On Recognizing the Importance of Trump’s First 100 Days and What Lies Ahead: Part II.
In Part I, I briefly discussed Trump’s antagonism and its influence on our sliding scale of acceptance for scandal. I concluded by saying that in order to learn how to fight back against incremental normalization, we need to also examine our relationship with the media.
With that being said, here is how our relationship with mainstream has evolved over the past 100 days:
2. A growing distrust of mainstream media, and a shift to believing alternative facts.
In her Teen Vogue column Trump’s First 100 Days Have Completely Undermined America’s Political Standards, Lauren Duca states that since January 20th, “…distrust in media and toxic partisanship have allowed feelings to outweigh facts in the marketplace of ideas.”
It is not just a phenomenon that has been promulgated by the Trump administration, though as Duca later clarifies, “…[Trump’s] excelled in exploiting it beyond repair.” These first one hundred days have seen an ever-expanding national distrust in mainstream media, developing in tandem with the rise in popularity of those who peddle alternative, unsubstantiated facts — particularly on the left.
While it is indisputable that the nation is in dire need of:
- A detailed House and Senate investigation on Russia,
- An independent commission to examine the administration’s activities and Russian connections, and
- A special prosecutor,
We must concurrently recognize the dangers of increasingly attributing anything and everything to Russia, and ignoring factual reporting. As Jeet Heer states succinctly in The New Republic, the increased belief in conspiracy theories on the left, “…corrodes the commitment to truth and honest debate that make democracy possible.”
In essence, it becomes easier to not take responsibility and assess the causation of certain long-term problems — e.g. the Democratic Party’s lack of strategy on how to reach Rust Belt voters — if everything is viewed through the belief that the mainstream media is distorting the truth, and it is a bigger, more powerful entity who has prevented rightful votes from being recorded. Or a more common refrain: every Democratic political loss or mistake, should be attributed to circumstances beyond one’s control.
On the eve of the GA-6 primary, two stories were dominating social media in Democratic circles:
- The fact that voting machines had been stolen in Cobb County,
- There was a bad data card discovered during the ballot count in Fulton County.
There was an immediate outcry on social media from key left-leaning accounts, accusing the GOP of vote-fixing. Several accounts went so far as to insist that this glitch was also related to the Russian hacking of the DNC, and there had to be Russia/GOP collusion, despite zero evidence to substantiate any of these claims.
Moreover, those leading the outcry chose to overlook some obvious points, including applying deductive reasoning to any of their proposed scenarios:
- What would be the point of the GOP allegedly stealing voting machines?
- Was it to fix the vote? Was it to corrupt voter data? Was it to increase voter disenfranchisement, since there would be fewer machines available to the general public?
- Data problems with electronic voting machines are unfortunately, not uncommon.
None of those making the claims of GOP vote-fixing could clearly state a potential motive, with facts to support those assertions. Additionally, each of these proposed scenarios would involve an extraordinary level of coordination, that would ultimately make Watergate seem like child’s play.
An alleged GOP operative committing the theft would have to:
- Know how to gain access to the machines,
- Fix the data in a way that is untraceable,
- Then somehow return the machines, without getting caught.
Even if any of this were feasible, there are protocols in place when it comes to elections, including poll workers monitoring the locations and campaigns having the ability to challenge the result and order recounts. Campaigns by and large, are not in the business of losing and would jump on any opportunity to overturn a vote.
Thus, it is not surprising that it turns out that the machines were stolen by someone who had no idea what they were.
Finally, the argument that it is somehow suspicious that Ossoff lost in Handel’s county — with the implication that the GOP had something to do with it — overlooks the very obvious fact that people often vote based on name recognition. Handel is on the Fulton Board of Commissioners, and has been in the public eye. Party affiliation is also often emphasized less on the local level. Consequently, it seems logical to assume that people saw her name, did not necessarily think about the party implications, and voted for her.
With all of this being said, it is worth broadly asking: would the wildfire of rumors from the night of the GA-6 primary have spread, had it not been for the relentless ongoing emphasis on Russia supposedly orchestrating everything, as is often touted by popular conspiracy theorists? Why did people immediately chose to assume that everything from that night was related to the GOP/Russia, verses assessing the logic of their claims?
Or even more broadly, why is any of this important?
To paraphrase Jeet Heer again, conspiracy theories like the ones that were flung around on the GA-6 election night, corrodes our ability to see the truth, and react accordingly.
In GA-6’s case, there are certain foundational truths — e.g. Georgia is still a purple state, so turnout was always going to be tight; Fulton is homebase for Handel, so a win for her is unsurprising— that should be addressed, if we intend to make logical, supportive gains in the leadup to the June 20th primary. But by blaming all of this on the GOP and Russia, and exerting everyone’s mental energy on these claims, it clouds the actual proactive steps that are needed to go forward.
Arguably — if everyone who tweeted about Russia/the GOP supposedly fixing Ossoff’s election, actually focused on phone banking and voter engagement, that could be a lot more people power for a single race.
On a broader level, the emphasis on Russian conspiracy theories distracts from the very real fact that Russia does need to be investigated, and at a more thorough level than what we currently have. Thanks to the promulgation of conspiracy theorists, it is increasingly harder for most to figure out just what is important and what is not, what is true and what is not, and how to make specific calls to action to our electeds accordingly.
Moroever, by listening to individuals who claim that every level of government is infilitrated with individuals who are either Russian agents or being blackmailed by the Russians, we are allowing our own faith in government to be eroded. That makes it harder for us to trust in them, and any of their decisions. It is essentially obstruction via conspiracy theory, and that is simply not an effective way to participate in the democratic process.
Finally, this penchant for conspiracy theorists also impacts the ability to trust journalists who are genuinely committed to factual reporting. Whenever a conspiracy theorist tosses out a wild theory, there are immediate cries of outrage that the mainstream media is not reporting the same story, and a reinforcement in the belief that the conspiracy theorist is the only person who can tell the truth.
This is a dangerous, questionable approach to how we approach the actual facts of our day-to-day political reality, especially as conspiracy theorists can easily make up claims that are far from the truth, and drive focus to these claims, while genuine stories are being overlooked.
So the question now is: what can we do about what I’ve said in part I and par tII? I’ll discuss this in part III.