Fake news is a big deal. It had an enormous impact on the GOP’s decades-long effort to discredit and soil the candidate Trump ultimately framed as Crooked Hillary. With the strong support of our Fake-News-Editor-elect, the end of truth could present a threat to our democracy, and it certainly marks a serious risk to the ever-important role played by the free press.
Yes, fake news helped Trump. But it’s less a driver of the election’s results and more of a symptom of much more troubling problem: A huge portion of the American electorate is wildly uninformed, susceptible to believing ridiculously false news, or both.
If an informed electorate is the good, and an uninformed electorate is the bad, then a misinformed electorate is the ugly.
I am worried about fake news and more worried about the attacks on the media that will clearly continue once Trump is in the Oval Office (if the strategy ain’t broke, why fix it?).
But what if that whole storyline is, at least on some level, fake? What if we’re giving fake news more credit than it deserves in an understandably desperate effort to reject a more disturbing truth?
Yes, I’ve described bad (fake news exists) and worse (people believe it), and now I’m going to a place even darker than that. Welcome to 2016 version of the think-piece.
Donald Trump repeatedly showed voters exactly who he was during the course of the campaign. And he’s basically been the exact same person during the first weeks of his transition. Crazy tweets, false statements, attacks on the media, social media tantrums, a steady move towards right wing politics, and an embrace of alt right media sources and strategies... That was how he ran. And so far, that’s how he’s leading.
I have a feeling that many of us on the left are obsessing over fake news to convince ourselves that millions of Americans were somehow tricked into voting for Trump — that they’ve been unwittingly indoctrinated into some kind of cult, and if we just deprogram them with a little real news and a touch of sanity, they’ll come around and see the error of their ways.
But truth could be a lot more troubling than that. Maybe millions of Americans saw exactly who and what Trump was, and voted for him because of it.
Yes, fake news is a big problem and one we need to address. I don’t want to suggest otherwise. But in this case, what’s real might be even scarier than what’s not. Try this headline on for size: Trump Voters Weren’t Fooled. They Liked What They Saw. Even as I deliver it, I hope this version story isn’t true. But I have a feeling it is.