Sunday, November 6, 2016

When different interpretations become different realities

Trump's target audience (and, to a degree, Trump himself) receive virtually all of their information in a highly filtered form and the biases of these filters are endlessly reinforced through social media. The result is that the same event will be depicted in such different ways inside and outside of the bubble that the two versions cannot be reconciled.

For example, here's how TPM described an incident at a recent Clinton rally featuring President Obama (an account supported by a video of the event).

For a couple minutes, Obama attempted in vain to gain back control of the crowd as chants of "Hillary!" drowned out the protestor.

While the protester's identity and motives weren't clear, from Obama's remarks after he finally gained control of the crowd back, the protester appeared to be an older war veteran.

"This is what I mean about folks not being focused," Obama said. "Hold up. Hold up. First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech. Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military and we have to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we have had to respect our elders. And fourth of all, don't boo, vote!"

And here's how Donald Trump described the incident at one of his rallies.

“You saw it today on television, right? He was talking to the protester, screaming at him, really screaming at him. By the way, if I spoke the way Obama spoke to that protester, they would say, 'He became unhinged! He became – ' … And he spent so much time screaming at this protester, and frankly, it was a disgrace.”

Along similar lines (also from TPM), read how a protester trying to pull out a sign morphed into Teddy Roosevelt shrugging off an assassin’s bullet. 

The essential details are these. Not long after Trump claimed that a surge in Latino voting in Nevada was evidence of voter fraud, a man named Austyn Crites (later self-identified as a registered Republican who opposes Donald Trump) was in the arena, relatively near the front of the audience. There was some commotion. Trump noticed the commotion, accused Crites of "being from the Hillary Clinton campaign."

From the stage he asked Crites, "How much are you being paid? Fifteen hundred dollars?" and then called for security to "take him out."

(The idea that the Clinton campaign sends people to Trump rallies to instigate violent disruptions is an urban legend growing out of the latest James O'Keefe tape dump. There is zero evidence to support this. It is a sort of mass psychology version of projection.)

At this point Crites was apparently in the process of pulling out a sign of some sort which someone nearby thought was a gun. That person yelled "gun!" This tripped off a melee in which Trump supporters beat Crites fairly severely. Secret Service agents, seeing the melee and possibly hearing the cry of "gun", rushed Trump off the stage and took Crites into custody.


 It made perfect sense for the Secret Service to escort Trump off the stage until they were confident there was no threat and that the area was secure. We should also bear that history in mind if we find ourselves chiding people for jumping to conclusions in the heat of the moment.

In any case, it was clear very quickly that there was no gun and that there was no threat. How do we know that? Because they allowed Trump to return to the stage very quickly. If there had been a gun or if they were not close to certain there hadn't been one, that would not have happened. The presence of a gun would have meant security had been breached and that likely would have been the end of the event. One gun can mean another gun. There are many examples of assassinations and assassination attempts were an initial commotion is used to distract from a subsequent attack etc. Letting Trump back on the stage only a few minutes later essential confirms the Secret Service knew very quickly that there had been no threat.

As I said, it was determined very quickly that nothing had happened. No attempt. No nothing. But this didn't stop the campaign from pushing out a storyline about an "assassination attempt"  and a tale of Trump's bravery in immediately returning to the stage.

Next a CNN journalist went out from the press pen into the area where the incident had occurred to find out what happened. He was promptly verbally abused and physically assaulted, though seemingly to no great physical harm, mainly just shoved around.

Things got darker still when Trump arrived a short time later in Colorado. In Denver, Trump was introduced by Father Andre Y-Sebastian Mahanna, a Maronite Catholic priest who said Trump had just survived "an attempt of murder against Mr Trump."

He then blamed the press for incitement the non-existent assassination attempt.

The Trump campaign allowed this to happen and made no effort to correct the record. This was followed by another warm up speaker who joked about Clinton being a 'bitch.'

Normally the challenge for a political party is to craft messages that resonate with the general public and the party faithful. Over the next few cycles, the challenge for the Republicans will be to come up with messages that make any sense at all both inside and outside the bubble.

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