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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Remember the Concern About ‘Low-Information Voters’? It’s So Much Worse.

Yes, a growing percentage of Americans could be described as “low-information” voters, thanks in part to the loss of so many newspapers around our country. This was put forth as an explanation for the rise of Trumpism, and that explanation still rings true.

But that was just the beginning. Factor in the creation of “news” networks which filter out news and facts that don’t support conservative beliefs, and you have a class of voters who believe themselves to be well informed. Then add in a demagogue like Donald Trump, eager to play on the fears which those voters are being fed, and you have a powerful rightward swing in the nation’s politics.

So, here we are in 2021. Enough voters recognized the lies and distortions of Donald Trump, handing him a resounding defeat, which shouldn’t be surprising given that never once in his presidency did Donald Trump attain a 50% approval rating. President Biden has, on the other hand, never had less than a 50% approval rating since replacing Donald Trump on Jan. 20th.

Voters recognized Trump’s lies and distortions because they still read the newspapers and listen to the network newscasts. They watch 60 Minutes and CNN, which have been diligent in fact-checking the former president and his right-wing enablers.

Like Rita and me, they also watch The Daily Show and the monologues of the late night talk shows which uniformly ridiculed the former president and his administration night after night, always based on a factual reporting of the day’s events.

Here’s the bottom line of our on-going crisis in America: The less informed that voters are, the more susceptible they are to manipulation.

Must reading in this regard is a book I reviewed last year titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, by Jason Stanley, author of How Propaganda Works. Fascism be-gins, he writes, by creating a mythic past. Trump did that with his “Make America Great Again” slogan. Those of us who don’t buy into that mythic past have come to learn and accept, for example, the history of racism in America, while Republicans like Mitch McConnell claim that systemic racism does not exist.

Attacks on journalists and college professors is central to the cultivation of fascism. But these people are the opposites of low-information voters. They are voracious consumers of news and factual information. Trump supporters, by contrast, are voracious consumers of memes and opinion shows.

Another book which Rita and I are both reading is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. In it, the author draws a compelling comparison of how caste (what we’re used to calling racism) operated in both the rise of Nazism and the rise of what we recognize as Trumpism. Her earlier book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, is equally compelling.

It was Winston Churchill who wrote “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  The low-information voter — rapidly becoming the disinformed voter — is fertile ground for cultivating fascism, because without knowing, for example, the history of racism in America, they are unable to experience compassion for those afflicted by it, whether African American or Native American. 

Fear is such a powerful tool, and we see Americans manipulated daily by playing to their fears: whether it is fear of immigrants raping our women (two fears for the price of one!), of socialism destroying free enterprise, of taxation taking your money, of “antifa” (which, ironically is short for anti-fascism), or of an American election being “stolen.”

Here’s another irony: the people yielding to these fears hold most of the 5-10 million AR-15s in this country, making us liberals afraid to speak up when we should. Death threats by Trump supporters against election officials have caused many of them to quit.

If the majority of voters continue to read and listen, and aren’t kept from the polls, we may just be able to halt the downward spiral into fascism.

 [The following paragraphs didn't fit into the published advertisement.]

My first realization that some Republicans were comfortable with willfully lying was in the early days of the Affordable Care Act. That was before social media took off, and intentional misinformation — what we now know as disinformation — was spread via emails which were forwarded again and again, accomplishing the same effect as the viral retweets of today.

The lie back then was related to real estate. It said that Obamacare included a 3.8% Medicare tax on every real estate transaction. If it passed, you’d pay $7,600 Obamacare tax on the sale of your $200,000 home, over $15,000 tax on the sale of your $400,000 home. It was a total misinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act intended to inflame opposition to it.

When one of my broker associates got an email with that claim, she asked me about it and I explained that the 3.8% tax did not apply at all to the sale of one’s home and only applied to high-income taxpayers selling investment properties. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to display real estate expertise, so I “Replied All” to that email since she had forwarded it to me. I also wrote about it more than once in my page 3 “Real Estate Today” column.

Naively, I thought that if I showed the information was wrong, that the lie would be nipped in the bud. What I learned to my dismay was that the big lie about Obamacare served a political purpose, so it didn’t matter to the senders if it was untrue. I was shocked that anyone would intentionally spread a lie for political purposes. What we see today goes so much further.

Mitch McConnell says he will fight all Biden initiatives in order to frustrate his “radical socialist agenda.” What is socialist about Biden’s infrastructure proposals? What is radical or socialist about mitigating climate change? What is radical or socialist about addressing childhood poverty and hunger with a $300-per-month benefit per child?

It may be true that the people being manipulated by Trump and his cronies are “low-information voters,” but those cronies are themselves not uninformed. They do read the Washington Post and watch 60 Minutes and CNN, not just Fox News, and they know the truth. But they willfully distort the truth for political reasons, manipulating the uninformed and misinformed and disinformed Republican base. Shame on them!

It is popular to dismiss mainstream media and the university crowd as liberals. But we journalists and those professors are the opposite of low information voters. We are voracious consumers of straight news, not talk shows. We listen to NPR in our cars, we watch the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news, and the Daily Show and the late show monologues. We are mostly liberals because we are mostly well-informed about the facts of the world around us. We do not respond easily to politicians who would manipulate us by playing to our fears of this or that.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to gets its pants on.” As Maria Konnikova warned us in a January 2017 article on about Donald Trump’s coming term, “Sheer repetition of the same lie can eventually mark it as true in our heads. It’s an effect known as illusory truth, first discovered in the ’70s and most recently demonstrated with the rise of fake news.” Trump is employing this proven technique with his Big Lie about the 2020 election and 30% of Americans are willing dupes.


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Monday, June 21, 2021

The Dumpster Fire We Know as the Trump Presidency Is Still Smoldering

  Those of us who saw Donald Trump for who he was must surely be amazed that his landslide defeat in the November election did not end his hold on the Republican Party that my parents, and maybe yours, loved and respected.

I certainly thought that I did not need to keep writing and paying to publish this column, but, as the headline states, the problem lingers on.

As Fareed Zakaria said on his Sunday program following Joe Biden’s European trip, “America is perceived once more as a constructive force in the world, with an astonishing rebound in its approval ratings across the globe…. But,” he continued, “the story is not entirely positive. One aspect of American power remains substantially diminished: its role as a beacon of democracy…. 57% of people said the U.S. is no longer the model for democracy it used to be…. The decay of American democracy is real.”

That decay can be laid at the feet of one person: Donald Trump. But the horde of his enablers cannot be overlooked, starting with Fox News and the Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress. Their collective grip on the thinking and actions of Trump loyalists is astounding and appalling. Is it not completely understandable that a president who never in his entire 4 years in office had an approval rating over 50% lost an election to a man who has yet to have an approval rating under 50%?

Yet, because Donald Trump refuses to accept that he lost the election which was certified by Republican-controlled states across the nation, the Big Lie lives on.

One has to wonder about the intelligence and patriotism of those who continue to stand behind this sad, egomaniacal man who drove into his followers’ minds from long before the election that the only way he could lose the election was if it was stolen from him.

I remember one pundit saying soon after Trump’s loss that the worst case scenario would be for Trump to run again in 2024 and lose, then maintaining that he was cheated again.

The next election, however, is not presidential. It is the mid-term election of 2022 when all Republican representatives and 20 Republican senators will face the voters. One can only hope, as I do, that the party’s blatant voter suppression will only further motivate the suppressed to turn out in record numbers and make those elected officials pay for their blind allegiance to a discredited president.

My father was a lifelong Republican and also a man of great integrity who would be appalled that any Republican would support a pathological liar like Donald Trump, much less repeat his lies as the truth — i.e., to lie him or herself. Yet that is what we see up and down the ranks of Republican elected officials who see support of Trump as key to something more important than country to them — their re-election.

Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is a naturalized American citizen. I’ve found naturalized citizens to be some of the greatest patriots, harking back to a hero of mine, Danish immigrant Jacob Riis, the municipal reformer and journalist who wrote How the Other Half Lives in 1890. Yet, Rupert Murdoch allows his network to become a dishonest echo chamber for Donald Trump, further empowering and emboldening “Cult 45.”

I feel compassion for the Trump followers who stormed the Capitol on January 6th and had their lives and futures disrupted or destroyed out of their misplaced loyalty. They are the true victims of Donald Trump, more than you and I. They were willing to put their lives on the line, believing as they did that the election was stolen and that Communists were taking over the country. Who among us would put our lives on the line like that?

But they were misled and continue to be misled by one man, who could save our country from a continuing downward spiral if he would do what every losing presidential candidate has done in the past: concede.