Trump, Truth, Trouble
Trump’s strategy is all about defining who the enemies are: critics, globalists, ISIS (of course), and the media and its version of reality.
There have to be well-defined enemies. Causes require this. Without clear enemies, there is no cause. Populism requires this. Supporters of a populist figure need to be impassioned. Bad press, believed, dents that enthusiasm.
Trump’s media war is part of his strategy to control perception and maintain a lock on political support. In his view, one authoritative and very popular figure must be in charge of the truth. That figure, of course, is him.
That the press is very prominently the first target is a telling sign of the tactics Trump will employ throughout his term. The media will not be trusted, and he alone will be the trustworthy source of information. He alone will define reality. Some are already leaping to curry favor:
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas: Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.
Millions on the Mall for his inauguration? Millions of illegal votes against him in the election? The intelligence community says torture works? He’s won many environmental awards? And on and on… all these things are easily debunked, and have been. It does not matter. His narcissistic approach requires him to control everything that is reported, everything the public thinks they know to be true. Any fact that does not fit his narrative will be thoroughly, consistently, and ruthlessly questioned by his team. By God, he will tell us what to think, not the media!
The Trump administration is creating a baseline expectation among its loyalists that they can’t trust anything said by the media. The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.
Delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.
It also gives the new administration a convenient scapegoat for their continued struggles with public opinion, and their potential future struggles with reality… It’s not difficult to imagine the Trump administration disputing bad jobs numbers in the future, or claiming their Obamacare replacement covers everyone when it actually throws millions off insurance.
The public will give him attention. His supporters will loyally cheer. Those who do not succumb will still serve his purpose – to further galvanize those who do (and add the GOP and many Republicans in Congress to Trump’s list of enemies… it’s coming).
Leaders always employ this strategy to some degree. Spin is not an on/off switch. It’s a continuum. CEOs do it. Generals do it. Oligarchs do it. Presidents do it. Dictators do it. Fascists do it – too strong a term? Have a long think about that before you set your opinion.
At which end of this spectrum will we land? That is up to us, the people. We the people determine all of this, not Trump. Will we succumb and make him the broker of information? What will we decide for our society? For our civilization?
For the world?