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Trump Is Right: Fake News Is Real — But It's Not What You Think

In this July 17, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
In this July 17, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Two and a half years into the cruel and chaotic reign of Donald Trump, one piercing irony has emerged: History’s most dishonest president has a strange penchant for exposing dark truths.

The first and most central of these truths, of course, is that many white people in America are just fine with trampling the rights of immigrants and minorities.

But Trump also has a preternatural ability to popularize catch defensive phrases that precisely describe the true nature of his corruption. Remember, for example, late in the 2016 campaign, when all the polls suggested he was headed for a humiliating defeat? Trump began bleating about the “rigged system” stacked against him.

And as we all discovered election night, Trump was right: the system was rigged — flagrantly and on his behalf. Thanks, at least in part, to sustained voter suppression efforts, Trump won razor-thin margins in Wisconsin and Michigan.

History’s most dishonest president has a strange penchant for exposing dark truths.

And thanks to the Electoral College, Trump won the White House despite losing the popular vote by three million voters. (In fact, the Electoral College’s bias toward whiter, sparsely populated states, means Trump could lose by five million votes in 2020, and still retain the presidency.)

Or consider his incessant pledge to “Drain the Swamp”? This rallying cry, which Trump parroted only after it had been focus-group tested by the digital ghouls at Cambridge Analytica, helped him convince gullible voters that he would cleanse our national capital of vice.

In fact, Trump has bloated the swamp in ways barely imaginable, stocking his cabinet with greedy plutocrats and corporate lobbyists who are just as eager to profit from their “public service” as he is.

Of all the sleazy slogans this TV demagogue deploys, surely the most durable and resonant is his continual bleating about Fake News.

Here’s the crazy thing: I agree with Trump. The modern media ecosystem is constantly focusing on “news” that has nothing to do with the actual lives of America’s citizens, in particular those who are vulnerable and struggling.

Instead, the media aims its lenses and microphones at the calculated diversions Trump confects daily to distract attention from the ineptitude and avarice of his regime.

As a creature of tabloid culture, Trump understood from the very beginning the deep truth of Fake News — that our Fourth Estate will always favor inflammation over information, that he can always seize attention by indulging in aggressive vulgarity, fear-mongering and racial incitement.

Reporters and pundits continue to publicize his tweets, to cover his rallies and press conferences, to aggrandize his feuds and virtually ignore his actions.

This week, for instance, you’ll hear barely anything about the rampant dysfunction at the Commerce Department, or the administration’s drilling free-for-all on public lands, or even the global implications of the heatwave that just fried the east coast.

The central question now is to what extent editors and reporters will recognize their role in this catastrophe before 2020.

No, instead, you’ll get another hundred stories about his achingly predictable attacks on four congresswomen of color, and his publicity stunt effort to help free an American rapper arrested in Sweden.

Trump ascended to the presidency thanks to the purveyors of Fake News, who covered his pep rallies as if they were presidential addresses, who made “Hillary’s email” a bigger story than Trump’s history of tax fraud or sexual misconduct, who faithfully smeared Clinton using emails stolen and disseminated by Russians.

Without Fake News (and that trusty Rigged System) to sustain his electoral Ponzi scheme, Trump would just another aging huckster prowling the D-list party circuit and trolling for porn stars, and the GOP would be a fringe party on the wrong side of history.

The central question now is to what extent editors and reporters will recognize their role in this catastrophe before 2020.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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