In this fascinating essay, AJC Boone adds context and dimension to today’s US Presidential Election – arguing, with an avalanche of evidence in support – that the contest is an Election Day unlike any other
We seem to be living in the era of the unspoken meta-story. One cannot shake the feeling that things are not what they seem on the surface, because basic details keep failing to add up.Cause seems not to match effect.
For example, it does not directly follow that because Saudi trainee pilots ploughed commercial aircraft into the Manhattan World Trade Center towers, the US should start an objective-less military engagement in Afghanistan that continues twenty years later. Perhaps something else is going on.
Likewise, it does not follow that a first-priority reaction of the UK government, facing this year’s mysterious pandemic, should be to make feints at totalitarian control over the public’s rights of free speech and economicself-determination. It confounds reason that the world’s industrial geniuses should crown their annual alpine conflab by hosting a Eurovision Song Contestant’s miserabilist teen-aged daughter to snarl David Attenborough platitudes at them, and that the United Nations should beg the child for an encore.
It is unfathomable that a European president’s intolerance of a refugee who beheads host-country citizens in their sacred place of worship would incite righteous international rage on behalf of… the knifeman.
Something else, surely, must be going on.
America went to the polls today to vote in a presidential election. One of the aspirants to the job is an amiable mediocrity, a five-decade veteran of politics with few achievements, fewer champions, and guttering mental faculties.
The alternative is the incumbent, a blowhard billionaire-outsider whose admittedly eccentric problem-solving techniques have led to barn-storming economic results, a sizable record of fundamental and important new policies – among them benefiting gay rights and quality of life for the black community – and three quite justifiable Nobel Peace Prize nominations in just one single term in office.
It makes no sense on its face that this race is even close. And yet, traditional media and associated pollsters give the Establishment’s challenger a comfortable lead.
“According to our forecast, President Trump still has a chance at a second term: a 10 percent chance, to be morespecific,” chortled Establishment poll-guru Nate Silver on 31 October. “There just isn’t any real sign that the race is tightening. If anything, Joe Biden’s margins are expanding slightly in the Upper Midwest. And there isn’t any particular reason to expect the race to tighten when more than 90 million people have already voted and the most important news story [on COVID] is a negative one for Trump.”
Even a supposedly right-leaning American Spectator subtitled a recent piece about the stark Election Day choice between shadowy caretakers of a self-serving ruling class and an ebullient action-man cum cheerleader of the American Way: “Joe Biden may be past it, but Americans want Trump gone.”
What is really going on?
Donald J. Trump basically stumbled into a saga. He talked big (“Drain the Swamp!”) but clearlyhad little clue in 2015 about what sort of all-hands-on-deck, Godzilla versus King Kong mayhem awaited.
Americans have been living through, and tomorrow will witness a climax in, a battle royale launched by the politico-ideological Establishment against a small-d democratic challenger. Donald Trump has alienated the ruling elite from its traditional prerogatives and unchallengedpower — and seeks to continue doing so — not because he fully understood the danger, extent, and perversions of their entitlement, but because he took the American principles of self-government seriously and at face value.
Four years ago, the media’s negative reception was dismissed by Trump’s supporters as a series of honest errors in a world Trump had for decades navigated with relative ease. But it blossomed unnaturally from a treatable “bad press” into toxic mutual animosity.
Journalistic mistakes or mischaracterisations were gradually (or not so gradually) discerned as something else entirely — artificially planted hoaxes, deliberate wholesale character assassination and ultimately, and without exaggeration: the comms arm of a coup.
Take an early example as illustrative. In mid-February 2017, literally days after Trump’s arrival at the White House, he hosted presidents of “historically black colleges” in the Oval Office, to discuss regularising the federal funding their institutions received, and for the traditional photo-op. Perhaps there was also an idea to nip in the bud a much-promulgated smear, which the public was encouraged to adopt, that Trump was a “racist” – despite a long andwell-documented history of positive and generous interactions between Trump and blackAmericans, including his own mixed-race former girlfriend.
Trump’s close aide, KellyanneConway, also attended the February meeting and was seen in photos by the White House-based press corps moving around the Oval Office in search of the best camera-angle, at one point crouching and kneeling on a sofa as she pointed her mobile phone at the smiling assembled. This was all it took to drive a wave of ludicrously dishonest headlines claiming it was Conway who had “sparked a media storm” and was “going viral” for flouting heretofore unknown shoes-touching-sofa “decorum”. Cue the expert panels on 24-hour “news” shows, the sad eyebrows, the tight lips of censure. For creating in the harshest terms an impression ofunprecedented misbehaviour, spun from literally nothing, and serving simultaneously to obliterate from view an actual event that would put Trump in a deservedly positive light, SofaGate was a perfect specimen, and the pattern has been reproduced ad nauseam.
Another old trick of media demonisers is to provoke a reaction, then record and present that reaction as if it were the initiating event. Trump’s war-cry response to abuse — labelling his abusers “#FakeNews!” — was made by the press, with decorative outrage, into an “attack” onFirst Amendment rights of free speech and on the Public’s right to know. In fact it is simply a term for journalism that has abandoned its first purpose of truth-telling and thus forfeited its authority with the viewing (and voting) public. Ronald Reagan once quipped that it was “not that[the ideological Left] know so little, but that so much of what they know is false”.
Likewise, the open-minded are recommended to revisit every reason they think they hate the incumbent president, including his alleged mockery of a palsy-armed journalist (Charles Moore, no less, debunked that one). The important point here which should not be lost is that the fourth estate is a load-bearing pillar in the structure of functioning democracy; it is through a trustworthy media, largely, that the citizenry can monitor the actions of their elected representatives. (A related, longer-termconsideration is what happens to an institution, to its authority, to its practitioners, that gives itself up so wholly to the breach of a millennia-old social prohibition, in this case: against “bearing false witness”.)
What will happen when the public can no longer trust the press? Reread Orwell’s 1984 to understand the central purpose of the perpetual hate campaign. Hatred enervates and motivates the public, grooming it to accept, and be ready to act upon,whatever new Narrative the elite wish to disseminate. The “Two Minutes Hate” appears a bare twelve pages into the book, and draws the Ministry of Truth employees from their tasks for a zipless orgy of collective animosity.
Pollster Peter Basham commented at the weekend, on the practical use of vitriol against Trump that allowed Democrats to skip the usual ground-game for a broadcast “air-campaign” instead:
“The [Democrats’] whole premise in battleground states [is that] the antipathy is raised to such volume and to such intensity [that] all they have needed to do is, through the media, and with the media’s acquiescence and support, just remind people how terrible Trump is, and the restwill take care of itself.”
As the Vestal Virgins guarding the eternal flame of Trump-hatred, the media also propagate specific, made-to-order Hoax Narratives from the Establishment, like the Charlottesville “fine people” hoax, the kids-in-cages border hoax, the Russia collusion hoax, the “all-seventeen-intell-agencies agreed” hoax, the one-on-one Helsinki Trump-Putin Summit is “Kristallnacht plus Pearl Harbor” hoax, the Ukrainegate hoax, Russian bounty hoax, denigrating WWII dead in a French cemetery hoax, etc.
In each of these cases the newscast format of pundits-and-professionals around a table, and social media posts, enabled public figures to help carry the burden of persuading the public of a lie. The implausible coincidences can be amusing, as for instance, we are expected to believe Hillary Clinton, an Hispanic pop-singer, and the host of a satirical “late-nite” programme all independently conceived of calling Hurricane Harvey “Trump’s Katrina”; or that ex-NSA head Michael Hayden and former First Lady Laura Bush both, as if spontaneously, compared a southern national US border with WWII-era internment camps.
Kellyanne Conway’s SofaGate may have just been a phony media dog-pile on a WH aide, but the hoax-pushing reveals how choreographed and Establishment-linked the anti-Trump effort is.
Again, it is worth examining one particular hoax effort close up. When George Floyd-related disorder commenced this year in the last days of May, rioters made their way down the avenue that led to a barricaded White House; and they set fire to the historical St John Church a stone’sthrow away and burned down a small building in the intervening Lafayette Square.
During that night, President Trump was mocked for supposedly assuming the fetal position in the basement of the White House (the truth being that the Secret Service had indeed ushered thepresident into a high-security room with rioters at the perimeter of the grounds). The following morning, the remnants of the crowd, still hurling missiles at the White House, were cleared from a path leading to St Johns Church from the White House. Trump marched to the church –flanked by his Attorney General Barr, Defense Secretary Esper, and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley — held a Bible aloft and essentially claimed an end to the non-reactive posture.
In the circumstances, this would appear to be entirely called for. A powerful and important gesture, one would have thought, as violence was being stoked across the country, with police and municipal officials overwhelmed and confused.
But within minutes, theEstablishment-authorised Narrative was running. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden twitter accounts identically scoffed at Trump’s gall in “tear-gassing” “peaceful protesters” for a cheap “photo op”.The same three elements — tear-gas, peaceful protesters, photo op — mysteriously appeared in tweets by Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Liz Warren, Andrew Cuomo, and many others, and by National Public Radio, and on the CNN chyron and Twitter’s news sidebar. And later during completely unrelated Capitol Hill hearings, senators Amy Klobuchar and Maisie Hirono used their question time to condemn tear-gassing of peaceful protesters so that Trump could get a photo op.Worse still, JCS Milley and DefSec Esper quickly made public apologies about mixing their military roles with civilian purposes – a bizarre mischaracterisation of accompanying their commander-in-chief in his symbolic stand for order against rioting.
In choosing to stand instead with the hoax interpretation of events, these military figures revealed fatal disloyalty to the White House, as have other military men (e.g., General Mattis, Kelly, McMasters, McChrystal, Admiral McRaven, etc.) who in some cases were brought into the White House on Trump’s misplaced faith that a military uniform was a proxy for loyalty to democratic norms.
Hoaxes were clearly conceived as the vehicle for delivering a death blast to the unwanted Trump, but they also, boomerang-fashion, forced the ill-intentioned out of the shadows. And in so doing they have, unexpectedly, destroyed the public’s trust in one governing institution after another. The bureaucracies of federal law enforcement, the intelligence community, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the State Department, and the military top-brass now join the media as pillars of governance fatally compromised by their willingness to side with Establishment-driven phony Narratives whose seditious purpose is as clear, even if their effect has been (happily!) underwhelming.
Getting back to our starting point, you may well be watching the US election returns. If you are,you will surely by now feel (if you had not felt already) that today is not what it purports to be. It is not an Election Day like any other. One professional pollster, David Burrell, CEO of (non-partisan) Wick, decided in the very lastweek or so of the election campaign to jettison his customary tried-and-trusted methodology –which had shown Trump losing by margins similar to that that found by other standard pollsters– when he couldn’t hear a televised Biden speech over the noise of car horns blasted by nearby Trump supporters. He later reflected dourly on the eureka-flash that his polling had been failing to capture something significant:
“Accurate public opinion polling is only possible in democracies where people trust the democratic process and feel the freedom to express their beliefs and opinions. If it ever seems like sorcery that 700 respondents in a survey could ever accurately predict the election day behavior of millions, then the source of that magic is a healthy democracy.”
What, on the other hand, shall we conclude when the surveys and polls most frequently cited and most thoroughly flogged in our newspapers and television news broadcasts are not remotely close to accurate?
A.J.C. Boone is a former U.S. diplomat, Moscow-based political science instructor and analyst who has been a Russia-/Soviet Union-watcher since the 1980s. Diplomatic postings in Lagos, Berlin and Moscow; residence in France and, currently, the UK; and university and graduate study at the University of Chicago and Harvard inform her work.