The New York Times continued its unprecedented, blistering attacks on the new president today. Booman has a pithy summary:
“The New York Times is feeling feisty this morning, going out of their way to point out that the Trump administration’s alternative facts about the inauguration are false in every particular. They also hit the administration with a terrible review of their first days in office from Trump’s own top aides. For good measure, they trashed Sean Spicer, the new press secretary, slapped the president around for not releasing his tax returns, highlighted a new legal challenge that will claim that all foreign payments to Trump-owned companies are violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and provided more coverage of the massive, global, anti-Trump women’s marches.”
The Washington Post, which styles itself as the hometown newspaper of the federal government, wasn’t much nicer.
There’s been a lot of speculation about why new Press Secretary Sean Spicer went out of his way over the weekend to trumpet provably false assertions about something as trivial as inauguration crowd size, and then Trump surrogates like KellyAnne “alternative facts” Conway doubled down on the tactic yesterday. A lot of progressives seem to want to attribute it to Trump’s narcissism. But a former White House press secretary, writing anonymously over the weekend, had a much more credible and sobering explanation.
The gist of it was the reasonable assumption that when the Trump White House contradicts obvious facts, roughly one-third of Americans will recoil in horror; another one-third, Trump’s base, will draw on their years of “liberal media” and Faux News inoculations and believe Trump; and another third will throw up their hands in despair at the shouting back and forth, decide the truth is unknowable, and tune out.
Trump’s strategy is aimed at this last group – to get as many Americans as possible to tune out and drop out from political engagement, disgusted by the dysfunction. The inauguration crowd size kerfluffle was setting an immediate tone for this strategy. And it’s actually a very smart – if incredibly cynical – strategy.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from a lifelong con artist and serial liar, but it’s not a personality quirk. It’s an intentional strategy to disempower potential opposition. It also, as a bonus, reinforces the conservative frame that government by definition is inefficient and incompetent.
News outlets like the NYT, WaPo and CNN don’t have much choice but to scream bloody murder in an unprecedented way. But now that most Americans can get their news, and facts, slanted in whichever way they like, the screaming just plays into Trump’s hands. His base will be confirmed in their beliefs, the opponents were already opponents, and the rest of us mostly just don’t have the time or patience or stomach for all of this.
The only solution I can think of is personal. Personal contact carries far more credibility with most people than traditional media sources do. Many of you reading this are already politically engaged and following the news. It’s up to us to track all of the nonsense that is already, and will continue to be, spewed at us, and patiently explain to our less engaged friends (who have lives 🙂 ) what is, and is not, reality-based.
That won’t be easy or pleasant. I expect a daily firehose of lies, the likes of which we’ve never seen in a political system not based in Pyongyang. It’s a nauseating job to have to do. But nobody else can do it as effectively. It’s up to us.