Ignorance, lies, insults and even ‘fake news’. The US presidential election set new lows for political theatre – it couldn’t be described as discourse. And the country could not be more divided, well, short of civil war.
The New Scientist editorial cites Media Matters for America which found that three TV networks for the entirety of 2016 spent a total of 32 minutes on the actual issues. They called the presidential campaign:
- a “horrifying spectacle” full of jaw-dropping plot twists that could have been plucked straight out of reality television. Most have been supplied by the reality TV star himself: conspiracy theories, bizarre late-night tweets, hate speech, insults and threats, degrading “locker-room talk” and allegations of sexual assault. But perhaps the killer twist is the FBI’s announcement that it is sifting through thousands more of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Not on that list: the actual issues. It has become customary to describe the quality of the debate as dismal; non-existent would be more accurate. The candidates took every opportunity to ignore the issues and attack their opponent’s shortcomings, real and imaginary.
When the candidates did talk about substance they often showed wilful disregard for evidence, with Trump the main offender.
PolitiFact found 233 of Trump’s statements were ‘pants on fire’ (57), ‘false’ (113) or ‘mostly false’ (63). The equivalent figures for Clinton in those categories were 7, 29 and 40, for a total of 76.
The New Scientist advice was straight-forward. Hold your nose and vote for Clinton. Trump’s views on climate change alone, which they described as “deranged claptrap” ought to have disqualified him.
The USA has become bitterly divided politically in a way that runs deep. The New Scientist ran another article looking at how the nation could heal itself. In short, with great difficulty and in no way that’s practical. The article uses Pew Center research to show what Republicans and Democrats think of each other:
The Pew Center study conducted in 2014 showed marked polarisation over the last two decades.
- Among all Democrats, 27% say GOP policies are a threat to the well-being of the country; among all Republicans, more than a third (36%) think Democratic policies threaten the nation.
This negative view of the opposition create a situation where the means, any means, are justified by the ends.
This is how Pew saw the country bifurcating on a scale of 10 political values:
We can only assume that it is worse now.
At the top of the article I mentioned ‘fake news’.
Senior lecturer in journalism, media and communication at QUT, Dr Stephen Harrington, told the ABC that:
fake news was no longer something just shared on the edges of society.
“This was not just stuff that was happening at the fringes, but became part of the mainstream of the campaign,” he said.
“There are lots of these things now that really circulate around at tremendous speed and its harder and harder for ordinary citizens to know the difference between what’s accurate and what’s completely fake.”
Some fake news sites were obviously set up by Trump supporters, but according to Buzzfeed teenagers in the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) set up 140 political sites publishing fake news just to cash in.
Google and Facebook have announced that they will ban fake news sites. They can only try but it’s a bit late.
One of the bizarre stories was that the Clintons had purchased a house worth $200 million in the Maldives.
My friend in Erlangen sent a link to an article in Der Zeit The World is Flat about post-truth politics, which is becoming also endemic in Europe. At the top of the list, however, was Rudy Giuliani claim that there weren’t any terrorist attacks on American soil worth mentioning before Barack Obama became president. Of course the same Giuliani was mayor of New York in September 2001, when the Twin Towers went down. And looks set to gain a senior position in the Trump administration.
My friend also sent me some images I’d like to share:
The first is how the US looks from Europe:
The second is a double word play as Trump takes the oath on the US Constitution:
The German phrase “so wahr mir Gott helfe” means “so help me God”. Trump is saying in effect “God help you”. The question then is whether this is a slip of the tongue (Versprecher) or a promise (Versprechen).
- “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” — H. L. Mencken, 1920
They say he’s not, he just acts like one, but they also say that in politics perception is reality. And we genuinely don’t know what he’s going to do, except follow through on his climate change denialism and stack the Supreme Court with socially conservative anti-choice judges.