Footloose and Fact-Free

 

September 2016

 

Trump Pinocchio - 1

Drawing by Barry Galef

Donald Trump recently called Hillary Clinton a bigot.[1] What evidence did he present to back up that claim? None. He didn’t seem to think there was any need for evidence. It seemed to be enough that he had simply stated it. His fans cheered.

Clinton’s supposed bigotry is news to African-Americans in this country, almost all of whom, among those who are likely voters, are likely to vote for her.

Of course, Trump himself has been accused of bigotry – by Clinton and many others, including some in his own party. But in this case, there is a fair amount of evidence to support the claim.

I’ve listened to Trump say all sorts of things – always with conviction. Most of those things, when fact-checked, have been found to be not true. Either he has no idea what he’s talking about (as in discussions of foreign affairs or how government works, for example) or he blatantly lies (as in denying he said something that was actually recorded on tape) or he just makes stuff up. His fans don’t seem to care. Or maybe they don’t know because they don’t read the fact-checkers. Or maybe they simply don’t believe the fact-checkers, who work for those liberal “elitist” newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.[2]

We are now at the point where a sizable portion of the Republican base is living in an essentially “fact-free” bubble and refuses to consider sources of news that the rest of us regard as reliable. Perhaps they are instead listening to propaganda machines masquerading as news organizations – like, say, Fox News. They are thus largely insulated from the fact that Donald Trump is a pathological liar – a fact that is abundantly obvious to the rest of the country, including many Republicans, and has been assiduously reported by respected news sources and fact-checkers. One conservative radio host, unnerved by the situation, recently admitted the horror of what he and others like him have wrought:

“”We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers. There’s nobody. Let’s say that Donald Trump basically makes whatever you want to say, whatever claim he wants to make. And everybody knows it’s a falsehood,” he explained. ‘The big question of my audience, it is impossible for me to say that. ‘By the way, you know it’s false.’ And they’ll say, ‘Why? I saw it on Allen B. West.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I saw it on a Facebook page.’ And I’ll say, ‘The New York Times did a fact check.’ And they’ll say, Oh, that’s The New York Times. That’s bullshit.””[3]

Under the category of “just making stuff up”: Recently the Trump campaign has pushed rumors that Hillary Clinton has such poor mental and physical health as to make her unfit to be president – she’s “’unstable,’ ‘unbalanced’ and ‘totally unhinged,’” according to Trump.[4] Like the “birther” conspiracy theory that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, a theory that Trump promoted, there is no truth to this rumor. But you can get a fair amount of traction from lies if you repeat them often enough. Even now, almost three quarters of registered Republican voters have doubts about whether President Obama is a U.S. citizen.[5]

I actually prefer honesty in people who are running for president. I’m old fashioned that way. As entertaining as it may be to watch a presidential candidate just make stuff up – and then swear by it – I find it unnerving. For me, a presidential campaign isn’t about who will make me feel best or who will promise to make America great again or who seems “strongest.” It’s about who is competent, trustworthy, temperamentally sound, and has ideas that I think are basically good ideas for the country. I’m boring that way.

That Trump is a pathological liar has been well established.[6] We’ve had some pretty outrageous candidates for president over the years, but when it comes to lying Trump trumps them all. I mean, it’s really impressive … in a sociopathic sort of way.

But Trump’s fans don’t seem to ask, “Is that true?” In fairness, most candidates’ supporters don’t question the veracity of what their favored candidate says, as long as it’s something they want to hear. But because Trump is such a pathological liar – I mean, real “pants on fire” stuff and lots of it – it does make one sit up and take notice that his fans don’t seem to take notice. For them, it seems it’s not about facts or the lack of them. It’s about something else.

There has been a lot of speculation about what that something else might be, about why Trump’s fans support him. One of the best discussions I’ve heard on this was given recently by Ezra Klein, who reviewed the two predominant theories – (1) the economic anxiety theory and (2) the theory that it’s racism or racial resentment or anxiety about demographic changes. He described a very large survey carried out by Gallup, which collected all sorts of information about voters who support Trump. When the resulting massive data set was analyzed, it didn’t really show what you would expect to find if the Trump voters were mainly motivated by economic anxiety.[7]

So Klein digs deeper. Trump’s supporters are overwhelmingly white and tend to live in overwhelmingly white areas. Trump says he will make America great again,” implying that it was a lot better way back when – when there were not so many people who were different from “us” (that would be immigrants and people of any color other than white and any religion other than Christian). As Klein notes, we are in a period of “profound demographic change” and “a lot of people are uncomfortable with it.” True enough. There is “a lot of fear of ‘the other.’”

I don’t worry about the demographic changes taking place in this country. I’ve always lived in places where there are lots of people who are not white or not Christian. I was delighted that we elected (and re-elected) an African-American president. And I think Obama has been wonderful – the epitome of what I want in a president.

So I don’t share the Trump supporters’ feelings. But I can understand some of those feelings. The country is changing, and I can imagine that it could be unnerving – especially if you don’t feel secure in your own situation. I’ve heard people on the left simply dismiss the Trump supporters as people who don’t like giving up their white privilege. And while I think there’s probably a lot of truth to that, I also think it’s sort of callous to look at them exclusively in those terms. I wish people were kinder to each other — even to people with whom they don’t see eye to eye.

But I also wish people were a lot more rational, and relied a lot less on their emotions when they vote for someone to be the president of the United States. Trump doesn’t say how he will accomplish the “great successes” he’s always promising, of course; he just says he’ll “take care of it. It’ll be great.” And his fans don’t press for more. They just cheer – wildly. Because it’s not about facts. (It can’t be about facts, since there are so few of them in the Trump campaign.) It’s about emotions.

When I look at the electoral map and I see all those solid red states in the middle and the South, I feel a heavy numbness. And I find myself wondering: What would Trump have to do or say to get his fans to suddenly sit up and say to themselves, “Wait a minute …”?

Donald Trump is footloose and fact-free – more so than any other presidential candidate I’ve ever witnessed.[8] He doesn’t really have any commitment to any political party or to any constituency – least of all the cheering crowds who serve only to feed his ego. If he were to win the election, his fans would surely find that out the hard way. When it comes to something as important as choosing the next president of the United States, an ounce of objective assessment is worth a pound of “feel good” emotion. Call me rational, but that’s my take on it.

I don’t begrudge Trump’s fans their feelings, although I don’t share them. But when people’s allegiance to a candidate is based solely on emotions, when a campaign is essentially fact-free and people don’t know or care, we’ve got a problem.

And, as Trump might say, we’ve got a yuge problem.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/08/24/donald-trump-shouts-hillary-clinton-is-a-bigot/

[2] One of the most well-known fact-checkers (of “pants on fire” fame) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times. For “the latest from PolitiFact, see http://www.politifact.com/

[3] http://www.rawstory.com/2016/08/conservative-radio-host-weve-created-this-monster-of-fact-hating-right-wing-voters/

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lets-call-the-conspiracy-theories-about-hillarys-health-what-they-are_us_57bf6cb1e4b085c1ff28af62 ; http://www.newyorker.com/?p=3245517&mbid=nl_TNY%20Template%20-%20With%20Photo%20(85)&CNDID=40495573&spMailingID=9421478&spUserID=MTMzMTg0NzkwNjc1S0&spJobID=982190307&spReportId=OTgyMTkwMzA3S0

[5] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/poll-persistent-partisan-divide-over-birther-question-n627446

[6] There are many references for this. Here’s a column that contains several: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/opinion/lord-of-the-lies.html?_r=0; Kevin Drum provides a list, off the top of his head, of things Trump might regret having done or said, if he were the regretting type (which he’s not). It includes a lot of his real whoppers: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/08/donald-trump-has-few-regrets . And here’s Politifact’s “All Pants on Fire! statements involving Donald Trump”: http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/byruling/pants-fire/

[7] Klein does acknowledge that economic anxiety is part of it, although, he believes, not the major part; others have noted that white men are among the few demographics for whom things are not improving economically.

[8] http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

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2 comments on “Footloose and Fact-Free

  1. Frank Dixon says:

    OK.

    ________________________________

  2. […] I gave a list of sources for this in another (related) essay – see footnote 6 in “Footloose and Fact-Free.” Just putting “Trump” and “lies” into Google, you can get others – such as: […]

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