A couple weeks ago, CNN had former President and current future-despot Donald Trump on the air for a town hall. He got 70 minutes of free airtime because CNN wanted some ratings, and Trump did what Trump does: he lied about everything, the whole time, and insisted he was right–not even telling the truth, really, just right. Which is his technique, and the technique of the GOP since Trump came on the scene; blow such a thick mist of bullshit that you forget what exactly the issue was, and then smile and insist on some inane fallacy that pushes your agenda.
It's not just CNN. The New York Times showed its colors almost immediately after Trump was elected in 2016 by hiring a shill like Bret Stephens, and they have continued downward and rightward since then, printing apologia for white collar criminals like Elizabeth Holmes and sensibly-toned but lethal opinions against Trans people. There's no reason to even bring up the Wall Street Journal or more obvious rags. The Washington Post, the only paper I bother reading anymore, is owned by Jeff Bezos. The internet is increasingly controlled by the rich and flooded with propaganda. It's suspected that in the wake of the latest Neo-Nazi-friendly shooting, when Bellingcat called out the shooter's leanings, Elon Musk pushed Twitter to suppress Bellingcat's reach and called their reporting a psyop.
If you're reading this, chances are high that this issue is essentially irrelevant to you. You can think critically and don't simply open your head and let TV fall into it. But a large portion of this country–of every country–doesn't have the time, energy, or past privileges to do so. And the media takes advantage of that–and capitalist barons and fascist ideologues take advantage of that. Which is a big problem.
Like Some Kind of Info-War
You might be wondering why I bring up an issue like this, which is decently far afield from the immediate effects of climate change or actual Nazis walking down our streets. And that's true–this is not my usual fare nor is it quite something you can prep for. But with a new election on the horizon and Joe Biden all but certain to be the democrat's answer to Trump or DeSantis, we need to, unfortunately, imagine this landscape.
The thing is, this post-truth rhetoric still has room to grow, and the reason why is because it is, obviously, immediately profitable for the media to platform it. In the wake of CNN's disastrous town hall, anchors like Anderson Cooper were full of a conciliatory, second-hand indignation for their incensed viewership, but crucially said that we can't simply wall ourselves off and ignore the other side–as if that's what we're doing. With supposedly left-wing media making room for someone like Trump, it is only a matter of time before they follow the likes of Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax, and enter a completely post-truth era, or begin to trumpet the candidacy of a democrat who takes up that rhetoric themselves. And if you think that's fine–if you think that's fighting fire with fire–you've got another thing coming. Because where today's leaders have followed Trump over the line that he crossed, it has always been for the detriment of the persecuted. Even where Biden has said he would roll back Trump policies, they were frequently with heavy delay if ever accomplished. A blue Trump will erode our norms further, even if it is supposedly in service of causes we stand behind.
It's not just politicians killing the idea of truth that we have to worry about, either. With the unimpeded consumption of the media landscape by the rich and powerful comes the concern that we won't even know when the truth has been done away with, so to speak. After the mass shooting in Allen, Texas, by an apparent white supremacist, the investigative outlet Bellingcat reported on the shooter's allegiances. Shortly thereafter, their account on Twitter was not appearing in searches, and Elon Musk claimed it was a "psyop." Other social media CEOs (really just the one) has been known to put their thumb on the scale as well, and I don't think we can count on that changing any time soon. Which means that one of our biggest means of catching up on the news is potentially tainted, if not completely skewed.
There won't be any other front in this fight. Corporations are fine with this turn of events because another republican in office, Trump or otherwise, is good for business. Fewer regulations, lower taxes, more fossil fuel leases. There's no downside. In fact, with DeSantis fighting Disney, Trump may look better for some of the other cultural and corporate monoliths in the country (and, of course, he's still polling ahead of the Florida governor).
Living After Truth
It's nothing new, really, for politicians to say one thing and do another all while insisting they're doing what they say. But to be so Orwellian as to deny fact entirely is only in preparation for the removal of truth entirely. And if you can't rely on fact, if indeed there is no truth, then there is only one thing you can rely on: your leader. Once that is accomplished, there's not much for Trump, or whomever, to worry about. The majority of Americans (the bare majority, and a shrinking number at that) are too content with what they have and the way things are to mount a fight against this. Our institutions are weak after the first Trump presidency, and a second will be sure to diminish them further if not render them completely irrelevant.
It's not a foregone conclusion that Trump wins in 2024. I'm not entirely certain that the preponderance of legal action against him won't weigh him down and prevent centrists from voting for him. But if he wins, and even with his continued droning into the ears of US media during the election, the idea that what people say and do matters will wither. If Trump fails next year, the stage is still better set for the next demagogue to come along, DeSantis or Cotton or some as yet unknown and pale horror. Without a backbone to hold such a leader accountable, the media ceases to be a bulwark against fascism–weak as it is now–and instead becomes simply another arm of the apparatus.
I wish that I had some grand course of action for you today, but I don't. The one thing I can recommend we do is secure alternative means of imbibing the news. Find alternative social media platforms, like Mastodon or Blue Sky, to avoid the red and swirling void that Twitter will soon become. I am partial to being part of Discord communities, myself, though their reach is not the same as Twitter.
This is, I think, simply a part of the natural decay of the United States from temporary and perfunctory democracy to Christo-klepto-fascist feudalism. Rather than just watch the thing tumble, what we can do is what I always say–detach yourself from the capitalist machinery, divest yourself from the morass of politics, and work in your community so that you and yours are able to weather the collapse. What happens in newsrooms and boardrooms is often important, but it can be less important to us if we know how to unhitch our collective wagons before the train goes off a cliff.
Speaking of media–as much as I dislike talking about money for myself, we've had a recent bump in growth that has required I likewise bump up payment for this site. If you have a few beans to kick along to me to defray costs, that would be a big help to me. You can sign up for a paid subscription here. But, as always, this site and its information will remain free no matter what.