Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Cat in the Hat Moves into the White House

What sort of cat wears a hat, wreaks havoc wherever it goes, makes a monstrous mess that entertains as it appalls, turns the world red from "lying", and suffers no personal consequence? Why, it's the Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. If you missed it in childhood, you can witness it now, in the news every day. While the adults were out, a man in a red hat and no scruples slipped into the White House. This time, there will be no magnificent machine to clean up the mess, no VOOM! to erase the lies that spread red across the land.
Little lies founder,
But big lies can stick.
Lies can determine
The leaders we pick.
Taken together, The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back anticipate our current cat-in-chief's tremendous capacity to demolish what was carefully put together, and generate an endless stream of red lies that spread and spread. In the Cat in the Hat Comes Back, the first red stain happens when the cat lies in the tub. From that first "lying", the red stain spreads from bathtub to mother's dress, to Father's shoes, to the rug, ultimately coating the snowy landscape outside.
If you don’t like that lie,
Then I’ll give you another.
I’ll give you its cousins,
Its sister and brother.
The cat has helpers to spread its brand of mayhem even further. Out of the cat's red hat leap small assistants who spread the red until it coats the land. Those assistants, in our increasingly unreal world, include not only those who wish to spread the lies, but also those attempting to stop them.
We’ll make ourselves welcome--
A lying family--
On the porch of your house
Drinking new lies for tea.
How do you stop a lie from spreading? The standard method in journalism is to state the lie, then explain that it isn't true. The more outrageous the lie, the bigger its headline, and the more it dominates conversation. Whether the lie gets repeated with an air of disgust or irony or stern correction, the assumption is that people will see it for the lie it is. But lies, if they are repeated often enough, become true for people who aren't paying much attention. The actual truth often can't compete.
The truthy truth truthers
Will frown all around,
At how high I can fly
While they’re stuck on the ground.
If someone is accused of a crime, each time that story is reported, the accused is associated with the crime. But if the crime is a false accusation about someone else, then news reports taint the lied-about more than the liar. The lied-about can charge the liar with slander or defamation of character, but that risks even more news coverage with yet more repetitions of the lie.
We’ll keep telling lies
Till you think they are true
Do you think it can’t happen?
It can happen to you.
We become like the boy and girl in Dr. Seuss's stories, powerless, aghast, but also entertained while watching their world order come undone.
And how do you stop a big lie once it’s out
By saying it again while it prances about!
As an example of how lies can be like a stain that keeps spreading the more you try to stop it, consider a pre-election series in the New Yorker that documented myriad lies. These are thoroughly researched, devastating articles, and yet they also serve to spread the lies further. Though the series' alliterative title, "Trump and the Truth", was meant to be ironic, at a subliminal level some may be swayed instead by the visual power of two words that share the same length and the first three letters. By associating Trump with the truth, the title works against the articles' content. And because of the difficulty of reporting lies, the articles' content even works against itself. Of 1260 words in one of the articles, only 195 present the truth, while 628 convey Trump's lies.

This is the journalist's predicament, in a time when content may not register. Instead, it's the subliminal message in the image, the look or sound of words in the headline that people respond to. In a similar manner, some people watching the presidential debates last fall may have picked up on Trump's impressive physical bearing, rather than what he actually said. For people wishing to believe, appearance will win out over content.

Click on "Read More" below to see the 195 words of truth, presented almost apologetically, and how more than half of the article actually helps spread Trump's message.

The article's version of truth:
By now, it seems almost quaint to point out that voter fraud in the United States is vanishingly rare. Yet the facts are clear. When Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, tracked cases of alleged voter impersonation—that is, someone pretending to be someone else at the polls—between 2000 and August of 2014, he found just thirty-one incidents, out of more than a billion ballots cast in general, primary, special, and municipal elections during that period. Another investigation, by a national reporting project based at Arizona State University called News21, found two thousand and sixty-eight alleged election-fraud cases between 2000 and the summer of 2012. Ten of them were voter-impersonation cases; the others were related to absentee ballots and voter registration. (The over-all numbers amounted to roughly one malign impersonator out of every fifteen million potential voters.) In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in part because it’s a laughably inefficient way to affect the outcome of an election. The penalties are steep—hefty fines, even jail time—while the actual gains, in terms of extra votes, are minimal.
Here is an edited version of the article, showing how more than half actually helps spread his message. Passages in red are the lies:

“The election is going to be rigged—I’m going to be honest,” Donald Trump said to a rowdy crowd in August, at a rally in Columbus, Ohio. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote ten times, maybe,” Trump told an interviewer later. “The only way we can lose . . . is if cheating goes on.” A new page appeared on his campaign Web site, inviting concerned citizens to volunteer to be “Trump Election Observers” so that they could “help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election!”

Those polls that said Clinton had won the debate? They were skewed against him, he said, just like Google was, with its suspiciously pro-Clinton search results. At campaign stops this week, Trump reiterated his claims that Clinton was out to steal the vote. He even told the Times that he was reconsidering whether he'd accept a Clinton victory at all.

Republicans have spent years, beginning well before Trump’s campaign, warning voters that devious people were trying to cast illegitimate ballots to swing elections. They gave the problem a tidy, intuitive-sounding name: voter fraud.

Trump is trying to delegitimize a national election even while campaigning for the Presidency.

On Election Night in 2012, he tweeted, “This election is a total sham and travesty. We are not a democracy.” Two years later, “Crazy - Election officials saying that there is nothing stopping illegal immigrants from voting,” he tweeted the Friday before the midterms. “This is very bad (unfair) for Republicans!”

Last summer, as Trump’s campaign was ramping up, he reportedly received a thirteen-page strategy memo from a trusted adviser named Roger Stone. One of Stone’s suggestions to Trump was that he should emphasize that the “system is rigged against the citizens.” In the spring, he began attacking the primary process as a "rigged, disgusting dirty system.” The Republican Party, he said, was playing favorites with candidates close to the establishment. He homed in on his main rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, portraying them as Party insiders who couldn't be trusted. “Word is-early voting in FL is very dishonest," he tweeted on the afternoon of March 12th, three days before the Florida primary. “Little Marco, his State Chairman, & their minions are working overtime-trying to rig the vote.” The Trump campaign and its surrogates went on to level similar charges against Ted Cruz in Texas and several other states. Stone later explained Trump's endgame on a right-wing radio show: “He needs to say . . . ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’ ”
The idea of a “rigged” election resonates with his backers. A recent Washington Post poll showed that half of Trump’s supporters don’t think the election will be fair. These numbers track with years of growing concern among voters generally, and Republicans specifically, about the reliability of American election results. In 2012, only thirty-one per cent of Americans polled by Pew Research Center had confidence that the votes in that year’s election had been “accurately counted.” Among Republicans, the number was twenty-one per cent. According to an Associated Press poll released last Saturday, half of Republicans now believe there is "a great deal of fraud in American elections.”

Over the past decade, Republican officeholders in dozens of states have used the threat of voters casting multiple or illegitimate ballots to justify imposing identification requirements at the voting booth, measures that have often gone hand in hand with efforts to shorten early-voting periods before Election Day.

As a Presidential candidate, Trump has stirred his core supporters by bad-mouthing immigrants, taunting Latinos, and calling for a nationwide imposition of stop-and-frisk. The raft of recent state-led voter-suppression efforts will help him and his party. The Brennan Center for Justice recently counted fourteen states that will have new voting restrictions in effect this fall. In some of these states—Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee—the laws include strict photo-I.D. requirements; in others, such as Ohio and Nebraska, the period of early voting has been shortened.

Trump claims that the whole structure of American democracy is a sham. He is simply repeating what the Republican Party has been saying for years.

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