"Lies, Politics and Democracy" on PBS Frontline

On Sept. 6. 2022 PBS Frontline aired a two-hour special, Lies, Politics and Democracy, directed by Michael Kirk.  The film includes source footage from News2Share (Ford Fischer).  Here is PBS’s link for the full film (and writeup by Daphne Northrop for WGBH).  (Sometimes PBS converts to purchase only after some time passes.)

The story starts in 2015, about the time Obergefell cemented gay marriage by SCOTUS. Before saying anything more, I note that established gay activism would move away from sexual orientation to gender identity itself, without realizing how radical and group-centered this would become.  About the same time, Trump announced he would run for president on the GOP.

Early in the 2016 campaign season it was apparent that the GOP was short of mainstream candidates who could battle Trump’s tribal appeal.  Trump had run-in’s with Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham and others. At the convention in Cleveland Cruz drew boos as he tried to keep the GOP more like it had been. 

Quickly, and with the effect of social media (and maybe foreign bot influence) the GOP MAGA element seemed wrapped up in the idea of past ethnic or religious (Christian) superiority as a group, and grievance over what had been lost to foreign immigrants or globalism, which could lead to hardships for rural or certain manufacturing workers. (Globalism, in other mindsets, obviously becomes a target for the Left, too, but with different constituencies, like POC.) This had not been perceived as an acceptable mindset much before 2016. Fealty to Trump and hatred of Crooked Hillary (Lock Her Up, etc) drove the mobs. Oddly, LGBTQ+ seemed to escape the hostility, maybe because Peter Thiel was part of MAGA.

The documentary moves on to the impact of Charlottesville, and it’s being obvious that Trump's base was, in a substantial part, not afraid of being connected to white supremacy (maybe replacement theory at the extremes).  Trump’s 'very fine people' canard slid off the table,

Social media censorship, sometimes even for off-platform misdeeds in the past took off; even infrastructure companies and banks were shocked enough at the violence and death in Charlottesville to cancel the most extreme people.  (Had no one died, the impact might have been less, The perpetrator is serving over 400+ years of consecutive life sentences in a Virginia prison.) 

In the second hour the film moves into covering the election and then Trump’s attempt to cancel the result and claim it was fake – ultimately leading to the violence on January 6.  Social media companies cracked down on mention of 'stop the steal'.  But the most shocking idea is that Trump would try to get away with getting others (most of all Mike Pence) to ignore the usual interpretations in the Constitution and other election law (much of it the responsibility of states) and stage a coup.  What did his base want?  It seemed at some levels, not to have its former pretense of superiority (pre-Civil Rights) constantly taken away from it.

There are a couple of articles about how Internet use, even the search-engine driven model for the big social media sites and algorithms, has driven young people as a whole away from critical thinking on their own to group identity and a desire for certain authoritarian rules, on both sides.

Check Mary Harrington’s “Am I a Threat to Democracy?” on the Unherd (UK) Sept. 7 (registration encouraged). 

And look at Ezra Klein’s NYTimes piece Aug/ 7 'I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message' (paywall).

(Posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2022 at 12:30 PM EDT by John W. Boushka).