Seeing Through The Distortion.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko.

It’s not a simple matter, cutting through the constant distortions and lies which characterize the new administration here in uStates. There’s a strong inclination to simply dismiss Trump as an irrelevant blowhard, but that’s not the smart thing to do, because whether or not Trump has the slightest idea of what he’s doing (not much, in my opinion), the people behind him, those appointed and who now have unprecedented power, they do know what they are doing. They also know what they want. There are certain similarities to the Bush Jr. regime, but there’s much more “baffle ’em with bullshit” and “give them a reality show!” going on here. With Bush, there was a deadly calculation put into the manipulation of the public at large. Fear was whipped up to a point that people were willingly signing their rights away. I’d like to think that isn’t going to happen again, but it’s already in process. Whatever rights we thought we had are being carved away in great swathes, there’s no subtle whittling away here. Too many people simply want a ‘good’ show to watch, and Trump is capable of that much. What’s shameful here is that so much of the public doesn’t seem to want much more than that. If they ever do wake up, it will be much too late.

If Bush and Rove constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump has built something more like an endless bad dream. In his political universe, facts are unstable and ephemeral; events follow one after the other with no clear causal linkage; and danger is everywhere, although its source seems to change at random. Whereas President Bush offered America the illusion of morality clarity, President-elect Trump offers an ever-shifting phantasmagoria of sense impressions and unreliable information, barely held together by a fog of anxiety and bewilderment. Think Kafka more than Lord of the Rings.

It is tempting to suppose Trump built this phantasmagoria by accident — that it is the byproduct of an erratic, undisciplined, borderline pathological approach to dishonesty. But the president-elect should not be underestimated. His victories in both the Republican primary and the general election were stunning upsets, and he is now set to alter the course of world history. If he does not fully understand what he is doing, his advisers certainly do.

Steve Bannon, former head of the white nationalist outlet Breitbart News, is Trump’s Karl Rove. He knows. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bannon suggested that the key elements in his strategy are dissimulation and “darkness.”

“Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he said. “It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

That’s how Bannon ran the Trump campaign, and it appears to be how he’s running the transition team. Since the election, Trump has baited the press with a flurry of potential cabinet picks, instigated a bizarre fight with the cast of a Broadway musical, and concealed his true policy priorities behind a thicket of conflicting reports.

It’s working. The media’s coverage of the Trump transition is blurry and confused. Stories that should be real scandals — such as Trump’s apparent efforts to manipulate international diplomacy for personal financial gain — get lost in the shuffle.

Bannon is a skilled practitioner of the “darkness” strategy, but he is not its inventor. The real Master of the Dark Arts is another Karl Rove equivalent: Vladislav Surkov, a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Surkov, the documentary journalist Adam Curtis said in a 2014 film, is “a hero of our time.” He went on to describe the Surkovian method:

His aim is to undermine peoples’ perceptions of the world, so they never know what is really happening.

Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theater. He sponsored all kinds of groups, from neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin.

But the key thing was, that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake. As one journalist put it: “It is a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused.”

A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is undefinable. It is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in the Ukraine this year. In typical fashion, as the war began, Surkov published a short story about something he called non-linear war. A war where you never know what the enemy are really up to, or even who they are. The underlying aim, Surkov says, is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control.

Bannon and Trump deployed that strategy with aplomb throughout the primary. Because of the constant media focus on his campaign, Trump was able to bombard the airwaves with an unending stream of surreal falsehoods. At the same time, Bannon turned Breitbart News into a Trump Party organ and used it to disseminate further confusion. Independent of Trump and Bannon, a number of other fake news sites — an improbable number of which happened to be headquartered in Macedonia — inundated social media with inaccurate information. There is some evidence to suggest that Surkov’s employer contributed to the process as well, using the website Wikileaks as a conduit.

Many of the stories promulgated by Trump, Bannon, and their allies — such as Trump’s claim that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination  — were obviously false and easily debunked. But the sheer volume of these stories had their intended effect. When fake news becomes omnipresent, all news becomes suspect. Everything starts to look like a lie.

The relentless downpour of inaccurate or useless information can make people lose trust in even their own minds. It happened to Washington Post reporter Ben Terris during the election.

The full article is at Think Progress, and I highly recommend it. It’s going to be difficult to hang on to our brains, and reality.


  1. Siobhan says

    I think this has been part of why I dropped pacifism from my beliefs. In a post-truth world, the tools of reason and logic are mere puffs of smoke. You can simply throw up your arms and say “all media lies!” without taking the time to fact-check or substantiate that claim. Obama’s right--without common, agreed upon facts, there can be no argument in the classical sense that cause-and-effect are dissected and determined.

    With that kind of deranged lunatic, pain is the only deterrent. And now they make up a third of the United States, probably more.

  2. says


    Obama’s right–without common, agreed upon facts, there can be no argument in the classical sense that cause-and-effect are dissected and determined.

    Yes, and it points to just how lost we are in uStates, because how many people are going to actually bother to be discerning, are going to put that effort out, to sift through to the truth, when we have lost the foundation upon which we place facts?

    I’m afraid that no matter how many people do discern, and keep fighting for truth are seriously outweighed by those who just want to sink into the couch and watch the show.

  3. cubist says

    The Angry Cheeto is a bullshitter. When he makes a statement, the factual accuracy of that statement is completely irrelevant and unconsidered; rather, the Cheeto makes a statement based on how he believes it will go over with the audience he’s speaking to, how he thinks that audience will respond to his words. And as we’ve recently seen, this strategy can be extremely effective in the political realm.

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