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Paranoia, Fake News, and Enemies of the People

Before 2017, forty-three men had been president; all of them have received criticism, at least some of it deserved; some of them have been venal, some incompetent, at least one genuinely criminal. But none have proven so intellectually, emotionally and temperamentally unsuited to the job as the incumbent. It is difficult to see where this all will end.

His latest Twitter rant, declaring that his predecessor ordered wiretaps of his telephone conversations before the election, crystallized a couple of things for me. One is why he retains about 40% approval rating - and more than twice that among Republicans. It's because he is one of them: he confines his sources of information to those validating entities within his bubble (such as Breitbart or Fox News) and instantly and unquestioningly accepts everything he encounters. He derides mainstream media as "fake news" because it does its job: it counters those assertions to which he clings, threatening his worldview. Likewise his followers, who have taken over the Republican Party over the last decade or so; the hatred they feel of the "MSM" because of its presumed liberal bias is actually because the facts do not comport with the world inside the bubble. The bubble must be right, and so anything or anyone that seeks to undermine it must be an enemy. However, for the President of the United States to actually brand the media as such is an almost unimaginably serious assault on the underpinnings of our democratic society, as is his questioning of judges and indeed of any and all who disagree with or challenge him in any way. There are, fortunately, checks and balances in the constitutional system - although these become significantly less effective when one branch of government abrogates its responsibility and becomes positively supine - but whatever happens in the coming months or years, we will be left with a gaping wound in civil society.

The other thing that leaped out to me is the extent to which, contrary to the beliefs of Trump and his acolytes, the media in fact goes out of its way to treat him as a rational actor, when he demonstrably is not. This is at the heart of its struggles to cover, first his candidacy and now the presidency. Journalists - whatever our detractors like to believe - work in a fact-based system, where statements must be researched and verifiable. Hence, the mad scramble in the 48 hours after the latest Trump tweetstorm to seek out evidence for Trump's claims. But, of course, there is none, because Trump does not operate in that same world. He saw something, and accepted it as the truth because it fit with his worldview of him being a wronged, put-upon outsider being challenged everywhere by dark forces. Reportedly, he doubled down on his belief in the veracity of his claims to friends afterward.

As Republican pollster Frank Luntz noted, as president, Trump now has access to daily briefings from intelligence agencies ... but instead he gets his info from Breitbart. His predictable sirens, the Sean Hannitys of the world, parrot his evidence-free claims; and 78 percent of Republicans say they trust Trump to tell them the truth more than they trust the media.

However it all concludes, this will not end well.
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