In our historical moment, the mesmerists are worth considering, for they were frequently debunked but the debunkings rarely had much of an effect. Just as the repeated corrections of President Trump’s falsehoods have failed to discourage him or his supporters, so too the mesmerists escaped their exposés unharmed.
.. But mesmerists had a knack for turning such accusations of fraudulence into strength. Practitioners got some of their best material by embracing the debunkers’ theories as their own.
.. To the charge that they were deceiving their audiences, mesmerists responded that they were expert demonstrators and analysts of deception. Yes, Dods did trick his subjects — but only in order to illustrate how dangerous other tricksters could be.
.. When Dods offered to teach mesmerism to his audiences, he was offering to let them in on a powerful secret. Instead of being one of the dupes, you could be one of the mesmerists. All you had to do was sign up for his private class — for a hefty fee.
Imagine trying to take the wind out of Dods’s sails by calling him an impostor, as people did. Far from deflating Dods’s prestige, such accusations would only add to it. Control over the powers of deception was precisely what Dods was selling.
Or imagine trying to defeat mesmerism by calling it a ridiculous fad that a credulous public deserved. This argument, too, suited mesmerists just fine. The more fetid the swamp of public life, the more important it became to understand the mesmeric techniques of deception. How about signing up for that private class?
In the same way, exposing Mr. Trump’s lies seems to play right into his hands. We rarely consider the possibility that the president’s supporters want a scoundrel, as long as he’s their scoundrel. Great con men feed off accusations of dishonesty. They mesmerize us because we suspect them of deception, not in spite of that fact.
Like the mesmerists, what Mr. Trump is actually selling is anti-mesmerism. The mesmerists were offering a fantasy of turning the tables on con men by exposing their tricks. Mr. Trump, while constantly lying, denounces liars all around him. He tells us the game is rigged. The fake news media can’t out-fake him. This is how he gets away with making myriad demonstrably inaccurate claims, as he did at a rally with adoring supporters in Pennsylvania on Thursday, while in the same breath attacking the news media as “fake, fake disgusting news.”
Even if Mr. Trump’s audience retains a suspicion that he himself might be a swindler, that doesn’t necessarily work to his disadvantage. The attacks on his truthfulness have an alarming tendency to reinforce his message that he’s a master of the deceptive arts. In a treacherous world, you need a treacherous ally — treacherous, at least, to your mutual enemies. So become Mr. Trump’s apprentice! Sign up, as Dods urged, for the private class!
When no one is trustworthy, you might as well trust a con artist. There’s a strange logic to the idea. Innocent lambs may be admirable, but they’re not the defenders you want in a dog-eat-dog world. Better to have a sly fox at your side.
complained to a close friend that I hated being on Twitter. It was distorting discourse, I said. I couldn’t turn off the noise. She asked what was the worst that could happen if I stepped away from it.
There was nothing I could think of. And so just after 6 p.m. last Sunday, I did.
.. After nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets, I have used Twitter enough to know that it no longer works well for me. I will re-engage eventually, but in a different way.
.. Twitter has stopped being a place where I could learn things I didn’t know, glean information that was free from errors about a breaking news story or engage in a discussion and be reasonably confident that people’s criticisms were in good faith.
.. The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight.
.. It is a place where people who are understandably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious.
.. Twitter is now an anger video game for many users. It is the only platform on which people feel free to say things they’d never say to someone’s face.
.. During the 2012 campaign, the first during which Twitter was widely used by journalists and campaign aides, I became something of a scold to younger reporters who I thought misused the medium.
.. Pictures of themselves at events, inside jokes and conversation fragments were all there for the world to see. They should treat their feeds like news platforms, I huffed
.. But Twitter has a staccato allure for those of us who need frequent inputs and have grown accustomed to them in the Trump era, with news cycles that last roughly three hours.
.. Many pointed out errors, but most did it respectfully, and I was appreciative.
.. But the medium has changed. Everyone I follow on the site seems to be tweeting more frequently, so I had to check in more frequently. No matter the time of day or night, I felt like I had to plug back into the Matrix, only to be overwhelmed by the amount of content.
.. instead of engaging in thoughtful debates, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time explaining an errant word or a poorly phrased tweet, and coming off defensive as I did it.
.. On Twitter, everything is shrunk down to the same size, making it harder to discern what is a big deal and what is not.
.. Tone often overshadows the actual news. All outrages appear equal. And that makes it harder for significant events — like Mr. Trump’s extraordinarily pliant performance with President Vladimir Putin of Russia — to break through.
.. More significant is the way Mr. Trump has tried to turn everyone around him, including the journalists who cover him, into part of his story.
And people on Twitter have started to react to me in that same way, treating me as if I am a protagonist in the president’s narrative.
.. He creates the impression that the media is almost as powerful as he is in his incessant, personalized attacks on reporters on Twitter.
.. Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news.
.. The downside is that everyone is treated as equally expert on various topics.
They failed to consider how grotesque Clinton herself appeared to these same Republican women. The authors quote pollster Wes Anderson to establish a point that sums up these voters and their decision process: “These women may not have decided to vote for Trump until late in the race, but most had decided much earlier that they were definitely not voting for Clinton.” For many, Clinton’s stances on issues like abortion and gun rights ruled her out from the beginning. Many others were repelled by her inauthenticity and dishonesty.
It is difficult to describe Trump as a workingman, but he sounds like a workingman.
.. The man had inherited millions and was worth billions, but somehow he sounded like he understood the plight of people whose pleas were not heard in Chappaqua. Meanwhile, the Democrats increasingly became associated with the non-working class, identifying more with the lifelong welfare recipient than with the worker whose taxes pay for that government program.
.. “I used to think that the Republican party stood for country-club folks in nice suburban homes who talked about bottom lines and stock prices. Not anymore; they are for the blue-collar worker, they are for me, and the irony is not lost on me.”
.. “Big banks, big media, big corporations, I want nothing to do with them,” one man said. Another linked the what Justice Louis Brandeis called the “curse of bigness” to a culture of dependency: “We are Americans, that means something, that means figuring it out without the government giving us free stuff, without the big banks and big companies making us need them so much, and not feeling as though we are entitled to something once we get it.”
.. The confusing part for those who do not buy it is that it makes Trump the representative of the little guy. That is harder to swallow than William Jennings Bryan’s leadership of the 1890s populists. It clearly wrong-footed the Clinton camp, as evidenced by the supreme effort taken to remind the voters just how often Trump had shortchanged, bamboozled, and defrauded various little guys in his long business career.
.. With Clinton as the obvious representative of the Left’s establishment, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and the rest as representatives of the Right’s establishment, and Trump as the eager antagonist of both, the answer was clear to many forgotten men and women: This guy, whatever his past, is in my corner.
The Soros-was-a-Nazi story is a staple of talk radio and the less responsible conservative corners of the Internet. The facts are rather different: Soros was a three-year-old Jew living in Budapest when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was still a child when the war ended. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, he was ordered to report to the local Jewish registry, where he was given the job of delivering deportation notices to Jewish families, something his father prevented him from doing. The Soros family was well-to-do, and his father was able to purchase fraudulent documents identifying the Soroses as Christian. Toward the end of the war, Soros was under the care of a government official who helped protect Soros — and his own Jewish wife — even as he went about his official task of inventorying the estates of dispossessed Hungarian Jews. From this comes the spate of libels about Soros — that he was a member of the SS, that the origin of his vast fortune was property stolen from victims of the Holocaust, etc.
Soros is a genuinely nasty guy, and his influence extends into some of the worst crevices of the Left. But he is not a Nazi.
.. When people get used to hearing prominent conservatives lying about their opponents, it makes it easier for honest and fair-minded people to dismiss conservative arguments and conservative claims out of hand.
.. Scott Baio suggested on Twitter that the woman presented as Charlottesville murder victim Heather Heyer was the same woman presented as Sandy Hook mother Vicki Soto. He posted pictures of them side by side, with the oh-so-innocent remark “Thoughts?” The implication — that the events in Sandy Hook and Charlottesville were some sort of hoax pulled off by a powerful and far-reaching conspiracy of wily political operators who could not be bothered to hire an extra actress to fortify their schemes — is poisonous, lunatic conspiracy-theory stuff.
.. the fact, inconvenient for conservatives, that the president of these United States, who is in the habit of denouncing “fake news” from the bully pulpit, spent years trafficking in a daft conspiracy theory about Barack Obama: that he is a Kenyan and possibly (as Baio has suggested) a Muslim, possibly a closet radical Muslim (call him “The Meccan Candidate”) sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaeda et al.
- .. If Mrs. Clinton had had a good and true explanation for her email shenanigans, no one would have believed her.
- If Trump has a genuine “win” to talk about, all thinking adults will treat his claims with skepticism.
- Even his allies and members of his staff know better than to take him at his word.
.. we should be ashamed of ourselves if we come to accept this kind of dishonesty in the service of political expediency. If conservative ideas cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas without lies, they do not deserve to prevail at all.