Out of the Blue: President Trump’s information problem (opinion)
Out of the Blue
I hate to keep coming back to this fake news business, but because our commander-in-chief has decided to not do the smart thing and leave it alone, it remains a hot-button international issue.
Members of his team have pointed fingers at CNN, cited a falsity called the ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ trying to prove a point about the drive-by media, and now the Razzie winner for Worst Supporting Actor (Ghosts Can’t Do It, 1990) has alerted all Americans that (and this is a direct quote) “any negative polls are fake news.”
DJT’s base doesn’t care that the guy’s a liar — I frequently hear about how glad his supporters are that something is actually happening with their guy, that the simple act of breaking away from what a career politician would do in his shoes is a victory in itself, even if said results are bigoted policy nightmares.
What the guy wants more than anything is control over the political landscape he suckered the American people into providing for him. It’s that same old Machiavellian power struggle that has existed within humankind since the dawn of culture: to construct and manipulate the ways the people you govern receive information is to have the ultimate say in how you do business as a nation.
Here’s where I get pessimistic, though. Part of the reason countries like North Korea don’t allow their people to have full internet access is because they want to mold the international narrative of the modern world in a very specific way, one divorced from adherence to provable truths.
Humans are critical beings. If something presents itself as being odd or incorrect, it’s part of our very nature to question such information.
If I was experiencing a smoggy urban day after a week of clean weather, I’d wonder what caused the change. If I had access to information (a library or the internet), I’d be able to cross-reference varying sources to be able to form an answer to my conundrum.
In countries where access to this is currently impossible, my quest for knowledge would be stymied. “It’s just smoggy — leave it at that. Sincerely, Your Overlords.”
So when DJT talks about exactly what we as Americans should denote as fake news, if he had the kind of control he fantasizes about grabbing, we would just stay in line. “The president said it, so it must be true,” right?
But this feedback loop gets slippery here. I can boot up a website that brings up the DJT quote so I can put it into an appropriate context. It turns out that on CNN, a political director named David Chalian discussed new CNN/ORC poll results that put Trump’s approval rating at 44%, which is historically low.
I checked out the raw data about the poll — it was conducted by phone from 1/31 to 2/2 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. I wasn’t able to vet the story any more deeply than that, but I’m confident with my few nuggets of corroboration that this 44% approval rating figure seems legitimate.
If DJT turned off the internet to all of us and we couldn’t prove him right or wrong, we’d be stuck assuming his fake news name-calling as fact.
As it stands, however, we have a very easy way to prove him wrong. But here’s the hitch: the guy still somehow gets a pass on the subject with a number of Americans.
The guy had zero pieces of information to back up his voter fraud claims made during the first week of his presidency, but 25% of Americans believed him about it anyway.
So he’s having his cake and eating it, too. Trump insists that media institutions who claim he has low approval numbers are fake news.
That’s simply not true, but it doesn’t matter. The slogan “We Report, You Decide” is a familiar one to many of us, but while it’s good to keep an open mind about issues, there are limits to the merits of a statement like that.
On one of his latest episodes, left-leaning comic Bill Maher equated it to the idea that meteorologists of varying backgrounds and educations might very well disagree on what the weather tomorrow is going to look like, but every single one of them would agree on what it was like yesterday.
Mike Restaino is a writer and filmmaker based out of Incline Village. He is also a Vice Chair of the North Tahoe Democrats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.