Sophia A. McClennen

Michael Moore predicts a 'tsunami' for Democrats in the midterms

Remember when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election? No, I don't just mean win the popular vote: Win it all and win big. FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's political projection site, had Clinton's chances of winning at 71.4 percent. Frank Luntz tweeted on Nov. 8, 2016, "Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States." One GOP insider declared that for Trump to win, "it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of 'Death to America.'" Pundit after pundit, on the left and the right, joined the chorus of mainstream news outlets to declare that the election was Clinton's.

There was, however, one lone voice of dissent: Michael Moore. In July 2016, Moore wrote "Five Reasons Trump Will Be President." That article mostly went unnoticed by mainstream media after the election, when everyone finally realized Moore was right but it was way too late to make a difference.

Fast forward to the 2022 midterms and we find ourselves in a similar scenario, but turned upside down. Now the media is basically repeating again and again that Democrats will lose in November, while Moore is suggesting the opposite. Moore isn't just echoing the widespread notion that Democrats could hold the Senate while losing the House. He is suggesting that voters "are going to descend upon the polls en masse — a literal overwhelming, unprecedented tsunami of voters — and nonviolently, legally, and without mercy remove every last stinking traitor to our Democracy."

That prediction is likely to cause hyperventilation at all points of the political spectrum. Could he really be right?

To make his point, Moore is going beyond armchair punditry and sending out what he is calling a "tsunami of truth," where each day leading up to the election he offers one specific factual reason why he is right and why it makes sense to be optimistic.

In his second installment, he covered the story of the recent election for the Boise Board of Education, in which Republican Steve Schmidt, an incumbent, was up for re-election. Considering that Trump won Idaho's capital city with 73 percent of the vote, it made sense to assume Schmidt would win again. But as Moore explains, Schmidt had been endorsed by a far-right extremist group, the Idaho Liberty Dogs, that led a campaign against the local library, calling their LGBTQ+ and sex ed materials "smut-filled pornography." According to Moore, they even showed up at local Extinction Rebellion climate strikes brandishing AR-15 assault rifles.

So in a surprising turn of events, the Idaho Statesman, Boise's daily news paper, chose not to endorse Schmidt because he refused to denounce the Idaho Liberty Dogs. Instead, the paper endorsed his opponent, an 18-year-old high school senior and progressive activist, Shiva Rajbhandari, who was also co-founder of the Boise chapter of Extinction Rebellion.

Rajbhandari won. A teenager beat a Republican incumbent in a traditionally red city in one of the reddest states. Moore's point is that if these kinds of seismic shifts are happening at the polls in Boise, there's reason to think that this election won't follow traditional patterns. Voters, he believes, have had enough of the power of right-wing extremists and the threat they pose to democratic values.

In his next "tsunami of truth," Moore reminded readers that despite all the ways that the media tends to make the American right seem massively powerful, they're really just a big bunch of losers. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the eight last elections. As Moore explains it, "Only because of the slave states' demand for the Electoral College — and the Republicans' #1 job of gerrymandering and voter suppression — do we even have to still deal with their misogyny, their destruction of Planet Earth, their love of guns and greed, and their laser-focused mission to bury our Democracy."

That leads to the next installment: Republicans will lose because this time around they are "running the biggest batch of nutters nationwide in American electoral history." He then promises to offer a list of the top 10 "biggest whackadoodles on the Republican side of the ballot."

No. 10 on Moore's list is Mathew DePerno, Republican candidate for attorney general in Michigan. Like nine other candidates in the 30 state attorney general races this fall, DePerno is an election denier. But he's not just a common, garden-variety election denier; he was allegedly personally involved in a voting system breach. That's right: the Republican candidate who hopes to become Michigan's top law enforcement official is under investigation by the current attorney general for "unauthorized access to voting equipment."

But that isn't the half of it. DePerno also thinks that the Plan B birth control pill is a "form of murder." Moore explains that DePerno "believes that 'life' doesn't begin at conception — he insists it begins BEFORE conception and it should be against the law for anyone to interrupt a sperm on its way to do its 'job.'" As if that weren't enough to categorize DePerno as batshit extreme, he has attacked his opponent with memes that include the white supremacist symbol of Pepe the Frog while comparing his campaign to delivering Michiganders a "really big red pill." Not a Plan B pill, which he likens to fentanyl.

Confirming Moore's view that DePerno's extremism will only going to appeal to a narrow Trumper base, the twitter replies to DePerno are uniformly critical and sarcastic. Like this: "I did nazi that coming. (actually, I did.)." Or this: "I want what you are smoking." Or this post, from @NeverTrumpTexan, "You could just say you were Nazi. It is much easier than what ever that is." Surveying the 50 most recent replies to his tweet, among which include one from Keith Olbermann, every single one is critical and sarcastic.

Moore's 45-day "tsunami of truth" is a clever way to tap into the energy he has described as "Roevember." Moore coined the term back in August, when a funny thing happened in Kansas. Six weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kansas held an election, which included proposed amendment to the state constitution that could have allowed the legislature to ban abortion. In a surprising shift from typical voting demographics, turnout for the vote was massive, 60 percent higher than in 2018 — and Kansans overwhelmingly voted to reject the anti-abortion amendment.

And that was Kansas, another consistently red state in recent years.

So if we're seeing a swing away from Trump-style Republicans in Kansas and Idaho, there is reason to believe that the combination of Trump fascist nutters on the ballot, the revelations from the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the various investigations into Trump and, last but definitely not least, the fact that the Supreme Court put abortion back on the ballot could lead to the type of voting tsunami Moore is predicting.

Which leads us to wonder why the media isn't covering that story, but is still offering the same stale script about Biden's low favorability and Republican chances of taking back both the House and the Senate. Even Jen Psaki, Biden's former White House press secretary turned MSNBC commentator, offered the downer view that the president wasn't helping his party win.

Media coverage matters. And the fact that the media is largely sticking to pre-established coverage patterns doesn't just mean that it's missing the story, as Moore claims, it also means it's likely influencing the outcome of the election — and not in a good way.

Scholars of media effects know that when news coverage focuses primarily on negative personality coverage, i.e., the "horse race," turnout is depressed. When media focuses on policy, however, including contentious issues like abortion, turnout improves. So all the attention to Biden's supposed unpopularity is not helping.

Further, if the news media tells you the results are a foregone conclusion, that also depresses turnout. I mean, if you are told over and over again that you are going to lose no matter what you do, why bother voting? Even more important, research shows that if the media suggests an election will be close, turnout increases. Some scholars have speculated✎ EditSign that the fact that right-wing news outlets reported that the election was close in 2016 elevated the Trump vote, while smug reporting from more liberal outlets, assuming Clinton would win easily, depressed her vote.

Yet almost all news media in the weeks before a major election focuses on predicting the outcome, rather than debating the issues. What's more, the flurry of attention paid to polling, and all the hand-wringing over whether the polling is accurate, only exacerbate the problem. Obsessing over whether or not a given candidate or party will win does almost nothing to help energize voter turnout and engage citizens.

But there's more. For decades, media scholars have described what they call the "protest paradigm." These are the predictable patterns journalists follow when covering protests. They include, for example, a habit of focusing on "small, inappropriate samples of individual protesters," which leads the audience to misunderstand the true nature of the larger movement. The protest paradigm also refers to the news media's habit of allowing elites to frame the story, which misses the positions of average citizens. Even worse, Indiana University professor Danielle Brown explains that this type of coverage "favors spectacle, conflict, disruption and official narratives over the substance of movements that challenge the status quo."

We can observe many of the same habits when the press covers elections. And given that this election in particular could be understood as a protest vote — protesting the assault on women's rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants' rights, democratic rights, etc. — it makes sense to think of this election more in terms of a mass movement than as an example of democracy as usual.

Framing the upcoming vote as a mass uprising of nonviolent civil resistance is exactly Moore's plan. As he explains, his goal isn't just to offer the public another version of the truth; it is also to call out the problems with media coverage. "Much of what many in the media are telling you is patently false and just plain wrong," he writes. "They are simply regurgitating old narratives and stale scripts. They are either too overworked or too lazy or too white and too male to open their eyes and see the liberal/ left/progressive/working class and female uprising that is right now underway."

Moore has a long history of questioning the status quo and bucking conventional thought patterns. Whether getting booed off the Academy Awards stage for opposing the war in Iraq or being the lone voice predicting that Trump would win, Moore has never shied away from disagreeing with the pundit class and political elites. But he doesn't just do it for shock value; he does it because he's paying attention to the political climate in ways the mainstream media tends not to.

Is Moore right that there will be a tsunami of voters determined to defeat the enemies of democracy? The only way to learn the answer is to stop trying to read the tea leaves and focus on making it happen.

How Trump redefined shameless hypocrisy — and made it politically expedient

When George W. Bush announced that the United States had begun military action in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda, he emphasized that the mission would also focus on providing humanitarian aid to the citizens of Afghanistan. "The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies," he explained. "As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine, and supplies." The hypocrisy of a military strike framed as a humanitarian mission was on full display. For those of us who could immediately see through Bush's hubris and his malignant American exceptionalism, the global war on terror epitomized the toxic nature of America's culture of political hypocrisy.

It all seems quaint now.

Today we live in a world where chanting "lock her up" at Hillary Clinton for her handling of sensitive documents runs in tandem with outrage over an FBI seizure of classified documents as "un-American;" where unsubstantiated concerns over election fraud are best handled by attempting to overthrow the democratic process; where you chant "Blue Lives Matter" except during the Jan. 6 insurrection or when you attack the FBI; where invoking the Fifth amendment means a person is definitely guilty, except when you do it; where you call for bipartisan unity on one day and then stoke party division the next.

It's actually kind of exhausting to try to list even the best highlights of Trump-era hypocrisy. As columnist Don Kahle writes, since the election of Trump, "GOP hypocrisy has become strategic."

For some scholars, the Bush-style hypocrisy of the War on Terror is considered indispensable for the functioning of the world order. In fact, University of Cambridge professor David Runciman argues that politics isn't possible without hypocrisy. For Machiavelli expert Ruth Grant, hypocrisy is essential to politics because a political life and a moral life are simply incompatible.

For others, hypocrisy threatens democracy because, as political science professor Austin Sharat puts it, hypocrisy "erodes trust and breeds cynicism." For Sharat, Trump's extreme and excessive hypocrisy poses a danger to the future of U.S. democracy because he has normalized it and, thus far, not been held accountable for it: "He has been a master of saying one thing and doing another. He has held up others to ridicule and then done the very things for which he shamed them."

But that's the thing. Whether or not you justify hypocrisy in politics, you have to admit that Trump-style hypocrisy is entirely different from previous examples. Sure, Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" while unashamedly owning slaves. Lyndon Johnson said "we will seek no wider war" in reference to Vietnam and then did just that. Richard Nixon said "I am not a crook" when he was. Bill Clinton stated he hadn't had sex with Monica Lewinsky when he had. But not one of the above examples of hypocritical presidents comes even remotely close to the hypocrisy of Trump.

Trump hasn't just been a hyper-hypocrite. He hasn't just mastered it; he has redefined the very meaning of it. Part of this shift lies in the fact that Trump may be the chief hypocrite, but every single one of his political allies and supporters is one too. You literally cannot support Trump or work alongside him and not be a hypocrite. In fact, if there is one recognizable element of the Trump party platform it is collective, weaponized hypocrisy. Without the hypocrisy, there literally is nothing else left.

Before we decide what to do about the new turn in political hypocrisy, we first have to understand it. Here are four key changes to keep in mind.

01 It's in your face.

To say that the hypocrisy of Trump and his supporters is flagrant, shameless and extreme is to state the obvious.

In April 2017, Chauncey Devega wrote an essay for Salon in which he called Trump's hypocrisy "flagrant." The trouble is that when you used a word like "flagrant" to describe excess Trumpist behavior in 2017, you ran out of effective adjectives by 2022.

But the in-your-face style of Trumpist hypocrisy isn't just limited to the hypocrite-in-chief. Perhaps there is no better example of the mass approach to Trumpist hypocrisy than its contradictions over health care. One day, pro-Trump Republicans are freaking out over needing to wear a mask during a pandemic; the next they are mandating control over women's health. One ad targeting the hypocrisy of the "pro-life" position pointed out that Republicans only care about policing women's bodies, not supporting them or their children.

So, we have both a spate of inconsistencies and a mass movement practicing them, but the additional in-your-face feature of Trumpist hypocrisy is the lack of shame. Think, for example, of all of those Trump nominated members of the Supreme Court who blatantly misled the public during their confirmation hearings about their position on Roe v. Wade, but also showed zero remorse, embarrassment, or even concern that doing so was not just hypocritical; it was deliberately deceptive.

Trumpist hypocrisy is just there all the time, in your face, and proudly on display.

02 It's invisible.

Here's where it gets really weird, because while it is on display, openly, all the time; it is also invisible. The difference is that some of us see it and some of us can't.

Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argued in a 2017 essay for Foreign Affair that it was a mistake to consider Trump a hypocrite. "Trump's No Hypocrite," they claimed. Rather, they described him as inconsistent rather than hypocritical. "Hypocrisy requires a minimal degree of self-awareness," they argued, as well as "clear understanding of both one's own interests and of public norms." Their point was that Trump simply couldn't even "recognize" his hypocritical behavior, which meant he wasn't actually a true hypocrite.

Here's the catch — and it explains why some of us see the hypocrisy and why those who practice it don't. Farrell and Finnemore's point rests on the premise that hypocrisy depends on being aware of a moral compass and deliberately not using it. But that's the thing about the new hypocrisy: Its moral compass is its hypocrisy.

Once you recognize that the issue here isn't failing to effectively compare one's actions to an ethical code, but rather, embracing selfish, self-serving, irrational, inconsistent and illogical behavior as an ethical code, then you get why those who practice it can't see it. Inside the Trump hypocrisy bubble, nothing that is done by them can be judged against an external ethics. Therefore, they simply can't possibly be a hypocrite.

For the Trumpist hypocrite, everyone else who doesn't agree with you is the real hypocrite, but you never are. Sure, it's absolutely batshit logic and an ethical code that lacks anything resembling ethics, but that's how it works.

03 It's invincible.

In 2017, professors Emile Bruneau, Nour Kteily and Emily Falk published a groundbreaking study on the power of revealing hypocrisy. Studying how communities commonly resort to collective blame after mass violence — like when individuals blame all Muslims for acts of mass violence committed by a small group of Muslims — they tested a range of interventions that could be used to disrupt that habit. What they found was that showing individuals that it was hypocritical to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few, when they don't blame all Christians for the acts of a few, was a highly effective tactic.

The catch, though, was that the study wasn't looking at Trumpist hypocrisy but hypocrisy in general. What is important to note, though, from the study, is that for the average person, it is possible to become aware of one's hypocrisy and alter one's beliefs. That simply isn't true in Trumpland.

Sharat notes that one of the core problems with Trumpist hypocrisy is the fact that calling it out just doesn't make any difference. He points to a piece in the philosophy and politics blog, Vim, that argues that the reason why calling out Trumpist hypocrisy doesn't matter is because "charging a fascist with hypocrisy is especially pointless." This is so because fascism requires that exposing its inconsistencies and incoherence has no effect on its adherents. Whether we want to use the F-word to describe Trumpist hypocrites or not, we do have to agree that calling it out has made absolutely no difference whatsoever to its grasp on American society.

If you have any doubts, check out the work of Jordan Klepper, who has done brilliant work satirizing the absurdity of Trumpist hypocrisy. His recurring segment for "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" — "Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse" — has him out in the field interviewing Trump supporters and literally repeating their hypocrisy back at them. In every case, the interviewee hears Klepper ironically explain their hypocrisy. They then respond by unironically repeating it back to him. The contrast between Klepper cleverly exposing the hypocrisy and the hypocrite happily and obliviously owning it is stunning. As one viewer quips, "This would be so much funnier if it wasn't so existentially terrifying."

04 It is all there is.

When you think about it, Trumpism doesn't just practice hypocrisy — it needs it. How else do you explain defending democracy by literally trying to destroy it? Whether attacking pizza or the vice president, this is a politics grounded in unethical inconsistencies and immoral irrationality.

Hypocrisy has now become the signature feature of Trumpian politics. In fact, every single party platform is rife with it. There is literally nothing else.

But it's worse than that. Because Trumpist hypocrisy has also overtaken most anti-Trump politics as well. In race after race this primary season, non-Trumpy candidates have literally defined themselves over and against Trumpist hypocrisy to the detriment of offering alternative policy platforms.

It's not entirely clear how we escape the vicious cycle of constantly needing to respond to the latest hypocritical move of the Trump camp. It isn't wise to ignore it, but it's also problematic to let it take up the whole room. It sparks legitimate outrage but also sucks the air out of productive political engagement. And given the fact that signaling it isn't going to affect those who practice it, giving it too much energy isn't tipping any political scales.

It may well be that the most effective challenge to Trumpian hypocrisy comes from satire, like the Klepper segments highlighted above, since satire's creative use of irony is uniquely suited to revealing ironic behaviors. In one excellent example, Trevor Noah offered a highly effective takedown of Trumpist media when he ran tape of Fox News covering Hillary Clinton, but paired it with footage of Trump.

There is a real benefit to allowing comedians to be the ones to skewer the hypocrites. They are experts in irony and they know the difference between the kind of inconsistency that sparks critique while getting a laugh and the kind that makes no sense. Even more important, they get that the best challenge to weaponized hypocrisy may well be to mock it. Since if there is one thing Trumpist hypocrites are worse at than recognizing their own hypocrisy, it is taking a joke. And that's pretty funny.

The conservative urge to be a victim: Here’s why right-wing victimhood is spreading so fast

In late November a new variant of COVID-19 was detected by researchers in Botswana and South Africa. Within days, the omicron variant had reached California, marking the first documented case in the United States. By the end of December, omicron had not only become the dominant strain in the U.S, but it had also rapidly spread to push daily case counts well above the recent delta surge.

One of the greatest risks of omicron is the high degree of breakthrough infections, where vaccinated individuals still contract the virus. While the vaccinated, especially those who are boosted, tend to have much milder symptoms, if any at all, they still have the capacity to spread the virus. In only a few weeks, omicron has ripped through the country, stressing hospital capacity, canceling flights, disrupting holiday gatherings, and, most importantly, threatening lives. According to Johns Hopkins University data, between Dec. 1 and Christmas, over 39,000 Americans died of the virus

By all accounts, the principal reason why omicron is causing such havoc in the United States is our low rate of vaccination. The United States, at slightly over 61 percent full vaccination, is among the lowest of the developed world. Cuba has over 84 percent fully vaccinated. Even Brazil, under anti-vaxxer President Jair Bolsonaro has almost 67 percent fully vaccinated. Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been skeptical of the threats of COVID from the start. Yet, he took Trumpian irrationality to a whole new level, claiming a year ago that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine "could turn people into crocodiles or bearded ladies" — and even his country is more vaccinated than the United States.

While there remains much to be learned about omicron and its consequences to public health, one thing is clear: The only reason why the nation is at such extreme public health risk is because the GOP weaponized the pandemic for political gain, convincing their supporters to distrust science and resist any policy, no matter how reasonable, if it came from a Democrat.

We've spent time analyzing the head-scratching right-wing ploy of sowing distrust in vaccines within the GOP constituency, a move which has literally killed off supporters and occasionally GOP leaders and pundits as well. But what we haven't done is recognize that the right-wing response to the pandemic is part of a larger political practice: Victimized Bully Syndrome.

Some of you will be familiar with DARVO, an acronym for deny, attack and reverse victim and offender. DARVO describes the behavior of psychological abusers when they are being held accountable for their behavior. Donald Trump and his supporters clearly exhibit DARVO habits. Rather than accept blame for anything they do, they turn around and accuse those blaming them of creating the problem. Victimized Bully Syndrome (VBS), as I'm describing it, though, is slightly different from DARVO. With DARVO the abusive behavior comes first and DARVO only emerges if the attacker is asked to take responsibility. But with VBS the cries of being victims come first and are used to justify the underlying bullying behaviors. The bully under VBS is always already acting in self-defense.

Take this example: In a recent interview with Fox News, Dr. Mehmet Oz, candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania suggested that Americans had been victimized by President Biden's "one-size-fits-all" COVID-19 "rules that limit our freedom." According to Oz, U.S. citizens "want government to get out of their way to stop scaring them into submission."

If we set aside the sheer stupidity of a doctor suggesting that we need "as many different approaches as possible" to the pandemic, the critical takeaway is Oz's claim that Biden's policy is designed to victimize the public by scaring them, taking away their freedoms, and destroying their dignity. According to this logic, refusing to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or support public health policy is a valid defense, rather than bullying behavior that puts everyone in peril.

And lest there be any doubt, the right isn't just refusing to be vaccinated and to follow public health guidelines; in the face of the pandemic they have chosen to respond with aggressive bullying: engaging in violent confrontations over masking policies, attacking teachers, threatening school board members, violently trolling scientists who speak to the media about COVID, and more. In fact, the violent far-right has exploded in the United States along with COVID-19.

Similar to the "sore winner syndrome" we saw emerge in the wake of former President Trump's election, VBS posits that those on the right are all the time being victimized by their government and that it makes perfect sense to respond aggressively.

It is this exact same logic that was the backdrop to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and we can see the same logic in play in right-wing responses to the House investigation into the attack. Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich claimed, "Democracy is under attack. However, not by the people who illegally entered the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, but instead by a committee whose members walk freely in its halls every day." That's right, according to Budowich the real threat to our democracy are those elected officials investigating what happened on January 6, not the actual people who attacked the Capitol. Those people were, according to this twisted logic, simply victims of election fraud.

It gets worse.

The victim card was at the heart of the Kyle Rittenhouse case as well. Rittenhouse claimed he shot three men, two fatally, with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in self-defense. In his testimony, Rittenhouse stated the only reason he even went to Kenosha, Wisconsin on the night of the shootings was to provide first aid to people in need. Rittenhouse, then, was no average vigilante. Instead, he was an already victimized one, prepared to claim self-defense if he attacked anyone. In a post-verdict statement issued by the victims' parents, they nail the dangers of Rittenhouse's VBS. The verdict, according to them, "sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.

VBS, then, isn't only being used by the right to foster a public health catastrophe, it is literally being used to justify armed murder and armed insurrection. As long as we allow the right to continue to describe themselves as victims who have been harmed, injured, threatened and therefore need to act aggressively in self-defense, the closer we get to civil war. In fact, a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll showed that 30 percent of Republicans believe that "true American patriots" might need to resort to violence in order to save the country. Nearly 40% still think the election was stolen.

So as long as the victimized bully syndrome pandemic is transmitted across the right-wing community, it will continue to surpass any threats to our nation from any new variants to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we address the real threats to our nation, we not only won't stop COVID-19; we will allow the true risks to our health and the health of our democracy to continue to spread.

The right wing has a twisted logic when it comes to satire

Satire has been bothering the right more than usual lately. The catch is that it seems they can't decide if they want to defend it or attack it. First, the right-wing satirical site The Babylon Bee, a conservative version of an Onion-style comedy-news publication, made headlines when it demanded the New York Times correct a claim that the site promotes misinformation behind a guise of satire. Then we learned that Donald Trump had actually asked advisers and lawyers to investigate whether the Department of Justice could probe or mitigate sources of satirical late-night comedy, like "Saturday Night Live," that made fun of him.

What's sort of fun to watch is the whiplash performed when the right expresses outrage in both directions. For example, Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee, made a classic free speech, anti-censorship argument when he complained about Facebook possibly limiting the circulation of their posts. "It's people in positions of power protecting their interests by telling you what you can and cannot joke about. Comedians who self-censor in deference to that power are themselves a joke," he wrote.

Funny to think that that same comment could have been used to defend Stephen Colbert when he was hammered for "going over the line" in his roast of George W. Bush back in 2006.

On the one hand, the Babylon Bee argues that the left — the umbrella under which the right assumes the mainstream media and Big Tech fall — is trying to censor and police their satire. On the other hand, Trump actually did try to censor satire because he was freaked out that he was being mocked.

The buzz over the Babylon Bee stems from the debate over whether the site is — depending on who you are and how you read it — hate-speech masquerading as comedy, deliberate misinformation, or actual right-leaning satire. (Dillon says the latter.) But what's more interesting is how the arguments made in its defense are quite similar to the ones that have been made to defend satire critical of the right, and especially Donald Trump.

And yet, for the most part, conservative pundits have either sidestepped responding to Trump's desires to censor satirical comedy critical of him or have defended him. After a 2018 segment on "SNL" that riffed on "It's a Wonderful Life" and suggested that everyone would be happier if Trump weren't re-elected, there was quite the stir. Essentially, the argument was in the reverse from what is being said to support the Babylon Bee. In defending Trump, the arguments were that Trump satire needed to be reined in because it was too one-sided, too negative and possibly too successful at affecting his image.

For example, Trump himself took to Twitter to complain, "A REAL scandal is the one-sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?" And his anxieties led to debates over what conservatives should do to defend themselves against liberal bias in late-night comedy.

The fact that Trump would melt down after he saw satire critical of him was news enough, but we later found out that Trump did more than complain; he actually looked into whether he could find other avenues to restrict political comedy targeting him. As Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley reported for the Daily Beast, "According to two people familiar with the matter, Trump asked advisers and lawyers in early 2019 about what the Federal Communications Commission, the court system, and—most confusingly to some Trump lieutenants—the Department of Justice could do to probe or mitigate SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, and other late-night comedy mischief-makers."

This story is all the more noteworthy for its coincidence with the Babylon Bee censorship brouhaha. Where were the defenders of the Babylon Bee when Trump was literally asking for late-night comedy shows to be restricted in their jokes about him? If the argument is that comedy should never concede to power, then surely Seth Dillon would be outraged over the story that Trump considered having the DOJ, the FCC and the courts look into ways to limit satire.

The Babylon Bee's claim of discrimination stems from a line in a New York Times article, which was subsequently edited, and the site's allegation that their content is being restricted on social media platforms like Facebook, which has had a notoriously difficult time figuring out what to do with satire anyway. Comedians on both the left and the right deal with having their posts removed because, despite attempting to create community rules, Facebook is ill-equipped to process irony and often takes satirical posts as literal.

But the Babylon Bee's complaints of censorship fit the pattern of a broader right-wing victim rhetoric that suggests their views are being silenced even when there is considerable proof this is not the case. We hear ongoing cries of conservatives being silenced on social media — often surrounding the launch of yet another social media network claiming to be a haven for "free speech" — but in reality, the right rules online. Politico tracked millions of social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and found that "Right-wing social media influencers, conservative media outlets and other GOP supporters dominate online discussions." Working with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonpartisan think tank that tracks extremism online, Politico found that "a small number of conservative users routinely outpace their liberal rivals and traditional news outlets in driving the online conversation."

What's even funnier (and concerning) is the fact that most of the cries that social media discriminates against the right are simply anecdotal. Stories of one tweet taken down, one post on Facebook removed, etc., don't line up with data. If anything, it's the reverse: The more that the right whines that they are being censored, the more bandwidth their whines receive on platforms. Even more disturbing is how their stories of being censored have shaped public perceptions. A 2020 Pew Research study found that most Americans believe social media sites censor political views, with 90 percent of Republicans saying that they believe that social media censors them.

The hypocrisy over the right's reaction to censoring satire reveals their consistent position that they are victims. The victim narrative is the common denominator. The right constantly argues that they are being discriminated against, whether because someone is making fun of them or someone is not letting them make fun of them. For those of us who really love satire, the irony of that twisted logic is both pretty funny and pretty disturbing.

Why Trump's loss is inflaming his already delusional base

Shortly after the 2016 election, a funny thing happened. Rather than celebrate the victory of their candidate, Trump supporters took on the position of aggrieved victims. When they should have been happy, they were angry. When they should have been confident, they were insecure. When their votes showed that they had power, they felt marginalized. And, even though they won, they felt that the process had been unfair.

Their mood was vengeful and their attitude was combative. And that was when they won.

Now that their candidate has lost fair and square, we need to brace ourselves for their predictably vicious response.

As Salon's Amanda Marcotte has pointed out, even if Trump had won, we knew we would need to be prepared for the inevitable crybaby response of his supporters. As she puts it, the key word to describe Trump's base is "bitter":

Turn on Fox News any random night, and it's a full blown whine-fest about how alleged "elites" are trying to control them and ruin their lives. The fact that their party controls most state governments, the White House, the Senate and the federal courts never factors in. The narrative is one of perpetual victimhood.

If you feel like you are a perpetual loser, even when you are winning, then things will only get worse when you actually do lose.

And let's face it. Trump didn't just lose; he flamed out. For a man who has consistently avoided being held accountable for his failures, this loss will sting hard. Trump lost to epic proportions. As Eve Fairbanks writes for the Washington Post, Trump did far worse than anyone expected, and that's considering his poor poll numbers before Election Day. Given his status as an incumbent, Trump's "reelection campaign was a historic failure."

The failure registers even more so for the fact that in Trump's universe he simply always wins. As he once put it, "I win, I win, I always win. In the end I always win, whether it's in golf, whether it's in tennis, whether it's in life, I just always win. I tell people I always win, because I do."

But here's the thing. Even with all the winning, Trump has been obsessed with the notion that he has been treated unfairly. "No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly." This was Trump in a 2018 commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, yet again using a moment when he should have been paying attention to others to narcissistically talk about himself.

And that's one of the uncanny hypocrisies of the sore winner. Because actually the sore winner is always already a loser. You can't be a victim and a winner. You can't claim that you have been mistreated, discriminated against and maligned if you always get everything your way.

Or can you?

If you think back on the days immediately following the 2016 election, what stands out is the overwhelming sense of anger and the ongoing desire for retribution over a system in which Trump had always, only been — according to himself — successful.

And lest we think that this sort of contradiction was uniquely Trumpian, recall that his supporters have long followed suit. The same people who whine that they are being forced to give up their guns only manage to stockpile more. The same people who hysterically claim that the Black Lives Matter movement is racist have only become more openly white supremacist. The same people who moan about biased media have only picked up even more media power.

The same people who claim that the liberal left is a bunch of sniffling snowflakes never seem to be able to stop whining themselves. Their identities are locked into an endless screeching over the various ways that they believe the system is rigged against them at the same time that they continue to reap successes from that very same system.

We've spent so much time parsing the faulty logic, delusional rhetoric and twisted thinking of Trump and his supporters that it is now no longer news to claim that what he and his base think makes absolutely no sense.

So now that the sore winners are losers, you might wonder if that will somehow shift things — if the sore winners will change in the face of their losses.

The quick answer is no. There is no reason whatsoever to think that anything about the right-wing identity of the privileged victim is going to change other than to become more agitated and more aggressive. Going back as far as the presidency of Richard Nixon, the right has been casting itself as a victim of U.S. society. What's more, this idea that they are strong, powerful, morally superior, highly patriotic, successful victims is only likely to take on greater urgency during a Biden-Harris administration.

The problem that we have to confront is the fact that this "successful loser" mentality actually does win, and that despite Trump's humiliating loss, the GOP overall did pretty well in the 2020 election. At the core of this mindset is a sense of justified outrage. It is centered on a deep conviction that the right is the aggrieved party and deserves to be angry about it. It is equally centered around a sense of confidence that their views are right and their ideas are not just better, but the very best.

The fundamental hypocrisy of the winning victim might be mind-melting, but you have to admit it sells well. It offers its proponents a chance to take absolutely no responsibility for themselves while also occupying a position of self-righteous superiority. You get to take no blame, bully and harass, spew hate-filled bile and still cry about how everything is unfair and everyone is out to get you.

Much will be said in the days to follow about how to reach across the aisle and build a unified nation. We will watch the left twist itself up in its characteristic capitulating fashion, finding ways to actually blame a divided nation on the left's own failings to engage in dialogue.

But that's the wrong model. This is not a scenario where we envision two equal parties that need mediation to move forward. This, instead, is a case of a nationwide right-wing temper tantrum. And just in the same way we learn to treat a misbehaving child, the only way to handle these sore losers is to ignore them.

As the famous pediatrician Dr. Spock once taught us, just because children get angry doesn't mean we should give them free rein to express themselves. And angry children should not be allowed to bully or intimidate. Our response to them should not be to back down or to give up. "Occasional fits of anger are normal," Spock explained, "but if a child is frequently or easily enraged, she may be sending a signal for help." Maybe it's time for us to help Trump supporters grow up by giving them all a time-out.

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How Right-Wing Sinclair Broadcasting is Taking Over Local News and Pushing the Country to the Right

On March 31, Deadspin posted a video that showed a series of local TV news anchors working in stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group reading identical scripts bashing national news and freaking out about fake news. The video immediately went viral. Even though there had been plenty of folks warning about the ills of Sinclair Broadcast Group — in particular Brian Stelter of CNN, who gave Timothy Burke of Deadspin the idea for the video, and John Oliver, who featured a story on Sinclair on "Last Week Tonight" last year — it was the Deadspin video that finally hammered home just how disturbing the story is.

The gist is that for decades now Sinclair has been amassing a series of local TV news stations. It currently owns almost 200 local TV stations in 100 markets and reaches about 40 percent of all households. It is in negotiations to purchase Tribune Media and its 42 local stations, which would allow the company to reach more than 72 percent of American households.

But it’s not just the sheer magnitude of the Sinclair operation that is of concern; it is its right-wing bent and its forcing of local stations to air the same, nationally-oriented content. Mother Jones has referred to it as "Trump TV," but its pushing of right-wing content to its stations dates back to the post-9/11 era when it began requiring its stations to run “The Point,” an opinion segment hosted by conservative political commentator Mark Hyman. “The Point” segments were often openly pro-Bush, and in one example Hyman claimed that “terrorist leaders would dearly love to see President Bush replaced with Senator Kerry.”

That right-wing spin only worsened in the last election. A Washington Post analysis found that Sinclair stations ran 15 “exclusive” interviews with Donald Trump and 10 with Mike Pence. In comparison, the company’s stations aired no interviews with Hillary Clinton. Stations are required to air terrorism alerts daily. Local stations are also required to air must-run segments by former Trump administration official Boris Epshteyn, “The Bottom Line with Boris,” a move Media Matters describes as “force-feeding local audiences Trump propaganda between community news and weather.”

It was refreshing to finally see the story of Sinclair’s stranglehold on local TV news gain some traction, but it was disappointing to see how news coverage missed the real point. News focused on the Sinclair segments as examples of propaganda and as a threat to a free press, which they undoubtedly are. But the big story here is the way that Sinclair is setting itself up to control the political narrative in local TV markets. Forget Fox News as the #1 news provider — Sinclair may soon become the prime source of information for local publics, a shift that will give it overwhelming political influence.

It isn’t exactly surprising that mainstream news media chose to focus on the Sinclair story as a free press issue. It was a spin that allowed them to congratulate themselves for their brave coverage and look down on those poor anchors on local TV who were forced to read canned lines. Lee Camp pointed out on Redacted Tonight just how ironic it was to see Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough chastise their local counterparts, when only a few years before they confessed to basically reading what was given to them as well.

No one is surprised when they catch the news media engaged in hypocrisy these days. Trust in news is at an all-time low. But here's the catch: Trust in local news is higher than in national news. Folks perceive local news as more invested in communities and less partisan. And that’s what makes the story of Sinclair a perfect example of how the right has totally out-strategized the left.

Sinclair is redefining local news, positioning themselves to have massive influence in politics, and the left is letting them do it.

Sinclair saw early on that they had a prime opportunity to convey a right-leaning message to local TV audiences and reap massive profits while doing it. Forty-one percent of registered voters trust their local news outlets to report the truth, according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll conducted last year. Only 27 percent said they have more faith in the truthfulness of national news coverage.

Local news isn’t just trusted; it’s popular. According to a Pew Research Center report, local news draws larger audiences than cable and network news. On average, 20.7 million Americans watch the evening news on local ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox affiliates, and of the almost 60 percent of Americans who get their news from TV, nearly half depend primarily on local TV. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a senior attorney at Georgetown’s Communications and Technology Law Clinic, explains that “[t]he most important force shaping public opinion continues to be local, over-the-air television.”

Unlike Fox News and InfoWars, who bellow their blustery politics at their viewers, Sinclair is far subtler. It blends coverage of the weather and local sports with the sort of must-read segments highlighted by Deadspin. These right-wing propagandistic segments are consciously and carefully intercalated with community-relevant news.

Epshteyn told Morning Consult he “believes local news’s communal focus lends its coverage more credence.”

“Local news is at the heart of American communities,” Epshteyn explained. “Viewers trust their local news sources because their content serves their communities.”

“I’m proud to be able to build on the great work of local reporters and share my political analysis,” he added.

Epshteyn proves that Sinclair is completely aware of its strategy to draw on the trust of a locally committed audience. Yet there is proof that Sinclair simply uses local loyalties to move local news towards partisan national coverage.

A new study by Gregory J. Martin and Josh McCrain shows that stations bought by Sinclair reduce coverage of local politics, increase national coverage and move the ideological tone of coverage in a conservative direction relative to other stations operating in the same market. They found that, compared with similar stations in the same market, once Sinclair takes a station over, it increases its coverage of national politics by roughly 25 percent and decreases its coverage of local politics by roughly 10 percent.

Now Sinclair is poised to become even bigger if its proposed deal with Tribune Media goes through. That deal, which seems likely to succeed, also reminds us of the extraordinary ways that Sinclair has been able to take advantage of a wave of deregulation that has been overseen by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Under Ronald Reagan, the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated that broadcast networks devote time to contrasting views on issues of public importance, was dropped in 1987.  This paved the way for the openly partisan broadcasting we see on Sinclair stations. Then, under Bill Clinton’s tenure, as Mother Jones explains, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the industry and unleashed a wave of consolidations, which set Sinclair on a buying spree, quickly gaining a reputation for its low-budget approach. Now, with Sinclair-friendly Trump appointee Ajit Pai, who was originally named to the FCC by Barack Obama, in charge of the FCC, there is less and less regulatory power to stand in Sinclair's way.

Last October, Pai spearheaded the end of the Main Studio Rule, which required local TV and radio broadcasters to maintain studios in the communities where they were licensed. The move benefits media conglomerates like Sinclair and allows them to centralize much of their news operations, which reduces boots-on-the-ground local reporting and distances the news from the communities they serve. The Main Studio Rule began in 1940 to ensure that TV and radio broadcasters address local audiences' needs. Now local news doesn’t need to be produced locally. That is worrisome.

Well before this latest blow to the authenticity of local reporting, there had been a growing convergence of content on local news. Back in 2014, Mother Jones reported that Sinclair had been buying up more than one station in a market and airing the same segments. In almost half of the then 210 U.S. television markets, one company owned or managed at least two local stations. A lot of these stations broadcast very similar or even completely identical newscasts. A Pew Study on local TV news consolidation found that in 2014, one in four local stations relied entirely on shared content.

As these changes were taking place in local news media, the Democrats remained largely silent — or, when they did speak out, ineffective — while the right basically got away with major policy changes that benefited their pocketbooks and their politics.

It’s not news, but it bears repeating: The Democrats have been blowing it at the local level for years, while the GOP has been out-strategizing and outsmarting them at every turn.

We know the numbers: When Obama began his first term, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures; now they control only 31 percent, the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. They held 29 governor’s offices and now have only 16, the party’s lowest number since 1920. As of March 30, 2018, Republicans controlled 56.1 percent of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 42.5 percent. Republicans held a majority in 67 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 32 chambers.

For years there have been reports of the various ways that the DNC has ignored congressional and state races and neglected to allocate needed resources to down-ballot races. In the election that brought us Trump, we also found that the DNC had state parties pass-through their share of campaign funds. Campaign finance records showed that nearly $2 million in donations to the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund initially routed to individual state party accounts was immediately transferred to the DNC, which was laboring to pay off millions of dollars in debt. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In 2016 the DNC blew off the local in favor of protecting and paying party insiders.

The lack of attention to state politics didn’t only affect state laws; it also paved the way for the gerrymandering disasters that have crippled the Democrats. While the 2018 midterm elections will play a major role in setting the stage for legislative redistricting in 2020, when new congressional voting districts will be redrawn, thus far Republicans have benefited from gerrymandering.

There has been abundant proof of the DNC’s lack of interest in supporting local politics — a lack of interest that has crippled the party and helped the Republicans. But there has been much less attention to the way that Democratic political leaders have also allowed the news media at the local level to be dominated by the right.

As Brett Edkins points out, at exactly the same time that Sinclair was amassing its media monopoly, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats unveiled their “Better Deal” economic agenda, which placed anti-monopoly policy at the center. Yet, when they did challenge the proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribune, they never once mentioned the partisan nature of Sinclair’s broadcasting and its potential to affect local communities.

Whether a story of cronyism, ineptitude, inefficiency or corruption, it is astonishing to note that Democratic leadership was incapable of fending off the rise of Sinclair. It is even more amazing to note that Democrats don’t seem to understand the power and influence held by local news in shaping the political views of communities.

As Pew reports, “The roughly one-in-five U.S. adults (19%) who feel highly attached to their communities demonstrate much stronger ties to local news than those who do not feel attached.”

They further report that “those who say they always vote in local elections (27% of U.S. adults) display strikingly stronger local news habits than those who do not regularly vote in local elections.”

They suggest that this data may be a reflection of the unique service local journalism provides in its coverage of local elections and politics. One doesn’t need to speculate too much to consider the “unique service” we can expect from Sinclair in this regard.

This all matters urgently because we have seen a rising tide of local activism that needs a local outlet to disseminate its story. From the Women’s Marches across the country to Indivisible to the rising tide of March for Our Lives student protesters, there has been a new pivot to the local as the space from which to begin and engage in political action. But if there is no local coverage of these local acts, their potential impact will be diminished. And, if the coverage that does exist is mocking, derogatory, biased and bigoted, it may well affect their success.

While there are clearly other forms of media besides TV that can cover these stories on a local level, there is proof that TV holds an especially powerful place in communities. We can thank Burke of Deadspin for deciding to “make a dumb video” that managed to get the public to pay attention to this crisis. But if we are to have any chance of fending off the Sinclair right-wing agenda, we are going to have to do more than express outrage and make memes. We are going to have to practice politics and make policy, and we can’t count on Democratic leadership to help.

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The Science of Satire and Lies: Watching Colbert Can Fight Right-Wing Brain Rot

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Trolls and Hackers Find It Easy to Trick Americans Because We Are a Nation of Ignoramuses

In the days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we learned that we weren’t just fighting gun violence in our country; we were also fighting bots that were using Facebook and other social media platforms to control the narrative and sow division. Parallel to bot propaganda after the shootings, a similar disinformation campaign popped up after the premiere of "Black Panther," with images of violence circulating on Twitter suggesting that white people weren’t welcome at the screenings.

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How Donald Trump Is Ruining Irony

There is a famous literary analysis quote that says “irony trumps everything,” because it “provides additional richness to the literary dish,” and it “keeps us readers on our toes, inviting us, compelling us, to dig through layers of possible meaning and competing signification.” But now it seems Donald Trump "ironies" everything, and it’s not making anything richer, except him and his buddies.

In a week where things feel far more dismal than ironic, it may seem that delving into how words work and layers of meaning is not only a trivial pursuit, but potentially a dangerous distraction from the real political work we ought to be doing. But irony is never simply a trivial matter and even less so in an era where just about every word we know is losing its meaning and everything that makes sense feels under attack.

Shortly after the 2017 inauguration, James Strick wrote in a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, “I cannot believe I live in a country that made President Obama show his birth certificate but won’t make President Trump show his tax returns.” He titled his letter “A Bitter Irony.”

While the concept of irony is the sort of thing that geeks can spend their lives studying, it’s not as tricky a concept as it might seem. There are basically two core types of irony —  rhetorical (where words are used in ways that are different from their literal meaning) and situational (where you expect an outcome, but the opposite happens). Rhetorical irony is saying that you are really happy that the tax bill passed, when you really are not happy at all. Situational irony is the least qualified person winning an election.

Rhetorical irony tends to be exceptionally successful at provoking reflection and exposing social crises. Almost all of the headlines from Andy Borowitz’s satirical pieces for The New Yorker offer valuable training in the art of irony: “Trump voters celebrate massive tax cut for everyone but them;” “Nazis feeling neglected after Republicans embrace child molesters;” “Cheney receives heart transplant; Bush still on waiting list for brain.”

Reading these headlines, it doesn’t immediately seem obvious that irony in the Trump era is entering a new phase. The Bush era jokes seem similar enough. But there is much about Trump irony that is vastly different from its earlier incarnations. One of the core differences is that after 9/11, irony was considered a brave way to poke at the status quo; whereas now irony is literally everywhere. A recent study found that Trump was on track to be the most mocked president in U.S. history. Some of those jokes are simply crude insults about an orange-faced, small-handed troll, but many depend on irony for their comedic punch. As Seth Meyers put it when he mocked the idea of Trump as a candidate, “Donald Trump has been saying that he’ll run for president as a Republican, which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke.”

It’s worth remembering that after 9/11, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter declared that the terrorist attacks would signal “the end of the age of irony.” There were multiple pieces in those grim days that suggested that irony was dead or dying. The basic idea at the time was that irony was too irreverent, too closely connected to comedy, too highbrow to be of use in a crisis. And when good and evil really do seem easy to define, as was the case for many after 9/11, irony doesn’t work. The satirists, irony masters, fell silent in those early days. Jon Stewart cried on air.

And yet, as Zoe Williams pointed out in a 2003 piece for The Guardian, “Naturally, irony was back within a few days, not least because of the myriad ironies contained within the attack itself (America having funded al-Qaida is ironic; America raining bombs and peanut butter on Afghanistan is ironic).” Irony may fall silent in the face of a fresh tragedy, but it will always come back, and this is because irony is a prime weapon against disinformation, lies, abuses of power and emotive hysteria. Because rhetorical irony depends on using words in ways different from their literal meaning, it is able to especially sting in times of deception and crisis. When Stephen Colbert stood next to George W. Bush and roasted him at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, he said:

I stand by this man. I stand by this man, because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world.

Colbert used irony to help make sense of the hubris of the Bush presidency, and he used it to cut through the ways that the Bush administration manipulated its image for the media. It’s valuable to remember the way that irony helped us make sense of the post 9/11 context, because Bush and Cheney may have been masters at lying, but they were anything but ironic. And that is why Trump has messed with irony so badly. Trump himself embodies irony, and that is why it is so easy and so hard to make fun of him.

Trump is a performance, maybe even a meme, but certainly not a statesman, and he regularly uses a bullying, belligerent, jeering tone that comes awfully close to ironic jabs. As comedian Julianna Forlano put it on a recent "Salon Talks" episode about the funniest political moments of 2017, "It would be funny, if Donald Trump didn't have his finger on the button. He's buffoonish but also in charge of things."

Trump's use of “scare quotes” — as in his famous quote about being wire tapped — is an excellent example of Trump seeming to use language ironically.

When Trump made a big deal to Tucker Carlson that he had used quotes around wiretap, meaning he wasn’t being literal, it led Moises Velasquez-Manoff to suggest that Trump had “ruined irony, too.”

As Borowitz has said, ironic satire is especially hard in the Trump era: “One thing about satire: you're trying to portray a kind of heightened version of reality, to perhaps point out the absurdity of reality. With Trump, you can't go beyond who he actually is.” As Michael Hirschorn puts it, “When facts are made stupid things and there is no coherent center to mediate truth, most irony starts falling on deaf ears because there is no lingua franca.”

The problem with Trump is that he never seems to be using words in any of their intended ways. He has redefined basic words like “great” and “fake.” He makes things up. He speaks in incoherent babbles. He rants and raves.

Trump may also be winning the award for being the lyingest president. In his first seven months in office, The Washington Post calculated that Trump made more than 1,000 "false and misleading claims," an average of five times a day. But the Trump lies are significantly different from the Bush-Cheney lies because Trump’s are accompanied by sarcastic barbs, bullying epithets and a constant tone of mockery. The Bush administration lied with gravitas; Trump lies with mocking bluster. How else to characterize White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s constant attitude of annoyance and disdain?

It’s not an overstatement to say that Trump’s assault on meaning is “unpresidented.” And that is why irony is our best defense against him.

There are two uses of language that purposefully separate words from truth: lies and irony. As I’ve explained it, Trump’s lies often seem ironic since they are performed in a bloviating way. Even when Trump appears most sincere, he seems like a joke, making it hard to take his invective seriously. How else to process his tendency to use belittling barbs in tweets about national security?

The only way to fight against a leader who is both a caricature and a dangerous liar is with the sort of irony that rescues reason. And the only way to fight bullying mockery meant to put others down is with smart irony meant to encourage an audience to engage in critical reflection. If irony was essential in the post-9/11 era, it’s even more so now. This is why late-night comedians like Colbert, Meyers, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Jordan Klepper, who use satire to mock Trump, are more and more important. The rising role of irony to fight Trumpism is also why we are seeing more and more straight news figures like Jake Tapper, Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper turn to irony and sarcastic sass in covering Trump. Take this tweet from CNN’s Chris Cillizza:

Rather than see this as a dangerous turn away from serious discourse, the growing use of ironic snark to cover Trump is a necessary foil for his mocking, abusive use of language. It’s no longer red versus blue; the battles now are between those using irony to encourage critical thinking and those using a mocking language to bully and repress others. It is no small irony, in fact, that the least-qualified, most-poised-to-cause-havoc president in U.S. history is named Trump. While we now know, thanks to John Oliver, that his ancestors changed their name from Drumpf, the fact that Trump’s name is also a word that signifies beyond the name is an oddity itself in a president. Sure we had Hoover, Ford and Bush, whose names were also words with other everyday meanings, but Trump’s multilayered name is something altogether novel. To Trump is to surpass, to outdo, to win — but it is also to override or to get the better of. His own name is coded in contradiction. And then there is the phrase “trumped up,” which refers to invented false accusations or excuses. Trump certainly seems to trump things up all the time. And he attempts to sidestep legitimate accusations by saying that they are trumped up too. Even worse he keeps winning, despite all logic. This makes the etymological link of his name to the word “triumph” bitterly ironic, since every time Trump wins, we lose.

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