FAKE NEWS

 

What Donald Trump means by fake news is not the reporting of what’s materially false. It’s the reporting as true what only could be true. It could be true – because it would be perfectly understandable if it were – that “the President is becoming increasingly worried that the Mueller probe could lead to his impeachment.” If asked, of course he’d deny it. In fact nothing could falsify the claim that “the President is becoming increasingly worried that the Mueller probe could lead to his impeachment.” So CNN can with impunity report that “the President is becoming increasingly worried about” whatever CNN would like the President to become increasingly worried about. If he denies it, well he would, wouldn’t he?!

It’s the oldest political trick in the book. If a claim can’t be falsified it must be true. Prove that you didn’t have an affair with your secretary. Can’t? Then obviously you did. That’s what Trump means by fake news, and it’s that kind of fake news that we should all become increasingly worried about.

Fake news – what we used to call spin – isn’t harmless. Saddam Hussain could have had weapons of mass destruction. And though weapons of mass destruction is a media term, not a military one, his having them could be very serious. So yes, we do need to invade. All that CNN is proving is that what was fair game for the pro-Bush agenda in 2003 is fair game for the anti-Trump agenda today.

Here’s a related example. There’s been a terrible accident, and all the townspeople are in shock. How does the reporter know this? She can stop a townsperson on the street and ask the leading question, “You must be in shock. Are you?”, which is sure to elicit the desired answer, “Yes.” But were she to ask the non-leading question, “What are you in?”, I’m pretty sure no one is going to answer, “Shock.” Still, she can and will with impunity report that all the townspeople are in shock because it wouldn’t be unreasonable if they were.

Is anything added to our understanding of what’s going on in that town by our believing all its townspeople are in shock? Not a whit. But it elicits our solidarity with these hypothetical people-in-shock, and now our solidarity with them can in turn be reported on. And so on.

Am I saying all this to express my solidarity with poor misunderstood-because-misrepresented Donald Trump? Certainly not. Am I saying all this because I want the news to report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? A fortiori not. In fact I’m having trouble picturing what that would look like.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

“Okay, then I’ll interview someone who can. Excuse me sir …”

“I just saw the World Trade Center come down before my very eyes.”

“And tell us, what was that like for you?”

“It was like seeing two very tall buildings come down before my very eyes.”

“Thank you, sir. Now back to you, Anderson.”

So the news isn’t there just to report what’s happening. It’s there to start a conversation about it. And to steer that conversation. To suppose otherwise isn’t naïve. It’s just false.

Few channels, and even fewer websites, take the trouble to announce what kinds of conversation they host. But most of us figure it out pretty quick. Fox News isn’t about balanced reporting, and neither is MSNBC. Birthright isn’t about your right to give birth, it’s about your duty to. False Flag Weekly isn’t a soapbox for your Islamophobia, but InfoWars is. But it’s important to know that neither is the best place to register your sympathy for the parents of the children who may or may not have been killed at Sandy Hook.

So has the media ushered in a new age of fake news? Nonsense. In the sense in which Trump means it, news has always been fake. But because it cannot but be fake, the term will eventually go the way of Liberty fries and every second word being “man”. Every facon de parler has a best-before date. The truly cool dude doesn’t get caught up in these fleeting fads.

 

 

THE NEXT FOURTEEN YEARS

 

In the words of Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, “The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Fortunately it’s the opposite with political prognostications. No one remembers if you get it wrong. But if you get it right, you’re forever cited for being incredibly astute. So yes, it’s a cheat. But it’s only cheating if you can get caught. And as just argued, even if you can be, you won’t be. So here’s my risk-free prognostication for the next fourteen years.

Left and right, anti-Trump and pro-, are orthogonal cuts, though clearly there are orders of magnitude more people in the left-anti and right-pro quadrants than in the other two. The doctrinaire libertarians and anti-Trump Republicans, who make up the right-anti, don’t know where to cast their votes. And the doctrinaire socialists and pro-Trump Democrats, occupying the left-pro, find themselves similarly stymied. So both of these constituencies are out of the picture. This leaves the 2020 presidential to hang on three key contingencies:

1) who the Democrats put up against Trump,

2) who wins the media war between right wing pro-Trump Fox News on the one

side, and left wing MSNBC and anti-Trump CNN on the other, and

3) whether Trump will be evil enough, but also savvy enough, to start a winnable

but not-yet-won war.

The Democrats will need a candidate free of the kind of cement footware that sunk Hilary Clinton. Well let’s see. Joe Biden would clearly make the best President, but he’s probably too sensible to make the best candidate in this era of political infotainment. Bernie Sanders is too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish. Elizabeth Warren lacks the presence to command the enthusiasm needed for a Presidential campaign. Even the most misogynist racist can’t help but love Michele, but she’d be rightly seen as just a front for another eight years for her husband. Oprah would have to answer for every line in every book she ever recommended. And progressives would have to hold their noses for California Junior Senator Kamala Harris, whose tenure as Attorney General for that state did not speak well for her civil libertarian credentials.

That leaves Obama-clone Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kennedy-spawn Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. I’d put my money on Booker for the nomination, because Kennedy will want to hold back until ‘24. But in the actual election I’d only bet the family farm on Kennedy. Whites won’t come out for Booker, but blacks will for Kennedy.

By holding Trump’s feet to the fire, CNN has only been doing its job. Unfortunately by doing its job in this age of all-news-is-partisan-news, it’s forfeited its former role as the non-partisan voice in America. So it would come down to CNN versus Fox if there was anyone who tunes into both. But there isn’t. Either you watch Fox because you’re with Trump, or you watch CNN because you’re agin’ him. There’s plenty of room for apathy in America, but none at all for fence-sitting.

But it does come down to which of the two can get out the vote by selling the importance of the outcome. Unless, that is, Americans can be offered, quite independently of policy, some one to get excited about. And that’s where a Jack or Robert Kennedy come back from the grave could be the king-maker.

Trump’s trump card, however, would be the same one played by George W. Just start a winnable but not-yet-won war. It wouldn’t have to be North Korea or Iran. There are plenty of provocable easy pickings out there. But I suspect Trump thinks he can win re-election as a shit-disturber, not as a commander-in-chief. Besides, a bomber jacket just isn’t his style.

So here’s my prediction. It’ll be Trump again in 2020 unless a) Kennedy can be inveigled to run four years ahead of schedule, and b) Trump makes the mistake of thinking he can emerge victorious without first having to start a war.

That said, 2024 looks like a shoe-in for the Democrats. This is because Mike Pence has about as much charisma as your tax accountant, and no new Republican face can emerge while Trump remains the face of the party. So it’s precisely as the Republican establishment worried it would be. A Trump presidency would render the party irrelevant while his presidency lasted, and then doom it for eight years thereafter. That’s both the beauty and the beast of American presidential electoral politics. Image matters. Policy? Not so much.

So if I were an American – which thankfully I’m not! – I’d pray for a) a Joe Kennedy challenge in 2020, and if Trump does realize he needs a winnable but not-yet-won war, that b) some saboteur on his staff recommends Denmark.

Anyhow, remember folks: if I’m right – which I probably won’t be – you heard it here first.