Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Something to Know - 17 January

This is the fifteenth of twenty-four separate Atlantic Magazine articles on the speculation if Trump should win the 2024 election.  You will encounter a few editorial paragraphing adjustments, as this a presentation of page 45 of the current January/February edition of magazine.   For your thoughtful consideration:


By Megan Garber

"I have a gut," Donald Trump announced in 2018, "and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else's brain can ever tell me." The president's gut would go on to inform him that climate change is partisan propaganda; that COVID-19 might be cured through the injection of bleach; that any election that fails to produce a Trump victory must be rigged. Trump gut-trusted the nation into political crisis. His first term emphasized the fragility of American democracy. A second would threaten the foundation of that democ- racy: the public's willingness to accept that reality is a shared resource.

Facts are work. They require study; they require curiosity; they require patience; they require humility. Democracy requires the same. The demands of both become greater in an information environment teeming with stories that are ever more suspect—a place where truth has plausible deniability. Trump will ease the burden, he suggests: You can outsource your mind to his gut. You would be foolish not to. Science lies to you. Hollywood lies to you. The media lie to you. Books lie to you. Courts lie to you. Teachers lie to you. Other people lie to you. Democracy lies to you. The only thing you can trust, in this dizzying world, is the inveterate liar who would never lie to you.

A good pitchman identifies a problem and sells a solution. A great one creates the problem to be solved. Trump, having lived his life as an endless ad, has mastered

the art of problem-making. He churns out shock and amusement and outrage and absurdity with factory efficiency. He makes the world seem hard. And then he offers himself up as the person who will make America easy again.

This is how he has been so able to transform lies from liabilities into selling points. The falsehoods do not merely bend the truth. They obliterate it. Marketers speak the language of desire, and Trump has brought its vernacular to his political movement. He has both benefited from and expanded the work done by partisan media outlets that talk about narratives rather than truth. Every story Trump invents—every wild claim, freed from the dull weight of accuracy—doubles as permission: You, too, can feel your way to your facts. Truth is rebranded as a lifestyle good: There are many stories to choose from, and all the consumer needs to do is select the ones that suit them. When attention is your currency, the difference between the true and the false matters much less than the difference between the compelling and the boring.

These problems are both very old and very new. The Founders feared, above much else, the idea that a demagogue would rise to power in their new country, playing on passions and making rationality

seem beside the point. They understood the market power of unchecked feelings. The emotional style in American politics today does not expand people's political imaginations; instead, it limits them. It forecloses empathy rather than inspiring it. You may not know what it feels like to be undocumented or unhoused or 14 years old and forced to carry a pregnancy to term; democracy, though—and basic decency—asks you to imagine the feeling. Trump, by contrast, absolves you of the need to try. His voters are his customers. And the customer is always right.

"We are divided," Stephen Colbert once observed, "between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart." He was speaking in 2005, as the character he played on his TV show at the time: a buffoon who shouted his way into political relevance. Back then, that line was still a joke. Politicians have long pitched themselves straight to voters' feelings. But Trump does much more than appeal to emotion. He insists that, in politics, emotion is all there is. He interprets liberty as a freedom from facts. More than a year after Trump lost the 2020 election, one of his voters was asked why he continued to doubt the defeat. His reply: "It didn't smell right."

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She is the author of On Misdirection: Magic, Mayhem, American Politics.--

Juan Matute

Winston S. Churchill
"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
― Winston S. Churchill

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