Here’s our current reality: the incoming Trump Administration’s strategy is to scramble truth and fiction. The goal isn’t to present their own version of the truth (as the second Bush administration did) but to create an environment where Americans can’t tell what’s true and what isn’t.
Any doubts I had about this being the case were erased this week when I watched Trump’s first press conference in six months. He opened with a lie that was easily debunked and it went downhill from there. Most politicians trying to convince the public and press that unseemly allegations about them aren’t true would go to great lengths to avoid being caught in a lie while discussing it. Donald Trump clearly doesn’t care. His lies come so fast and so furious that the fact checkers can barely keep up, and what normal person has time to parse hundreds of fact-checked lies anyway?
There’s been a lot of discussion around whether or not Trump believes the lies that he tells. I don’t find the question particularly relevant. Because whether or not he believes them, the effect is the same. Their communications strategy is built around Trump’s lying repeatedly. There are known strategies for suppressing the truth and the Trump administration employs all of them masterfully.
Speaking of known strategies, Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist wrote a piece about covering Vladimir Putin’s press events for the last 12 years. Kovalev warns that the American media’s experience covering Trump events will be similar. He also makes the point that the press isn’t likely to band together in solidarity against how Trump treats the media because they’re all competing against one another (and outlets like Breitbart) for stories and access. But while we can’t expect our media to band together, we can push them to hold Trump and Congress accountable. The Indivertible Guide, authored by producers of Countdown and The Daily Show, is a comprehensive strategy guide to targeting media outlets for this purpose.
The #goldenshowers dossier isn’t a good look for Trump but they can still use it to their advantage. The Trump administration can galvanize their supporters to defend him and use it to spread even more doubt about the “mainstream media.” And the frog squad will gladly help them. 4chan and reddit were ablaze this week pushing the idea that the dossier was a 4chan prank. It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop them. Because it doesn’t matter what the truth is. And the more difficult it is to know what is and isn’t true, the easier it is be for the Trump administration and their allies in Congress to operate with no accountability.
The so-called alt-right has been playing the long game here, creating an atmosphere where truth has no meaning. As Vox points out in an explainer about online trolling, the frog squad are pretty open and transparent about what they’re up to and how they’re doing it. You don’t have to dive all that deep to learn their tactics. Just this week, Buzzfeed ran a piece detailing how they organized to smear Trump protesters by using plants, part of a broader disinformation campaign designed to portray the protesters as violent.
With less than two weeks to go until Trump takes the oath of office, it’s vital that we adapt to this new reality in our thinking and our organizing. Fact checks and debunking urban myths aren’t going to cut it. They might even be adding to the noise. Winning against Trump and the frog squad will require tactics that acknowledge this reality.
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