How long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned?
Among the most confounding items in the avalanche of pre-election polls was the finding that Americans viewed Trump as significantly more trustworthy than Clinton. For those of us still living in the fact-based world, this was incomprehensible. Trump's penchant for brazen lying has been well documented. His willingness to say things that are clearly not true, even when there's easily controvertible video evidence baffled observers who looked to past campaigns and saw how quickly a candidate foundered when confronted with misstatements far less blatant than those Trump makes on a daily basis. Clinton, on the other hand, was rated the second most truthful politician of the dozen or so that Politifact rated over the course of the long campaign. Despite the non-stop chanting by Trump's supporters, Clinton's lies were far, far fewer and of much less consequence than Trump's. How could it be that most Americans viewed Trump as more trustworthy?
Elizabeth Kolbert pointed the way in a piece in the New Yorker. We now live in a post-fact world (as Ron Suskind explained when reporting on the Bush White House more than a decade ago). Facts are mushy, malleable things. Everybody lies and everybody throws "facts" around as weapons to prove their own points of view. All media are biased, so you're foolish to take at face value anything that you see. You can't base your trust on "facts."
You go with your gut. When Trump contradicts himself, it still feels like he means exactly what he says in the moment that he says it. It doesn't matter if he says something different the next day or the next hour. Those are just "facts." His willingness to say horrifying things is evidence that he "tells it like it is." He's not going to modify his language to appease some PC norms about what it's okay for a candidate to say. Clinton, on the other hand, appeared to be always hedging, always carefully thinking about the impact of what she was going to say before she said it. Even if she was saying true things, how could you tell if she really believed it? And that's what counts -- belief, not facts. Belief is all you can trust.
On the internet, an article in the New York Times and a piece on Breitbart carry the same weight. How do you choose? Whose biases line up with your own? Who gives you more comfort and reassures you that they see the world the way you do? "Trustworthiness" in the post-fact world has nothing to do with an adherence to things that are true. What matters are the words that justify and confirm. Trump has been so good at that.
So how long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned? The Donald is loading his transition team with the Washington insiders, lobbyists and plutocrats he railed against (along with his adorable children, of course). Drain the swamp? Hah! McConnell's cynical strategy appears to have worked. The Kentucky Tortoise smiles his oily smile at the President-elect and thinks, "You're my bitch now."
The Republicans aren't going to allow 35% tariffs on companies moving operations out of the U.S. They have corporate profits to protect. Coal is not coming back unless natural gas production is squelched. The markets won't let that happen. Now Trump thinks some pieces of Obamacare are worth keeping. He says he hasn't given much thought to a special prosecutor to lock up Hillary. He won't answer questions about banning Muslims. Parts of the wall will be a fence and he's going to start discussions with Mexico on how it'll be paid for. He might deport as many undocumented as Obama has, but he's not focused on that right now. So how long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned?
That Trump won't be able to actualize some of his most egregious slogans should give comfort to no one. The viciousness that he's unleashed won't be easily restrained. When the WSJ asked him if some of his campaign rhetoric had gone too far he said, "No. I won." He tells Leslie Stahl that he's "surprised" and "so saddened" to hear about the violence committed in his name. But hatred works for him. And when the Trump voters finally do realize they've been conned and try to call him to account, he'll turn the blame elsewhere. His failures have always been someone else's fault. He'll resort to stirring up the rage and resentment that has worked for him so well this year and direct it at those who've been his targets all along. He's very good at that.
He's betting that in the post-fact world he can keep saying the things that energize his supporters and garner him the praise and adulation he seeks above all else, no matter what his administration actually does or doesn't do. He might be right.
I'm not giving up on facts. But with Bannon in the White House the American Experiment has a fierce and formidable adversary. Facts won't be enough. We need to tell better stories. Trump will rely on hatred and fear because that works for him. Those who oppose him have to be better than that. The opposition stories have to speak to what is best about America. Stories that are true. That greatness comes when we lift each other, when we listen to each other, when we take each other in. I still believe that the arc of history bends toward justice. But it demands that we work for it.