This could be America’s last “free” election with the approach of a single-party state and perhaps rebranding. Firehose propaganda and disinformation at work now. So much gaslighting now. Vozhd Trump has a certain ring.
The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.
The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?
As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.
I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.
The big picture: The 62-minute event was pure unchained Trump — a midday TV drama featuring his closest allies from the White House and Capitol Hill — that saw the president go scorched earth in a setting more akin to one of his campaign rallies than a traditional East Room gathering.
- Like a rally, the focus didn't just stay on impeachment. The president relitigated the entire Russia investigation and a number of unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding it, claiming that former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page “were going to try and overthrow the government of the United States” and calling former FBI Director James Comey “a sleaze bag.”
The state of play: The president used the event to thank his allies and settle scores, despite already taking a shot at impeachment foils Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) earlier Thursday.
- He referred to both Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as “horrible” people and said that Pelosi “doesn't pray.”