Donald Trump: The only man who looks more like a Pokemon than the Pokemon he most looks like.
His moves are “Swagger,” “Taunt,” and “Frustration.”
People who don’t like Trump really don’t like Trump. So they probably don’t want to hear about how any one of them might find themselves supporting a Trump, or at least a Trump-like creature. Yes, even you — the one with the social justice Tumblr and an ironic appreciation for Pokemon Go. There are just a few simple truths you have to understand.
Trump’s Superpower Is Distrust.
We normally look at skepticism as a good thing. Being overly trusting, or “a sucker,” tends to cause problems, like falling for pranks and voting despots into power. But what people don’t realize is that skepticism, when taken far enough, dips right on over the horizon and comes up on the other side as a big old burning ball of gullibility.
Take Trump supporters. Just going with my Debunk Trump Twitter project,* it seems like Trump’s supporters are the least skeptical people ever. Trump lies so frequently and about so many different kinds of things that he comes off like a teenager trying to test the boundaries of inattentive parents. Isn’t refusing to do 15 seconds of fact-checking the very definition of gullibility?
You literally just google his words to find out that he’s wrong.
No, because it turns out that the trust in Trump actually comes from a distrust in everything else. Though everybody complains about how dishonest and biased the mainstream media is, it’s really Republicans and independents who feel that way the most strongly, according to a Gallup Poll.
In their mind, they’ve already found out who the liars are, and it’s not the spray-tanned were-hedgehog. The fact that the Republicans are no longer paying attention to the news makes them a perfect target for someone like Trump, who has a real talent for saying things that, despite not being true, sure are fun to hear. “Build a wall! Yeah! Just like in Ancient China and Game Of Thrones!”
And Pacific Rim!
Turns out this is Trump’s superpower. Barack Obama’s innovative presidential campaign — which used social media like no candidate before him — became a nuclear bomb in Trump’s case because it allows him to bypass anyone who would fact-check him and say literally whatever he wanted. Because remember, the people who support him don’t trust the fact-checkers.
Now, if you think I’m mocking Trump supporters, or gloating about how stupid they are, then just wait …
*Look at me plugging something that doesn’t even make me any money. I’m terrible. Go buy one of my co-workers’ books.
Everyone Wants an Excuse to Dismiss Boring News
At the height of Jon Stewart’s popularity in the mid-to-late 2000s, people complained about what his success meant a lot. “It’s such a shame that a comedian is giving us better news than the actual news networks!” they would lament, shaking their heads sadly at how bad things had gotten and would always be.
“And yet how lucky are we, to live in such sardonic times.
This wasn’t true, of course. Jon Stewart had a half-hour nightly comedy show where the format was “cover two topics and interview a celebrity.” He almost never reported anything, not in anything beyond the now-standard “aggregate the work other people have done and comment on it” sense. He’d just make really great jokes about how bad other people were at their jobs. If not for the actual journalism performed by the people he was criticizing, he wouldn’t have had anything to talk about.
That’s not a dig against Stewart. He fucking admitted this in the middle of the episode of Crossfire, when he exploded that TV show from the inside like Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black:
STEWART: What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it.
CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you’re accusing us of partisan hackery?
CARLSON: You’ve got to be kidding me. He comes on and you …
STEWART: You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?
Four months later, Crossfire was cancelled.
People took this as evidence that Stewart was a better journalist than Tucker Carlson, and while he’s certainly better at his job than Carlson, that job is different, and that is the goddamn point. He’s commenting on the failures of the reporters, but he’s in no place to replace them, and he never wanted to. But nevertheless:
Maybe this distinction stands out to me more because I also do entertainment that borders on journalism, so the difference between what I do and traditional reporting seems huge and important. All the comedy shows that parody news formats are constantly making decisions about what to talk about, and that decision always factors in questions of “can we make this funny” and “do people already care.” As long as people are ignoring stories because they can’t be funny with them, we still need traditional, unfunny journalism.
So it’s upsetting to me when I see people saying that Last Week Tonight does “a better job informing viewers than actual news outlets” by comparing its segment on Miss America Scholarships to the reporting done by fucking tech blogs. You may as well be comparing them to Breitbart or the LiveJournal I had in high school. The study argues that viewers of these satirical shows are more informed than people who don’t watch the shows, which ignores the fact that people watching these shows are more likely to be keeping up with the news anyway (John Oliver also insists that what he does isn’t journalism).
And that’s actually the problem, because it turns out…
Being Skeptical Of “Everything” Creates A Bubble
On its surface, skepticism seems like it’s hard work, right? You have to fact-check every new thing you learn, but the payoff is that you fill your brain up with stuff that you know for sure is true.
Except in practice, that’s rarely what happens. In practice, you only end up debunking and fact-checking the stuff that you hope isn’t true. The stuff that doesn’t fit into how you already think the world works. Think about how harshly rape victims are interrogated and questioned and accused of lying compared to victims of literally any other crime. Or think about how willing you are to forgive a politician you like for using a figure of speech or hyperbole, and how quickly you jump on any tiny factual error in a statement from a politician you dislike.
“Obvious Figure of Speech Not Technically Accurate”
I’m a great example here. I literally run a Twitter account called Debunk Trump. How destructively partisan is that thesis? It’s not “Debunk Politicians” — it’s “Debunk This One Politician I’ve Decided I Don’t Like.” Please follow it, even though I’m sorta mocking the purpose for its existence right here in this paragraph.
Which, now that I think of it, is a great way to lead into my next point …