrated competence is in avoiding the legal and social consequences of his otherwise perfect incompetence. I had said previously that on some level, Donald Trump must be aware of this, and ran for President because that was the only way he could justify his own self-image to himself, by attaining the one position that actually would make him all-powerful and unaccountable. Living in a world without consequences for failure, Donald Trump is himself uncertain of any reality beyond social construction. And it’s an attitude that has gotten him this far. Thus when he receives any objective data that contradicts his fantasy, he at first angrily rejects it and then becomes obsessed with remaking reality through the media, as though agreement constituted fact.
This would explain an odd contradiction in Trump’s posture versus his behavior. He accuses the press of lying, he accuses intelligence agents of being Nazis, and yet when asked where he got his information, candidate Trump said he watches “the shows” – that is, the same media he bitches about as being “fake” and biased. Why does Trump refuse intelligence briefings when that would give him more information than anyone else in the world? If he thinks that the press are a bunch of liars, why is it that he spends so much time watching TV news shows?
The Left loves to refer to the Trump team’s strategy as “gaslighting” – explained in the Wikipedia entry as follows: “Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically are also convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions.” But gaslighting is not needed for Trump cultists and others whose sense of reality, however wrong, is secure. Gaslighting is used to undermine a target’s sense of reality and then to replace reality with the fantasy of one’s imagination. Yet this mindset may reveal a crucial vulnerability.
If Trump is simultaneously paranoid and not prone to examine his information sources, that is a critical weakness in that he cannot verify his own knowledge. If he is a narcissist, he cannot help but obsess over even negative media, as long as the media is about him. And if Trump is simultaneously “gaslighting” and prone to projection and overcompensation in all aspects of his life, that implies he is vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation himself.
So if for instance, someone Photoshops a picture of Trump’s head onto the body of a guy wearing lingerie, Trump is less likely to say, “oh, some schmuck on social media doesn’t like me” and more likely to say “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT????”
At the same time, Trump has survived the most prurient sexual allegations about him, because they play on the image that the “base” has of him. The key is that the new info does less to present Trump as transgressive (in a rebellious or macho sense) and more to present him as small, petty and impotent.
That is why it is very important that the press keeps maintaining the point that Trump and his crew lie about his inauguration attendance, and that he is lying when he says he won the popular vote (‘if you don’t count illegals’) because remembering the facts that Obama had a higher inaugural turnout, and that Clinton got more votes, serves to remind both Trump and the nation at large that MOST AMERICANS ARE NOT ON BOARD WITH HIS BULLSHIT.
And given the ineffectiveness of rumors, it would be better if Trump’s enemies were to find real data on him, specifically his financial activities, as his financial status seems to be at the core of his self-image. The key here is to make him choose between revealing a legal but humiliating truth and preserving his public image by cover-up, even to the point of being prosecuted over it. Hell, the only reason that this didn’t work on Bill Clinton is that he was both popular and competent.
But then again, no. For such a strategy to work, there would have to be an organized campaign of media manipulation. And neither the American press nor the American intelligence community would ever do something so unethical. I mean, the only reason they would even think of it is if Trump had done something to actively antagonize them.