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“Americans Believe All Manner Of Dumb Things”: Donald Trump’s ‘Secret’ Americans Love Bullsh*t Peddlers And Miracle Cures

It’s a requirement for a certain sort of political journalist to file at least one heavy-breathing dispatch on the cynical brilliance of Donald Trump, stuffed with clichés about the Republican nominee’s “genius… ability to make facts irrelevant” and his supposed skill at “hypnotizing” voters into believing things that are demonstrably false. These are often accompanied by a compulsory comment from a Trump supporter denouncing an “elite media” that doesn’t understand ordinary, salt-of-the-Earth types susceptible to cheering-New-Jersey-Muslims-on-9/11 conspiracy theories.

During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last week, I made the uncontroversial point that Americans believe many stupid things and that it was necessary to challenge those stupidities. This provoked a barely coherent Trump-supporter named Wayne Allyn Root to suggest that my “elitism” betrayed a disconnect with those in real America. Later in the show, Root, author of the autobiographical book Millionaire Republican (“The real key to becoming a Millionaire Republican is to do the opposite of what the masses do”), boasted that he went to Columbia and his daughter attended Harvard. (Live television, I decided, was no place to admit penury and a degree from a state university.)

The question, of course, remained unanswered: if Trump has such a fraught relationship with reality, why are voters—those stolid and honest middle Americans—so easily charmed by his lies? There now exists a significant literature on this question, most of which forgoes simple explanations in favor of needlessly complicated ones. The boring truth is that Americans of all backgrounds believe all manner of dumb things. Why would we expect voters to exhibit a degree of rationality they rarely display in other aspects of life?

Indeed, Americans have a particular talent for transforming charlatans, cranks, and frauds into celebrities—and a particular tolerance for fact-free fads promoted by already-existing celebrities. Our favorite medical man is arguably Dr. Oz, who indulges all sorts of unscientific mysticism. We’ve made the absurd television “medium” John Edward absurdly wealthy for pretending he can communicate with your dead pet newt. Ours is a culture in which an Oscar-winning actress has a second act as a lifestyle guru peddling pseudoscientific nonsense, forcing Canadian academic Timothy Caufield to publish the book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (Spoiler: pretty much.)

Believing stupid things is, alas, a habit of both plebs and elites, celebrities and nobodies. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

On any given night in New York City, dinner parties are thrown, forthcoming Hamptons holidays compared, and fantastically ignorant conversations about politics and “wellness” trends are had (sound baths, steamed vaginas, vinegar diets, child sacrifice, etc). I was once in the unpleasant company of an obscenely wealthy literary agent when she advised her guests that this summer they should all commit to hiring her German-born “energy person” in Southampton, who would tinker with their chakras and free their radicals, while draining their bank accounts for the privilege.

You would be unsurprised to discover that my host diligently ate organic, shunned gluten, ingested handfuls of probiotics, and avoided Genetically Modified Organisms. And most well-informed people would also be unsurprised that last month the National Academy of Science released an authoritative report aggregating 20 years of research on genetic modification showing no evidence exists to support claims that GMOs are harmful to humans or the environment. But like the dozens of studies that preceded it, the new report will have no effect on those friends convinced that tinkering with nature inevitably precipitates civilizational disaster.

And of those friends, I doubt you’d be surprised if more than one owned a copy of The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse, a book that has lurked on the New York Times bestseller list since 2014, promising to “cleanse your cells and insides.” There is, as Tim Caufield points out in his anti-Paltrow opus, “absolutely no evidence to support the idea that we need to detoxify our bodies in the manner suggested by the cleansing industry.” The body is quite capable of “cleansing” and “detoxifying” itself—your kidneys and liver take care of that—but smart people still believe in scrubbing cells clean with pint glasses full of plutonium-scented green sludge. (A friend pointed me to his preferred local organic restaurant, in one of New York City’s most expensive neighborhoods, that hawks a “16 oz. Alzheimer’s Fighter” juice, which will set you back $8 and do absolutely nothing to stave off Alzheimers.)

Or how about my Facebook acquaintance who recently recommended Arianna Huffington’s best-selling book The Sleep Revolution, which extols the virtues of a good night’s rest. An uncontroversial premise, sure, but when I thumbed through the book I spotted Huffington’s praise for a colleague who shared “insights about acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, and all sorts of natural ways” to help readers fall asleep. I don’t want to be uncharitable, but homeopathy is voodoo, “herbs” is a meaningless category of “healing” (some herbs, if ingested, will kill you), and acupuncture, to paraphrase Yale Medical School professor Steven Novella, doesn’t work.

The same day I was advised to revolutionize my sleep, I happened upon a short and pointless Yahoo News article about supermodel Elle Macpherson’s “alkaline diet,” a change necessitated by a discovery that “her pH levels—of acid to alkaline—weren’t balanced.” Of course, Yahoo’s celebrity stenographer challenged none of Macpherson’s antiscience. “I didn’t realize that stress, worry, jet lag, not getting enough sleep, and eating too much red meat, dairy, or not enough greens can make your body acidic.” Well, it can’t. And the science supporting an “alkaline diet” is nonexistent. But Gwyneth, Gisele, and Victoria “swear by it.”

My favorite of the countless money-grubbing mystics skulking around Hollywood is Anthony William, the self-proclaimed “Medical Medium” who has no medical training but, according to the prolific woo-woo endorser Gwyneth, “always knows what the problem is and the pathway for healing,” even when your doctor doesn’t. (In fairness, William is also endorsed by phone-throwing model Naomi Campbell and former Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula.) Anthony claims he can “see” illnesses lurking inside patients because of some unexplained supernatural vision that visited him as a 4-year-old child, hilariously dramatized in this YouTube video. William’s Facebook page has 1.6 million likes—including, I was distressed to discover, a few of my own Facebook friends—and his book Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal recently appeared on the New York Times list.

Of course cancer is best detected by real doctors and their expensive machines, not a man wearing linen pants and a pony tail who hears voices. This might seem obvious, but desperate people are rather easily convinced by quacks peddling “politically incorrect” solutions to terminal problems.

And so it is with a certain strata of Trump voters, alienated by stagnant wages and an America they believe is on the decline, despite significant evidence to the contrary, who feel that desperate times demand the suspension of common sense and unity behind a political quack. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell recently lamented that we live in unique times and in 2016 “facts no longer matter.” Though we might ask themselves if they ever mattered or is it just Trump’s brazenness and lack of political sophistication that’s unique?

Our political brains are governed by the same bad instincts and dumb hunches that make us believe we can detox our own bodies with juice and protect our kids bodies from the nonexistent ravages of GMO corn. Sure, there’s no evidence to support such claims but they’re certainly things that feel true. Sound familiar?

So next time you’re out in the world, look around—at the shelves full of hoax supplements, powdered vitamin C packets meant to stave off a cold (they don’t), and best-selling books promoting cynical and exploitative mysticism—and remember that we’re susceptible to Donald Trump’s charms not because he’s a genius, a hypnotist, a skilled outsider politician. Americans fall for it because he’s famous, moderately funny, and we spend most of our lives surrounded by bullshit people making bullshit claims.

What’s one more in the White House?


By: Michael Moynihan, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Middle America, Political Media | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Bygone Era”: All Politics Aren’t Local Anymore

Sometimes changes that affect our politics are subtle and therefore, easily missed. Paul Kane has identified how one of those changes is affecting members of the Senate who are running for re-election.

After nearly 12 years in the Senate, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr holds a dubious distinction: a lot of people in his home state don’t know if he’s any good at his job…

Burr is not alone among potentially vulnerable incumbents with low name recognition in key states that will decide which party controls the Senate in 2017. Of the 25 least known senators, ten are running for re-election — nine of them Republican — as relative unknowns, with roughly 30 percent of their voters unable to form an opinion of them. That list includes Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Kane suggests that the reason these incumbents are so unknown among their constituents is that partisans tend to get their news from ideologically driven outlets while local news has all but disappeared.

Overall, there are more reporters covering Congress than ever, except they increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress.

That is a story John Heltman wrote about here at the Washington Monthly in an article for the Nov/Dec 2015 edition titled: Confessions of a Paywall Journalist.

Kane goes on to talk about the two options Senators have used to overcome this lack of name recognition. First of all – money talks.

“We go six years with no coverage,” Burr said in an interview this week, lamenting the fading interest in his state’s congressional delegation. “So it’s like you weren’t here for six years. Your name ID drops into the 40s.” Run $5 million in ads, he said, “it pops right back up to the 80s.”

Secondly, “iconoclasts stand out.”

After little more than three years in elected office, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has reached near saturation level with Bay State voters, with just 12 percent having no opinion of the liberal firebrand. Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D) — an institution in Massachusetts politics after 37 years in the House and three in the Senate — does not register with 30 percent of his constituents.

It’s the same dynamic in Texas with the state’s two Republican senators. Ted Cruz — an erstwhile conservative presidential contender — has held elective office not even three-and-a-half years, yet all but 14 percent of his voters have a strong view of him. A third of Texans cannot form a view of John Cornyn, the Republican whip with nearly 14 years in the Senate who is likely to be the next GOP floor leader.

That points to two disturbing trends we’ve all been watching lately in politics – the influence of big money and the rise of show horses over work horses. Jonathan Bernstein picked up on all of this and suggests that it also fuels partisan gridlock.

I don’t know how much the changes in media coverage caused the atrophy of the committee system and Congress’s ability to do its job. But it’s easy to see how rank-and-file members have fewer incentives to be productive, and more incentives to merely vote with their party’s leadership and do little else.

All of this focuses on how the lack of a vibrant local press affects incumbents in the Senate. One can only assume that it poses an even greater challenge for members of the House. Finally, it explains a lot about why we have tended towards an “imperial presidency” and the lack of voter participation in midterm elections. For years we’ve been hearing that famous line from Tip O’Neill who said, “All Politics is local.” That might be relegated to a bygone era.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Political Media, Politics, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Normalization Of Trump”: The Big, Big Problem With How The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Is Being Covered

By now it should not be surprising that the latest development in the Clinton email “scandal,” a critical report from the State Department inspector general that adds little to what we know, was greeted with shouts from some people and yawns from others. For Republicans and other Hillary haters, it was a huge, shocking blow to the already-reeling presumptive Democratic nominee, portending a long slide toward ignominious defeat in November. Indeed, Donald Trump thought it was such a big deal that he started speculating that Democrats would soon dump her for Joe Biden. For most left-leaning observers who aren’t Hillary haters, it was, in Josh Marshall’s eloquent assessment, a “nothingburger.”

But then there are the reactions of supposedly objective major media organizations. The New York Times‘ Amy Chozick offered this reaction to the IG report:

[A]s the Democratic primary contest comes to a close, any hopes Mrs. Clinton had of running a high-minded, policy-focused campaign have collided with a more visceral problem.

Voters just don’t trust her.

The Clinton campaign had hoped to use the coming weeks to do everything they could to shed that image and convince voters that Mrs. Clinton can be trusted. Instead, they must contend with a damaging new report by the State Department’s inspector general that Mrs. Clinton had not sought or received approval to use a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Now, as it happens, there is at best limited evidence that voters don’t care about Hillary Clinton’s policy positions because they are transfixed by her lack of trustworthiness. Voters who don’t like a candidate for whatever reason are usually happy to agree with pollsters and reporters who offer negative information about the candidate as an explanation. So what Chozick is doing is arguing that her perception of perceptions about Clinton make every bit of news about the email story highly germane and more important than all the policy issues in the world.

A somewhat different reaction to the IG report came from the Washington Post, which editorially hurled righteous thunderbolts at Clinton:

The department’s email technology was archaic. Other staffers also used personal email, as did Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005), without preserving the records. But there is no excuse for the way Ms. Clinton breezed through all the warnings and notifications. While not illegal behavior, it was disturbingly unmindful of the rules. In the middle of the presidential campaign, we urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.

This is beneath a headline that reads: “Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.”

Words like “inexcusable” suggest that Clinton has all but disqualified herself from the presidency. But if the FBI disagrees, as most everyone expects, then the Post will have done yeoman’s service for that other major-party presidential nominee, and his effort to brand Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.”

Concerns about Donald Trump rarely if ever descend to the level of digging around in hopes of discovering patterns of “reckless” behavior or “willful disregard for the rules.” That’s because he’s reckless every day, and willfully disregards not only “the rules” but most other previously established standards of civility, honesty, and accountability. Yes, voters don’t entirely trust Clinton. But a bigger concern ought to be that Trump fans credit him for “telling it like it is” when the man is constantly repeating malicious gossip, lunatic conspiracy theories, ancient pseudo-scandals, and blatant falsehoods.

Yet we are drifting into a general election where important media sources seem to have decided that Clinton violating State Department email protocols and Trump openly threatening press freedoms, proudly championing war crimes, and cheerfully channeling misogyny and ethnic and racial grievances are of about the same order of magnitude. And that’s not to mention the vast differences between the two candidates on all those public-policy issues that Amy Chozick thinks voters have subordinated to questions of “trust.”

This is the kind of environment in which it becomes easy for a candidate like Trump to achieve “normalization” even as he continues to do and say abnormal things — you know, like attacking elected officials of his own party even as he is allegedly trying to “unify” it — with every other breath.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 26, 2016

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Political Media | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Liberal Silent Majority”: A Passionate Vote Counts No More Than One Cast With Quiet Consent Or Even Resignation

A few days before Bernie Sanders lost badly in the New York primary, 27,000 souls filled Washington Square Park, many wildly cheering him on. The political media consensus interpreted the scene as evidence of surging support for the senator from Vermont. It did not occur to them that:

–The crowd almost certainly included many Hillary Clinton supporters just out to hear what Bernie had to say — not to mention some stray Republicans.

–It included tourists who, on a pleasant spring evening, happened on an exciting event and hung around.

–Some attendees were Bernie backers who had neglected to register as Democrats in time for the Democratic primary.

–The numbers at Washington Square were dwarfed by the battalions of working-class New Yorkers juggling two children and three jobs. These mostly Clinton voters were unable to attend any rally.

This last group is the subject here. It is the silent liberal majority.

Richard Nixon popularized the term “silent majority” in 1969. He was referring to the Middle Americans appalled by the Vietnam-era protests and associated social chaos. They didn’t demonstrate, and the so-called media elite ignored them.

Today’s liberal version of the silent majority is heavy with minorities and older people. Its members tend to be more socially conservative than those on the hard left and believe President Obama is a good leader.

Obamacare has brought medical coverage to 90 percent of the population, with the greatest gains among Latinos. Thus, a politician who repeatedly complains that this is “the only major country that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right” sounds a bit off.

Many political reporters belong to the white gentry that has fueled the Sanders phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they know where they’re coming from. But some don’t seem to know about the vast galaxies of Democratic voters beyond the university and hipster ZIP codes.

In so many races — including those of the other party — reporters confine themselves to carefully staged political events and a few interviews with conveniently placed participants. From the atmospherics, they deduce the level of support for a particular candidate.

It can’t be repeated often enough that a passionate vote counts no more than one cast with quiet consent or even resignation. Here are three examples of political analysts forgetting this:

Commenting on the lively debate in Brooklyn, columnist Frank Bruni concluded that the Sanders camp is “where the fiercest energy in the party resides right now.” How did he know? “It was audible on Thursday night, in the boos from the audience that sometimes rained down on Clinton.”

So, how many people were booing? Three? Four? Who were they? They possibly could have been Hillary people trying to summon sympathy for their candidate (which the booing undoubtedly did).

The day after the packed Sanders rally in Greenwich Village, CNN looped videos contrasting that massive turnout with the much smaller group listening to Clinton in the Bronx. That’s as deep as this story went.

Early this month, New York magazine posted a piece titled “In the South Bronx, Bernie Sanders Gives Clinton Cause for Concern.” The reporter’s evidence was a sizable and “raucous” Sanders rally headlined by a handful of black and Latino celebrities.

We await the magazine’s follow-up analysis on how Clinton won 70 percent of the Bronx vote. Someone must have voted for her.

This is not to chide the Sanders campaign. Its job was to create an impression of mass support for its candidate — and job well-done. Rather, it’s to remind the media that there’s a huge electorate outside the focus of managed campaign events. And silent majorities, by their very nature, tend not to get noticed.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, April 21, 2016

April 22, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Political Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Business Of TV Media And Politics”: GOP And The Media…”Each Holding The Other Up, While Bringing The Other Down”

After the last GOP presidential debate, the Fox Business Network is determined to gloat about how much more accommodating they were to the candidates than CNBC. But there is a much deeper story about the relationship between television media and political campaigns than that kind of one-up-manship reveals. Michael Wolff captured that pretty well with a story titled: GOP Candidates are Hollywood’s Unlikely New Divas.

At some point, politics crossed over from being a civic obligation of television news to television news’ central business. The dutiful and high-minded became incredibly profitable, complicating the responsibilities and attitudes of journalists (and their managers), most recently in NBC’s exclusion from the Republican debate cycle over complaints about CNBC’s “gotcha”-style questioning.

News was once the loss leader of TV, and politics was the loss leader of news, the slog you waded through before crime, disaster, human interest, weather and sports. Two things changed that status.

The first thing Wolff points to that changed things is the flood of television advertising money from political campaigns – which is estimated to be as much as $5 billion in 2016 – “making politics the single biggest local television advertising category.” If not for revenue from political campaigns (and major sporting events), the entire television industry might be collapsing in this age of new media.

The second factor that Wolff identified captures where the Fox Business Network failed to produce.

While news organizations see themselves as information seekers and reasonable moderators, their additional, and financially advantageous, role is to be disruptors. That media-led upheaval arguably has helped (or given hope to) every candidate save for Jeb Bush. But it also is a con­venient bete noire by which nearly every candidate can gain an additional edge. It’s the double advantage of disruption: to benefit from it, and benefit from criticizing it — causing a further disruption…

It is almost impossible not to see everybody as a pawn in a larger game — or in someone else’s game. For TV news, this campaign is an unimaginable gift, one that, if conflict is maintained, will keep giving. For GOP candidates, the more volatile the season, the more everyone, save for the person at the top, benefits. For politicians, a no-argument issue that resonates with everybody, and that also produces more media attention, is to blame the media for, well, anything and everything.

For weeks after the CNBC debate, both the GOP candidates and media outlets were able to exploit the “disruption” caused by the complaints that were generated. Right now, everyone is busy patting each other on the back over how well they did…boring!

If Republican voters wanted an adult conversation about the issues, Donald Trump’s candidacy would have been toast a long time ago. And, of course, it was his inflammatory statements that fueled the biggest audience for presidential debates we’ve ever seen. Similarly, the recent reports about Ben Carson’s lack of truthfulness have produced eye-catching stories for the media. While Carson embraces the role of victim in all that, he also brags about how the conflict has sharply increased donations to his campaign. Disruption is what sells – for both the media and the candidates.

That’s why Wolff ends his article by saying that this campaign may be the first to highlight the co-dependence between these GOP candidates and the media…”each holding the other up, while bringing the other down.”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 13, 2015

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Fox Business, GOP Primary Debates, Political Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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