For progressives, the 2016 election season was an extraordinary test of patience, especially when dealing with the less-informed (and typically louder) portion of Donald Trump’s fan base. It seemed at times that Trump supporters were living in an alternate reality, where provable facts mattered less than emotional impressions, and concrete evidence was consistently ignored in favor of inflammatory fake news.
Well, it turns out progressives weren’t imagining it. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) report has revealed disturbingly large numbers of Trump supporters believe things that are simply, verifiably untrue. Here are a few examples, from an article by Steve Benen:
* Unemployment: Under President Obama, job growth has been quite strong, and the unemployment rate has improved dramatically. PPP, however, found that 67% of Trump voters believe the unemployment rate went up under Obama – which is the exact opposite of reality.
* Stock Market: Since the president was elected, the stock market has soared, nearly tripling since the height of the Great Recession. PPP found that 39% of Trump voters believe the market has gone down under Obama – which is also the exact opposite of reality.
* Popular Vote: As of this morning, Hillary Clinton received roughly 2.7 million more votes than Donald Trump, but PPP nevertheless found that 40% of Trump voters believe he won the popular vote – which is, once again, the exact opposite of reality.
* Voter Fraud: Even Trump’s lawyers concede there was no voter fraud in the presidential election, but PPP found that 60% of Trump voters apparently believe “millions” of illegal ballots were cast for Clinton in 2016 – which isn’t even close to resembling reality.
* Soros Conspiracy Theory: A whopping 73% of Trump voters believe George Soros is paying anti-Trump protesters – though in reality, George Soros is not paying anti-Trump protesters.
We are, in other words, looking at a political landscape in which much of the president-elect’s core base appears to be living in an alternate reality.
Rachel Maddow had the PPP report exclusively at first, and provides an interesting analysis of it in this video:
These aren’t differences of opinion. These facts are not up for debate. The stock market more than doubled during President Obama’s tenure. Unemployment dropped significantly under Obama. Donald Trump not only didn’t win the popular vote, he lost it by 2.7 million votes. The list goes on. Every piece of concrete, verifiable, reliable information in existence supports these truths, yet millions of Trump fans simply reject the evidence and substitute whatever they want to believe instead. When confronted with clear evidence that threatens their reality, these stubbornly fact-proof people will reject it out of hand because it was somehow created by “the crooked media.” The merits of the facts themselves don’t matter; this group of Trump voters has thoroughly insulated themselves from reason and truth. After years of pundits and conspiracy theorists feeding them misinformation and half-truths, Donald Trump came along and fed his followers a smorgasbord of blatant lies, in the process discrediting any source of information other than himself. His supporters ate it up, and finally made a clean, complete break with reality. Their ignorance is ironclad and unassailable.
Make no mistake – this is exactly how Donald Trump wants his supporters to think. He has them right where he wants them: living in a fantasy world that he created, himself cast as savior, defender, teacher, king. In Trumpland, every word out of Donald’s mouth is gospel truth, never mind if objective reality says otherwise. With his base willing to blindly accept, defend, and spread even the most outrageous fabrications, Donald Trump can conjure distractions, chaos, rabid support, or a rage-filled attack mob on command. Try to tell these people they’re being lied to and manipulated – guess what, you must be with the liberal media, and nothing else you say will be heard.
When the election was over, many progressives began calling for a conversation with the other side. We have to talk to Trump supporters, they said – we have to understand where they’re coming from if we want progressive politics to recover from this. But please answer me this: how do you have a meaningful conversation with someone when you aren’t even operating from the same basic understanding of reality? Without sharing a common reality, people can’t reach a common understanding. You can’t dance a waltz when your partner is busy breakdancing in the corner. Confront a fact-proof Trump voter with proven information that contradicts their false information, and they will reject your facts with no reasonable explanation. Point out that they’re rejecting proven facts with no reasonable explanation, and they will reject you, and anything more you say, with no reasonable explanation. The thought-loop is complete and self-sustaining.
So what’s to be done about this sad state of affairs? Should Trump’s loyal flock be abandoned on their island of ignorance? In a word: yes. Hear me out… I’m not saying that if you have a chance to safely and civilly change a Trump supporter’s mind on an important issue, you should pass it up. Have at it, and best of luck – change happens one person at a time. But we’ve all had those conversations, probably recently, and they usually result in frustration and further division. As I said, the thought-loop is complete, and it’s immune to logic and reason. On a larger scale, progressives’ efforts at restoring rational thought to political discourse might be better spent in three main areas:
- Discrediting Donald Trump. To be clear, I am not suggesting anyone should spread misinformation to undermine him. As soon as progressives stoop to the same dishonest tactics as Trump and his people, they sacrifice the very integrity they are trying to preserve and encourage. Here’s the good news: falsifying information will not be necessary. Donald Trump lies as easily as he breathes – it is merely the job of progressives (anyone who respects truth and reason, really) to vigilantly monitor and expose Trump’s falsehoods. Write about them, tweet/post about them, stay in your elected Representatives’ ears about them. Don’t let him get away with it. Adults like to tell children that liars always get found out in the end; Trump fans may only become willing to rejoin reality once their demagogue has been exposed. Let’s make sure that happens.
- Pushing good information. This effort comes in two parts: stopping fake news and spreading quality news. At the time of this writing, potential solutions to the fake-news problem are still developing. Fake stories online should always be flagged and reported to site admins, and the fact of their falseness should be spread publicly. As for spreading quality news, there are many ways: lend your support (financial or otherwise) to sources of good journalism and honest writing, do some writing yourself, fact-check and verify everything you spread. A Civitas reader suggested progressives living in red states and rural areas could band together and request local syndication of more rational and/or progressive radio shows, which would add a different voice to the very conservative media options in those places. To paraphrase the Supreme Court’s free-speech jurisprudence, the best response to speech you dislike is counter-speech. Purveyors of lies will keep on talking; let’s talk back.
- Get involved in politics. For several years, the voices of the irrational and misinformed have been by far the loudest in the political conversation. Despite being a relatively small segment of the population, they wield disproportionate power through intimidation and sheer volume. As W. B. Yeats wrote in The Second Coming, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Many progressives have been civil, polite, and accommodating, always trying to give the other side’s viewpoint fair consideration… and progressives just got steamrolled as a result. We’ve all seen the parent with an unruly child who, instead of standing up to the kid, tries to calmly and rationally explain to little Timmy why he shouldn’t bite strangers and break everything on the store shelves. Everyone but that parent knows the kid isn’t listening to a single word. Let’s stop being that parent. Differences of rational opinion are still to be respected, but falsehoods and misinformation are not. Lies and fabrications are not of equal value to facts and logic, and neither are opinions based on them. Make this respect for truth a core platform item and get involved in politics – first and foremost, vote in every election you can legally register for. Donate and volunteer for candidates you like. Contact your Senators and Representatives on every issue that matters to you. If you are so inclined, consider running for office – your county or state political party might be a good place to start. Whatever you do, don’t do nothing.
In the 2016 election, more voters rejected than supported Donald Trump and what he stands for. Of the voters who did support Trump, not all are living in the fact-proof alternate reality bubble he helped create. Nevertheless, fake news and blatant lies paved the way for Trump to win an electoral college victory and four years in the White House. Many Trump fans will continue to live in Trumpland for now, but the rest of America must not legitimize it or give it validity. The rest of America must work diligently to deconstruct the false foundations of that fantasy kingdom, and hopefully we can welcome them home one day, when they decide to join us back in the real world.