Obama Says if We Can’t Tell Serious Arguments From Propaganda ‘We Have Problems’

The commander-in-chief, himself the victim of Republican propaganda for eight years, watched the well-oiled machinery of lies turn itself upon his Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, and it is clear he is as confounded by the results as any of us, saying,

“If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

Oh boy, do we have problems. If you know somebody who voted for Trump, you have a thorough understanding of the problem already.

Most likely, they have (or will happily) barrage you with piles of propaganda. Your response will be to reply with well-reasoned facts, perhaps pointing out that Snopes or FactCheck or PolitiFact already debunked that particular claim, to which you will receive the response that that source is not reliable.

Because confirmation bias. As Psychology Today explains,

“Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking.”

Anything which contradicts what they read on some stranger’s Facebook post must be dismissed. So you hear things like, “I voted for Trump because Hillary Clinton has no integrity.” Trump, who can’t open his mouth without lying, is the guy with integrity.

So yes, wishful thinking beats your facts. At least it did in this election.

What this tells you is not that Hillary Clinton has no integrity, but that Trump successfully accused Hillary Clinton of being Donald Trump and made it stick. The Republicans won the propaganda war, but to be fair, they had no opposition.

Facts – President Obama’s serious arguments – don’t do well in the face of propaganda. Facts aren’t emotionally targeting their recipients. Propaganda is designed to do exactly that. You can guess which will win.

What Obama had once imagined only in a Saturday Night Live skit is about to come true, and pathological liar Donald Trump’s diet of 30 to 40 lies per day will have tragic, real-world consequences.

Add to that “extreme & erratic” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret) as National Security Adviser, a guy about whom CNN’s Jake Tapper said, “General Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wouldn’t tweet it if it weren’t true, right? False.”

Flynn is the guy for whom a term was coined by senior aids over at the DIA – Defense Intelligence Agency – according to The Washington Post: “‘Flynn facts’ — for assertions that seemed questionable or inaccurate.”

If the media could not keep up with the flood of lies produced by Trump as a candidate, how will it keep up with the lies produced by a Trump with the powers of the government behind him? It didn’t do well against Bush’s manufactured reality, and Bush was a piker compared to Trump.

One example of the extent of the problem is illustrated by David Remnick, who wrote in The New Yorker of his talks with the president:

That day, as they travelled, Obama and [David] Simas talked almost obsessively about an article in BuzzFeed that described how the Macedonian town of Veles had experienced a “digital gold rush” when a small group of young people there published more than a hundred pro-Trump Web sites, with hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers. The sites had names like TrumpVision365.com and WorldPoliticus.com, and most of the posts were wildly sensationalist, recycled from American alt-right sites. If you read such sites, you learned that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump and that Clinton had actually encouraged Trump to run, because he “can’t be bought.”
The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

Everything is true and nothing is true. Lies have the same truth value as facts.

What we just witnessed was the ultimate victory of anti-intellectualism, where the lies of an obscure mail carrier who listens to Rush Limbaugh all day are as good as a climate scientist’s facts about climate change.

It is difficult to have a common conversation when we don’t even have reality in common.

As President Obama put it, “we have a problem.”