Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

I was a debater in high school. That’s probably why the most frustrating thing about our current political environment is that rational arguments don’t matter anymore when it comes to the kind of political polarization that has taken hold.

That’s why I have come to the conclusion that this is the most honest thing Trump has said since he kicked off his political career with birther lies.

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It’s true. One of the reasons that facts and rational arguments don’t matter any more is because Trump can say/do anything and his most ardent supporters won’t budge.

As much as Trump would like to take credit for that himself, I don’t think it has anything to do with him. The reason he can say/do anything is that there is a whole network of right wing news outlets who would come up with an excuse for why he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Because they’ve done such a good job of demonizing anyone who doesn’t adhere to their views, Trump supporters are safely ensconced in an epistemically enclosed bubble where the justifications for what the president says/does are handed out like candy on Halloween.

Imagine this scenario with me for a moment: a sitting president shoots someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. We all watched it happen on national television. But his supporters continue to cheer him on because a whole crew of pundits are willing to back up his lies and wild accusations about how someone else is really to blame.

That’s essentially what happened. Trump fired the man who was in charge of investigating his campaign for possible coordination with Russia to influence the election. Afterwards, he went on national television to say that he did it because of the investigation. He even went so far as to brag about how it took the pressure off of him when he met with the Russian foreign minister.

But his supporters continue to cheer him on because the only thing they hear about it are Trump’s lies combined with the twisted reasoning of folks like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin who suggest that it’s all really Obama’s fault.

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This kind of cover is exactly what Vladimir Putin has relied on to maintain his power in Russia. The whole concept of “fake news” has been hijacked to pretend that both sides do it in this country. But various other words have been used to refer to how it is employed by Putin: kompromat, zersetzung and dezinformatsiya. Here is how those terms have been described:

Kompromat serves the interests of the powerful, which is why it is often a tool of autocrats. By eroding the very idea of a shared reality, and by spreading apathy and confusion among a public that learns to distrust leaders and institutions alike, kompromat undermines a society’s ability to hold the powerful to account and ensure the proper functioning of government…

The means of Zersetzung include character assassination and, through the spreading of lies and fake news, the creation of a gray zone of doubt in which facts struggle to survive…

What the Russians are doing (via desinformatsiya) is building narratives; they are not building facts… The underlying narrative is, ‘Don’t trust anyone.’

The “gray zone” created by this kind of corrosion is why the most honest thing Trump has said is that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters.

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