Yes, it sounds like a bad joke, but could the tide have turned in the false news wars by a guy walking into a bar? The answer is maybe, but in any event we'll take small victories where we can in the long slog to take down Cheeto Jesus.
A mere three weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump has historically low popularity ratings, but still has the unwavering support of the pitchfork posse while rumors of a congressional Republican revolt obviously are baseless. Just ask a lamebrain like Betsy DeVos. Still, we do now know more than ever that Trump is psychologically damaged and pathologically incapable of change. This is why small victories and their incremental effect on his raving narcissism really matter. Because they will help accelerate his eventual failure.
Those small victories include:
* The Women's March, having creating so much negative publicity the day after Trump's inauguration with the largest protest in American history, lives on in smaller protests wherever Trump goes to work or play.
* These protests have spread to the town hall meetings that congressfolk hold during recesses and have been so successful that many have been cancelled with pro-Trump pols resorting to hiding in their offices.
* Trump has used social media with diabolical effectiveness, but an alt-majority of a sort has turned that on him by repeatedly nudging him from the spotlight, notably the flash protests at airports against his notorious Muslim Ban.
* The continuing tsunami of leaks from insiders don't merely show a White House run by amateurs that is in constant turmoil, but betray widespread disloyalty to a president who demands absolute subservience.
* Melissa McCarthy's unhinged takedown of White House press secretary Sean Spicer on SNL is merely the most devastating of many parodies which have upset the thin-skinned Trump and further unsettled his administration.
* Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch's criticism of Trump's aggressive attacks on the judiciary, which in ruling on the Muslim Ban has had the temerity to display its constitutionally-mandated independence.
Now about that guy who walked into a bar. He's Joe Sonka, a staff writer for Inside Louisville. The bar is the Backdoor, a watering hole in that Kentucky city.
Sonka was sipping on a cold one the other day when someone texted him that Kellyane Conway, Trump's high-ranking aide, notorious spokesmouth and purveyor of lies and false news, had done it again. This time it was her claim that there had been a horrible massacre at the hands of Islamic terrorists in nearby Bowling Green in 2011 that was ignored by that dishonest news media and could have been prevented had the Muslim Ban had been in place.
Sonka quickly deduced that Conway's latest "alternative fact," as she has unashamedly characterized her serial lying, was shakily based on the arrest of two Iraqi refugees at their new homes in Bowling Green for plotting to send money and weapons to Al Qaeda in Iraq. They received extensive media coverage and harsh prison sentences (one for life and one for 40 years), and the incident led to further toughening of refugee vetting procedures by the Obama administration.
Sonka fired back, writing on Twitter:
Sonka's tweet got 2.4 million hits, putting it into Trumpian territory, was quickly picked up by major media outlets and, perhaps inevitably, used in an SNL sketch.
Flat out caught (or is it caught flat out?), Conway equivocated and then acknowledged her lie on Twitter. (Where else?) Social media had prevailed, although the victory was quickly overshadowed by the administration's next mega-whopper: The news media was so inured to terror attacks that a whopping 78 attacks had gone underreported or unreported. (All 78 had, in fact, been widely reported, and USA Today dutifully published a list of its own coverage of 54 of them.)
The bastard brother of "alternative facts" is, of course, "fake news," which the Trump administration has repeatedly accused the news media of pedaling, yet its silence was deafening earlier this week when the lead New York Times story was:
This is not because it would have been preposterous to claim the deeply sourced, leak-based story was "fake news." It would have been, but no one from the administration questioned the story.
The administration and perhaps even the president know that The Times and other outlets are not fabricating news. But the "fake news" meme -- whether about unrelentingly negative polls, their boss's ongoing bromance with Vladimir Putin or balloon-pricking stories that Trump's claim the U.S. murder rate is at an historic high is flat-out wrong -- is pretty much the only weapon they have to distract people from all the bad news and assuage their sense of grievance over Trump's entirely self-inflicted lousy start.
Incidentally, after being banned from CNN for two whole news cycles (Oh, the humanity!) over concerns about her credibility following the Bowling Green Massacre fib, Conway was back at it, ignoring what that terror attack list contained and then lying about it when repeatedly pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper in the hope the media would move on.
The media, thankfully, smells blood and is less likely to move on. But we have to remain involved, too.
The Muslim Ban is the most notable case in point. In a brief appearance the day after the the ban was dropping on an unsuspecting public -- and most of the president's own aides, including key homeland security officials who weren't consulted, were as shocked as we were -- Trump declared that the ban was "working out very nicely -- you see it in airports." But what the nation and world was seeing, sometimes in jolting split-screen Instagram images, were refugee families, including Iraqis who had risked their lives to aid the American military, denied entry as immigration lawyers rushed to help them and chanting, sign-waving protesters clogged airport terminals from New York to Los Angeles.
Things were not working out very nicely, and what we were seeing was the birth of a social network-fueled movement to defeat Trump's policies, if not eventually the president himself.
As my friend and fellow blogger Will Bunch wrote so eloquently today:
" . . . the silencing of Elizabeth Warren is just one more example -- arguably, one of the most powerful ones yet -- that the basic norms that have loosely governed the way we do things in America are slowly and painfully getting crushed, one brittle bone at a time, right before our stunned eyes. I'm talking about the ways that we value and uphold democracy, our freedom to debate and express opposing views, and the fast-fading notion that we even pretend anymore to cherish diversity -- not just of human beings but diversity of thought."
Trump has turned the Washington swamp into a cesspool while trashing America's image abroad and gifting terrorists the kind of bogeyman of which they could only dream. He has brought out the worst in Americans. And he has brought out the best, as seen by that social-network fueled movement, protests that even at this early date are eclipsing the civil rights and antiwar protests of yore.
The success of this network is far from guaranteed, but a notable and noble start has been made.