Embracing misinformation

Virtually everything Trump does requires his followers to be misinformed. This is not hyperbole, nor a false overgeneralization. His policies and rhetoric are overwhelmingly based on narrow views of people, the country, and the world. He paints a picture that is distorted as can be, then concocts harmful policy that serves a single purpose: get his followers to feel like he’s solving their problems (problems they didn’t face in the first place). My wish for us all is that we care when we are misinformed, and instead of attacking those who try to inform us (e.g., calling them “fakenews”), we welcome the education we receive.

The Washington Post ran a piece the other day about the false claims that “dominated Trump’s Twitter feed.” As an aside, many attacked the Post for the headline, claiming they were too timid to call these lies. As a scientist, who often uses my training in evaluating the world, I’m not troubled by the headline, and actually think “false claims” is more appropriate than “lies” in this case. Calling something a lie asserts motive to mislead. An objective fact-checking should not be in the business of attributing motive to statements unless there is evidence of that motive. Of course, I believe that Trump is lying, but that is a belief. The fact is that the claims are false, the assumption is that they are lies. Although it may be a solid assumption, it’s still an assumption, and that makes it lack a place in an objective report.

But my problem with Trump’s feed isn’t whether he’s lying or not. My problem is that it caters to the worst of us all. It’s like the stuff about the Pledge of Allegiance and other made up controversies that I wrote about almost three years ago. Even more, it reminds me of a speech, from a fictional president, played by Michael Douglass. The whole thing is great, and the writing is superb, but if you want to focus on the key part here, go to the 1:48 mark.

This is how Trump operates. This is how the republicans have largely operated for decades. Trump’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Trump’s problem is that he can’t sell it. Trump is not the least bit interested in solving our problems. Trump is interested in two things and two things only, making you afraid, and telling you who to blame. Then support policies that do harm, harm that might be acceptable if the policy fixed a real problem. But, because the problem isn’t real, it’s harm for harm’s sake. In fairness, some right wing folks feel this way about issues that are important to me. They think climate change is not a consequence of human action, and even if it is, there’s not much we can do to fight it, and the efforts to fight it are harmful to business and freedom, without any upside. They think racism and bigotry aren’t as widespread, and that programs to help minorities address a problem that doesn’t exist, at least not as it’s framed by those advocating those program. It’s not easy. It’s incredibly complicated. But, again, what I wish for us all is that we work hard to understand what problems are real, and what problems are created.



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