On November 8, 2016, when a reality-TV star became the most powerful person in the world, reality ended. And not for any one reason, but for ten of them that most people don’t fully understand. Bye bye Truth, hello Trumpth. May I explain?
(1) Big Data took a Big Hit on Tuesday. Big Data, and Long Tail economics, have completely reshaped most industries in America, particularly the advertising of every single product made by the Fortune 500. Corporations pay X to advertise in Y because they’re told that they’re getting demographic Z. Coca-Cola pays $A to advertise on Home Depot’s site, but pays $B to advertise on Amazon’s site, because Big Data. After Big Data got everything Big Wrong on Tuesday, those corporations have to wonder if they’re getting what they’re paying for.
(2) The symbolism of a reality-TV “star” ascending to the Presidency is almost too on-the-nose. Most of my friends laugh at the term “reality TV”; they know that reality TV is not reality; they know our knowledge of the Kardashians and the contestants on “The Apprentice” is highly curated. Then they go and highly curate their Facebook feeds. How many people have you read, just in the last 48 hours, say “Unfriend me if you supported ____”? On one level, I respect people’s choices not to listen to what they don’t want to hear, but the well-documented effect is to separate us into our own bubbles, and that effect may have been multiplied by ten in the wake of the election results. We’re never going to agree on solutions if we’re working on different sets of facts. Which brings me to…
(3) We often heard that win OR lose, Trump had ripped the Republican Party apart. President Obama said the GOP would need a “corrective.” Sean Hannity, of all people, said there would be a reckoning. Eric Boehlert at Media Matters said the same thing. Matt Viser at the Boston Globe saw a “reckoning” and “existential crisis.” Andrew Prokop at Vox predicted civil war. The Arizona Republic, which made headlines when it endorsed a Democrat for the first time in its century-long existence, said the GOP would have to be “rebuilt.” NPR said “what’s next after election day defeats?” There will be no reckoning, no rebuilding, no civil war. On the contrary, the GOP controls not only the White House, the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court, but also most state governorships and legislatures. The reports of its demise were, to put it mildly, greatly exaggerated even before the November 8 results.
(4) Half of the country hears “CNN” and “Washington Post” and “The New York Times” and says, oh that’s just liberal bias. For some time, people have complained that no media source is considered authoritative. Until November 8th, liberals could comfort themselves by saying, well, that half is merely out of touch with reality. Nope. Turns out the liberals are just as divorced from reality. Joe Scarborough said “there are not enough white voters for Donald Trump to win while getting routed among minorities.” CNN and The Washington Post agreed with him. To his credit, Nate Cohn at the New York Times disagreed. And with that, Cohn declared throughout that September and October that Clinton had an 85% chance of winning.
(5) Yes, there’s a problem with blaming Nate Silver and other predictors, who after all did preserve a chance of Trump winning; do we blame Las Vegas when the Giants beat the odds and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl (uh, twice)? Cohn allowed for the 15% chance. But how many voters saw Cohn’s Upshot column – or just the thick blue bar on the NYTimes site – and said, “Hillary’s got this, I don’t need to vote”? And it’s also true that the “horse race” coverage bleeds into the fourth estate’s other responsibilities. Or as Jim Rutenberg put it the day after the election
You have to wonder how different the coverage might have been had the polls, and the data crunching, not forecast an almost certain Clinton victory. Perhaps there would have been a deeper exploration of the forces that were propelling Mr. Trump toward victory, given that so much of his behavior would have torpedoed any candidate who came before him.
Maybe we’d know a lot more about how Mr. Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern border would fare in Congress, or what his proposal to make it easier to sue journalists might actually look like. How about his plan to block people from countries with links to terrorism?
(6) At least elected officials can be voted out. It doesn’t help that no media member ever loses their jobs over any of these titanic errors. The NYT, CNN, NPR, the Globe, Joe Scarborough can talk about America’s jobless, but no matter how many mistakes they make in their jobs, they never seem to become America’s jobless. The media literally never broaches this subject. They’ll say “we have to do some soul-searching,” but they never imply they should do that while not drawing a paycheck. They talk, especially this week, about people who have lost their jobs to foreigners or robots, and they don’t imply that those people ever failed to get fired, and then they continue to have their jobs that they fail at. So people become ever more disillusioned regarding the media, forcing the media to strive ever harder for click bait, a.k.a. disinformation. As Glenn Greenwald put it
In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory. Afterward, the elites whose entitlement to prevail was crushed devoted their energies to blaming everyone they could find except for themselves, while doubling down on their unbridled contempt for those who defied them, steadfastly refusing to examine what drove their insubordination…opinion-making elites were so clustered, so incestuous, so far removed from the people who would decide this election — so contemptuous of them — that they were not only incapable of seeing the trends toward Trump but were unwittingly accelerating those trends with their own condescending, self-glorifying behavior.
Or as Michael Moore wrote
Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off…Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
Yet if we can no longer trust the media with the credentials to attend a White House press conference, can we trust the right-wing media? Please. How many lies have they been telling? About Hillary’s “crimes,” about tax cuts leading to growth, about climate change…I can barely start to list the lies. So there is no reliable press source, full stop. There are only the feels.
(7) To expand on this I go to Ryan Holiday and his book “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” Just reading the “look inside” part on amazon should be sobering. The tl;dr version: money drives everything. All is infotainment. The “truth” is a marketing concept.
(8) People around Steve Jobs talked about his “reality distortion field.” Jobs would exert his will over other employees at Apple, and sometimes, make things true simply by the force of his own personality. Trump seems to think he can go Steve Jobs-ing not just Apple but all of America and all of the world. Even Jobs couldn’t get 10,000 songs on an iPhone. At a certain point, reality is reality. Or is it? Sometimes, in the last 18 months, it has felt like people directly tried to repudiate media declarations to prove a point. How many times did a headline say “This time Trump goes too far,” and then his supporters rallied to make that headline untrue?
We are living in the time of the expanded reality distortion field.
(9) Despite that, we can no longer trust the President. I don’t mean this in a partisan way. George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not routinely lie. Yes, they each lied occasionally, like about weapons of mass destruction or “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” (Even those were more projections of hope than bald-faced lies.) People and publications could and did generally quote both Presidents with a fair expectation that the quote would be believed and believable. I mean, if you can’t trust the President, who can you trust?
Trump routinely lies in a way that no one can contest. He says he didn’t support the Iraq war; it’s on tape. He said in a debate that he didn’t tell people to look for a sex tape; his sex tape tweet hasn’t even been deleted! He says we can’t be sure if Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails. 17 intelligence agencies confirmed this – that’s their job – and told Trump personally. He told the debate audience he didn’t believe said agencies. Even yesterday, moments after Trump’s first-ever meeting with Barack Obama, Trump told reporters that their Presidential meeting was supposed to be only “10 or 15 minutes long,” when in fact the reporters had been told to leave them alone for an hour. So much for turning over a new leaf.
Ten months from today, when Trump tells us that Japan is firing missiles at China over China’s islands in the Sea of Japan, how can we believe him? I would have believed Bush or Obama in a heartbeat.
The Presidential seal is turning into the Pinocchio seal. The White House is turning into the White-lie House. I’m not sure America recovers from that.
(10) Mark Harris tweeted on Election Night: “My struggle tonight–besides everything–is with the feeling that words, facts, and the communication of truth and information mean nothing.” If the citation of a hundred reasons to vote against Trump doesn’t persuade the country to vote against Trump, what’s the point of reasons? If truth trees fall to the ground in the forest and no one hears them, are the trees really making sounds?
This is beyond post-modernism. For some time, scholars of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard have endeavored to convince us that our reality is not our reality, that everything is constructed and needs to be deconstructed. However true that may be, certain truths were truths. If The New York Times said that planes hit the World Trade Center, then planes hit the World Trade Center. If CNN said that the Red Sox broke an 86-year curse of World Series losses, then the Red Sox broke a curse. If the Wall Street Journal said that over 1000 people died because of Hurricane Katrina, then over 1000 people died. If Fox News said that the Dow Jones lost half its value in 2008, then the Dow Jones lost half its value.
Now: who knows? Now it’s more like everything is the Sandy Hook massacre from 2012, where people believe what they want to believe. What happens when you tell your kids “Don’t worry about Donald Trump, everything is going to be all right”? They say, “Well, that’s just your opinion.” You can’t even trust me. Doesn’t that suck?
Goodbye reality, hello reality TV. Goodbye facts, hello “facts.” Goodbye Truth, hello Trumpth.