Today’s public square: real & imagined mix freely in timeless drift, plus Trump’s illogical comments on Weiner

What can be more irritating than to see a news story that’s a week or month or even a year old appear on Google News, Yahoo! News or your Facebook feed? What’s worse is when days after it was originally published you ran across an early version of a news story—when maybe some of the facts were wrong or the accused had not yet completely exonerated herself (might as well be topical). When I find out I’m reading yesterday’s—or last year’s—news, it raises my blood pressure a little.

That is, if the story has a dateline attached to it and I remember to check it. Otherwise, I may believe it’s the latest news, or that the ideas or assertions that were already discounted are actually true.

This reappearance of stories that should be time-bound out of chronological context is one of the ways that the shift to the Internet for getting news and creating public forums has warped our sense of time.

Another way is the 24-hour availability of Internet news. In traditional news media, the reader, viewer or listener gets a chunk of the world at a given increment in time at the same time every day.  Here is how the world stands when the paper was printed at 1:00 am. Here is how the world stands right now at 6:00 pm. By contrast, the Internet purports to give us news to the instant 24 hours a day. Anyone who frequently checks news-oriented websites knows that it’s more like news every few hours plus whatever big event just occurred. But the very expectation that what you see is up-to-the-minute destroys the sense of chronology you develop by reading the newspaper or watching the 11:00 pm news every day and thus order events by the day they occur. In a sense, on the Internet everything happens at once in a timeless drift.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. Politicians, pundits, store-bought intellectuals and reporters continue to fill news media outlets with lies, false accusations, mistakes in logic and pure fantasy. I’m not talking only about the right-wing media. The mainstream frequently carries distortions, large and small. What was the media applause before the Iraq War, the intense focus on deficit reduction during a recession, the multiple Benghazi hearings, the “swift-boating” of John Kerry, the brouhaha over Planned Parenthood, the touting of the Tea Party in 2010 and the disregard of organized left-wing activity in that same year and this year if not distortions and fantasies. The best recent example of mainstream news media creating false news or a false take on the news is the Associated Press (AP) scandalously falsifying article which claimed that more than half of the people who met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state used the Clinton Foundation as a conduit to reach her. As it turns out, the AP was looking at a miniscule subset of visitors, and that in fact very few of the people with whom Clinton met during her reign as secretary of state had made contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Just as the case with every other media outlet that has pored over Clinton emails, the AP was unable to provide one example of a contract given, a policy changed or any other action taken by the State Department as the result of a request to the Clinton Foundation.  The AP is trying to create a scandal where there is none.

Now for a slight change of topic to Donald Trump’s latest inanity.

It seems as the Donald’s overactive imagination has been acting up again.  During the campaign, the Donald has imagined African-American life in the United States to be a wretched urban hell in which no progress towards a higher standard of living and a safer environment has been made over the past 50 years. He has imagined that crime is up when it’s really down, that unemployment is up when it’s really down and that illegal immigration is up when in fact it’s so far down that more illegals have left the United States than entered over the past few years.  Of course, these fantasies of Trump’s could also be out-and-out lies, like his many lies about his past successes as a businessperson or that he opposed the Iraq War early on or that Hillary Clinton has stated she wants to repeal the Second Amendment. (I wish it were true!)

Trump’s first statement about Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin leaving her husband, the notorious sexter Anthony Weiner, serves as a dismaying metaphor for the current state of public discourse.

Trump said that Huma “is making a very wise decision. I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him. I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information. Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.

Trump turns a wild innuendo—that Clinton was “careless and negligent” about allowing Weiner to have close access to highly classified information—into a true statement which then serves as an example of a wild assertion—that Clinton exercises poor judgment. His conclusion is that we should be very worried that important state documents got into the hands of an Internet pervert.

Picking apart this statement is easier than walking away from your bills and making your vendors sue you for the money. It assumes that we believe that one or more of the following are true: 1) Clinton has control over the selection of her employees’ mates; 2) Clinton routinely shares state secrets with the significant others of her employees; 3) Huma Abedin told everything she knew about state secrets to her husband, on the advice or orders of Clinton.

Perhaps Trump is confused and thinks we’re still in slave times, when the boss, who was also the owner, tried to exercise complete control over the sex lives of his employees, who were the slaves. Or maybe he thinks that because Abedin has an Islamic background that she has no rights over her own body and voice and was forced to follow her Clinton Mafia family orders to marry that twerp.

So where was Clinton’s bad judgment? In hiring someone who is a high-achieving, hard-working and talented individual? Perhaps it was hiring someone with an Islamic background? That racist assumption may in fact be what Trump is really trying to communicate, just as his ostensible appeals to African-Americans seem meant to really communicate to whites that he endorses certain myths and lies about African-American culture.

It’s worth noting that Trump declares his expertise at the beginning of the statement: “I know Anthony Weiner” well. Is that any different from your run-of-the-mill Manhattan Institute or American Enterprise Institute pseudo-academic claiming expertise in the topic about which she/he is about to lie or distort? In fact, I could point to a number of Wall Street Journal Op/Ed pieces that take exactly the same structure as the Trump quote (for a few examples, see my analyses of Journal opinion pieces in OpEdge blog entries for February 11, 2016, December 8, 2015, August 4, 2015 and May 5, 2015):

  1. Establish false expertise
  2. Give false assumption
  3. Create a causal relationship based on the false assumption, sometimes using coded language
  4. Come to false conclusion.

The subject of the Trump quote on Abedin-Weiner symbolizes the degradation of the news media over the past 20 years. That the media thinks the separation of two prominent political figures rates top-of-the-news, first-page coverage degrades the marketplace of ideas. This kind of story traditionally was never front page news and often would not even make the Times; it was called “tabloid news” or a “page six” story, after the gossip column page of the scurrilous New York Post. That a political candidate would deign to comment on the private matter of an opponent’s employee further sullies the political discourse. The completely illogical nature of the comment suggests a mind that is both disorganized and deranged or a cynicism about the abilities of the American public to reason cause and effect, or perhaps both. In any case, this kind of logic further demeans discourse. (The hypocrisy of a serial adulterer taking an ethical stand has been par for the course in American political history, and is therefore less troublesome.)

In short, the Trump quote is a complete disgrace, from every point of view. If you want to know what’s wrong with our current public discourse on important issues, multiply this illogical, tasteless and irrelevant quote by about a billion.


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