The Existential Threat of Trump's Genius
When people blur the relationship between facts and reality—when they jettison what has long been accepted as the basis of “verifiable evidence”—they put themselves in the awkward position of embracing a weird and potentially dangerous form of solipsism. If we can’t trust the “facts,” then what the hell can we “trust”?
Unfortunately, a guy figured out that once the media (along with those pointy-headed scientists and smarty-pants humanities professors) were no longer seen as “credible,” it opened the door to another approach. It allowed us to appeal to people’s emotions, prejudices and poisoned dreams. Alas, the guy who figured this out was a thrice-married and four times bankrupt New York real estate billionaire who became president.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump has managed to convince a critical mass of the American public that those so-called “facts” mean almost nothing. Why? Because according to conventional wisdom all we have to do is consider the source. It’s the mainstream media (i.e., the “liberal media”) who’ve been supplying those facts, and it’s the media who’ve been lying to us the whole time.
"It’s no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump has managed to convince a critical mass of the American public that those so-called “facts” mean almost nothing."
In the eyes of Trump supporters, the media conceal or mischaracterize everything—failing to say how many undocumented immigrants are actually “known rapists and murderers,” pretending that “climate change” is man-made, refusing to reveal Barack Obama’s actual birthplace, lying about the size of the inauguration crowd in Washington D.C. All lies, and all part of the liberal agenda.
While glibly comparing Trump’s self-serving rhetoric to Hitler’s use of the “Big Lie” is fairly tempting, it’s a mistake. Trump is no fascist. He hasn’t got the political or ideological underpinnings (or the attention span) to be one. Trump is a Madison Avenue huckster, no more, no less—simultaneously a creation of and proselytizer of old-fashioned American advertising. Don Trump isn’t Adolf Hitler. He is Don Draper.
Sociologists going back to Thorstein Veblen have suggested that the American economy—celebrated as it is—is largely the product of false or wildly misleading advertising.
Indeed, false advertising is the engine that drives the economy. And now we can congratulate ourselves. Because we never bothered to read the fine print on the package, we just got our first “synthetic” president. We earned one, we deserved one, and now we have one.
People may be gullible, but we’re not stupid. Surveys show that upwards of 90% of the public consider commercials to be either “greatly exaggerated or outright lies.” We’re not stupid. Yet companies continue to spend billions of dollars on them, and consumers continue to engage in an irrational, schizoid dance—on the one hand, knowing they are “fibbing to us,” and on the other hand, buying anything they tell us to buy.
Reportedly, decades ago, “High C” fruit drink was forced to acknowledge that it consisted mainly of sugar and artificial flavors. As a consequence, it could no longer trick health-conscious parents by saying it was “made of” 100% fruit juice. Instead, they began saying it’s “made with” 100% fruit juice. In other words, there may be less than 5% actual fruit contained in the drink, but what there is of it, is actual fruit.
So perhaps this should be our working analogy. President Donald Trump and “High C” fruit drink. Both are creations of Madison Avenue, both rely on intentionally misleading semantics, and both, ultimately, are bad for your health.