Despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump claims he is wildly popular. Most observers believe this is part of his pathological insecurity, and it is. But it’s also an old tactic for the dictator to take credit for all national successes, and to claim he has the backing and love of all the people.
Donald Trump has only been President for a weekend, and has already broken dozens of campaign promises and made a number of moves on both foreign and domestic policies that have (or should have) Americans and their allies worried. But it’s his remarks concerning crowd size at his inauguration that have raised a lot of eyebrows today, because they are obvious lies, easily disproved. Trump claimed the attendance at the inauguration was historically large, when all observers and all photographic evidence says otherwise. His press secretary Sean Spicer claimed the attendance was the largest ever, a clear lie. KellyAnne Conway, Counselor to the President, said this morning on Meet The Press that Spicer was presenting, “Alternative facts,” a phrase that quickly came under ridicule for being a euphemism for “falsehoods,” as Chuck Todd put it to Conway, or “lies,” as most of us call them. Many people wonder why the Trump administration would present us with such obvious, easily disprovable lies.
A theory that has gained a lot of traction has to do with Trump’s obvious insecurity, and there’s certainly something to that. The new President is obsessed with his critics, is moved to respond to every celebrity, comedian or TV show that says anything negative about him, felt the need to brag about his penis size during a Presidential debate, claimed to be a serial sexual assaulter because he thought it would make Billy Bush of Access Hollywood like him more, and can’t stand the idea that people think his hands are small. It’s pathological, and the fact that a man who claims to have millions of dollars, has his name on multiple buildings, is a father and a grandfather, and is world famous is also so insecure and unsure of his own worth would be sad if it didn’t put us all in so much danger right now.
Another theory is that this is a distraction tactic by the administration to keep us from talking about the policy based things they are doing that will lead to Americans losing health insurance, losing voting rights, and lead to transfers of cash from the pockets of working people to the corporations and banks whose CEOs populate our new Cabinet. There is certainly something to that as well. The administration would rather we talk about crowd size than about the ways leaving NATO and the UN would weaken America here and abroad, or the ways their tax reform plan will raise taxes on homeowners, single parents, and lower-middle class families. They’d certainly rather it than talking about the Russian influence on our election, and exactly how complicit the Trump campaign was with Russia.
But this is not just a function of Trump’s insecurity or an irrelevant distraction. The Trump administration is trying to create their own alternate reality where he is immensely popular. Then they will use those claims of Trump’s personal popularity to push through policies that Americans don’t really want, and to justify actions that are illegal, unethical or unpopular. A good case in point is Trump’s tax returns, which all throughout the election he promised that he would produce as soon as an ongoing IRS audit was concluded. During Ms. Conway’s appearance on This Week, she admitted that Trump was not going to release his taxes at all, stating that the matter had been litigated during the election, and that the American people don’t care if he releases his taxes. In fact, over 200,000 people signed a petition calling for the release of those returns, and a recent ABC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that 76 % of Americans DO want him to release those returns, including 49% of his own followers. The idea being presented seems to be that Trump can do what he wants and renege on any promise he chooses because he won the election, even if it goes against the wants of a majority of Americans.
Indeed, when Trump and his officials refer to the win, they’ve used words and terms like “Historic,” “landslide,” and “record-setting,” in order to inflate the perception of Trump’s popularity, in an attempt to insist that Trump has a mandate from the American people and a clear majority of Americans that support his policy. In fact, almost 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump, which is about a million less than the number of people that marched on Saturday in protest of his policies. They also use those words to refer to his electoral college victory. In fact, Donald’s total of Electoral votes ranks 46th out of 58 elections, putting him solidly in the lower ranks. His approval rating as he starts his presidency is at historic lows, some polls ranking him just above 35%.
It’s not uncommon for a certain type of politician to claim massive approval in ways that are hard to quantify. Hitler used his popularity to justify his policies of anti-Semitism, invasion and occupation despite the fact that the Germans were opposed to war and the violence and bloodshed that came in the Holocaust. Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il regularly boasted of their high approval ratings and landslide election victories with near 100% turnout and held power for decades despite the fact that everyone knew the polls and elections were rigged.
Vladimir Putin, dictator of Russia, whose poster is probably pinned to Trump’s ceiling so he can stare up at it from bed and think about how dreamy he is, gets approval ratings over 85% in Russia. It’s said that Putin’s ratings come from independent pollsters and the numbers aren’t falsified. But it’s useful to look at how Putin gets his high approval ratings. After all, Trump’s unfailing admiration for Putin means that we’ll probably start seeing these methods here.
The first is through an iron-fisted control of the message that the Russian media puts out. The breadth and width of the Russian propaganda apparatus ensures that the only news that Russians hear is the news that Putin wants them to hear. That news is, naturally, completely pro-Putin and anti-West, and what they hear when they hear the news is that Putin is advancing Russian interests in the world at the expense of the Western forces that have been keeping them down, and the economic pain at home is the price they have to pay to enhance Russia’s standing in the world (Making Russia Great Again.)
Trump’s attempts to intimidate and control members and organizations of the media, his team’s insistence at painting any media criticism as “fake news,” and their constant lies about his popularity are their way of attempting to control the message. Their threats to cut off access for the media outlets that don’t toe the line and report the news the way the administration wants them to are the first salvo in what will be an extended attack on the free press. The idea will be to intimidate and coerce the more pliant of the media outlets into reporting only what they want people to hear, and attempting to discredit and silence the outlets that won’t be intimidated.
Another Putin method of increasing his popularity is through his campaigns of expansion like the recent invasion and annexation of Crimea. He uses war abroad to build up nationalistic fervor and patriotism in order to distract from the pain and abuses the people feel at home. Given our Congress’ propensity for war, and Trump’s antagonistic attitude toward many countries not named Russia – like China, North Korea, Iran, Mexico, and most others – it seems likely that Trump will start a new war somewhere sooner rather than later, and the buildup to that war will be couched in nationalist rhetoric, jingoist rah-rah patriotism, and a pile of lies that make the Cheney team’s Iraq sell look honest and upstanding. It will happen soon, before there is another election.
In his speech yesterday before the CIA, Trump told lie after disprovable lie, many of them seemingly meaningless, and in the reaction was a lot of confusion about why. Why would he say it didn’t rain when everyone there said the rain started just as his speech did? Why would he lie about crowd size when we can all see the pictures? But it’s also telling what we didn’t really talk about.
During the speech, there were numerous breaks of applause, along with sitcom-studio-audience like bursts of laughter at jokes that were not funny and barely recognizable as jokes. A few observers remarked at how strange that was. It was later that observers reported that the CIA audience sat silently watching the speech, and that the applause and laughter came from a group of staffers that Trump brought with him and set up on the side of the room. It was a theatrical show from a TV showman, designed to make him look like the beloved and wildly popular star of the show. It’s a wonder they haven’t set people up yet to “spontaneously” applaud when he enters the room or throws off his catch phrase.
The other thing that seemed to get by people was his mentioning of Iraq, when he reiterated his claim that we should have “kept the oil.” (It should be noted every time this claim is printed that it would have been a war crime to do so.” He said again that in Iraq, we should have kept the oil. Then in a quick aside, he said, “Maybe we’ll have another chance.”
Another chance. Another war for oil. Another too-large group of dead Americans. Another long period of occupation. More enriched defense contractors. Another chance for us all to take. Whether we want to or not.
Please Pay Attention. Thanks for reading.