I was listening to the evening news tonight, on my commute home from work and heard the recap of Trump’s visit to the border, as part of his attempt to manufacture a border crises so as to 1) deflect attention from the mounting evidence that Trump knowingly worked with the Russians to win the 2016 election and 2) legitimate Trump’s use of “emergency powers.” (I don’t expect that the government shutdown will end anytime soon because the main purpose is to deflect attention from Trump’s dirty deeds in 2016.)
They played a sound byte from Trump. He sounded a little shrill, but that only helps to ramp up the hysteria, and Trump needs hysteria. The so-called “news media” is all using the same term, Trump said, calling it a “manufactured crisis.” But it’s not a manufactured crisis, Trump said, rather the news media is manufacturing the term “manufactured crisis.” Perhaps in response, critics of Trump would say that he’s manufacturing the idea of manufacturing a “manufactured crisis.” This, ladies and gentlemen, is your Postmodern President. We could all keep playing this game for a long time….and we probably will.
Trump’s Presidency will be significant and profound, for many reasons, but one of them is that we’ve never really had a straight-up postmodern President, someone who avoids dealing with facts and reality and instead deals with everything by seeking to manipulates language and public perception.
Of course, every U.S. President in our nation’s history has always made it a top priority to control the language of discourse and debates and to manipulate public perception — that’s nothing new. What seems historic to me is that Trump never feels any obligation to discuss fact or reality. And he hasn’t had to because he’s been able to succeed simply by declaring that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong and/or out to get him and/or anti-American.
In this way, Trump is following a playbook, a very old playbook that goes back to the 80s. Conservative talk radio, pioneered and still dominated by Rush Limbaugh, has been doing this for many decades, and Fox News more or less does the same thing. Most of what I hear from Trump is the same garbage that I recall hearing from talk radio when I was a young and devoted conservative.
If you don’t have solid facts to support your position — no problem — just yell (or tweet in all caps) “FAKE NEWS!” This is then typically followed by going in a rabbit trail that takes Trump in one of two directions. First, he might talk about how bad liberals are, that they are hypocritcal — the implication being that you can’t trust them so their perspective is invalid. A secound route is to discuss the sinister motivations of those who disagree with you. They aren’t just hypocrits, they are anti-American and/or they are deliberately working to destroy America by aligning with our enemies, in this case the Mexican immigrants, who are now viewed as subhuman by Republicans and conservatives.
In George Orwell’s 1984, this kind of thing occurred — information would be routinely reshuffled and reworded, facts would be changed on the daily — but the difference with Trump is that (so far as I can tell) he isn’t actually all that interested in a full-on totalitarian regime. I’m sure he would be if it were an option, but he really doesn’t need it.
Trump doesn’t need totalitarianism because talk radio, Fox News, and his Twitter followers simply believe everything he says, or at least they believe enough of it to keep Trump’s approval numbers just above the point of political impotence. And they believe it all, not because they are stupid or ignorant but because they share the same worldview as Trump and are fighting to legitimate and make that worldview dominant.