The Town Hall, and the Core Issue

The political news today is about the “Town Hall” on CNN last night that gave Donald Trump a full hour to spew his usual shtick of lies and insults, before an audience of his fans, and the commentary in the news media today about the ever-despicable Trump, his ever-despicable fans, and why on earth CNN broadcast such a thing.

NPR, 10 May 2023: Trump continues lies about election and lashes out after N.Y. verdict in town hall

Washington Post, 11 May 2023: CNN faces backlash over chaotic Trump town hall event

Salon, Tatyana Tandanpolie, 11 May 2023: CNN’s own media reporter trashes network for airing Trump’s “spectacle of lies”, subtitled “‘It is awful. It’s a Trump infomercial. We’re going to get crushed,’ a CNN insider told The Daily Beast”

Slate, Michael J. Socolow, 11 May 2023: Of Course Trump Should Be Interviewed on TV!, subtitled “There’s the right way to do it—and there’s what CNN did.”

NYT, 11 May 2023: E. Jean Carroll May Sue Trump a Third Time After ‘Vile’ Comments on CNN, subtitled “In an interview, her lawyer said that the former president’s mocking comments in a town hall broadcast could create fresh legal jeopardy.”

Salon, Igor Derysh, 11 May 2023: “He is confessing on live TV”: Legal experts say Trump’s CNN town hall could badly backfire in court, subtitled “‘All three ongoing criminal cases got new evidence tonight against Trump,’ attorney says”

Vox, Zack Beauchamp, 11 May 2023: The debate over CNN platforming Trump is missing the point, subtitled “CNN messed up. But that’s not the real story.”

This Vox piece gets to the core issue, as I see it.

But focusing on the network or the man on the stage misses out on the real thing we should be worried about: the people in that audience cheering every lie and obscenity.

The core issue as I see it: Who are all these millions of people who support such a vile man? I think I have a basic understanding of how human nature aligns people into tribes, and how many people want an authoritarian leader to tell them what to do, and of course how people prefer stories and narratives to reality, and how they prefer stories and narratives that place themselves at the center of meaning. (See yesterday’s post.) But haven’t the institutions of modern civilization overcome these basic instincts? Apparently not.

Has this always been true? I suppose it has. It’s only with the reverberation of social media that we see these effects writ large.


I am always thinking in the widest possible terms. There’s no reasons to think (except perhaps with the influence of social media in the past couple decades) that demagogues like Trump haven’t always swayed people. It’s happened before, it will happen again. It’s an aspect of inescapable human nature. That never goes away. Except for occasional periods when humanity makes progress.

So, a corollary to one of my provisional conclusions: Progress in human society is made by a tiny minority, of those who understand reality and can think rationally, despite the bullheaded ignorance of the vast majority.


Other items to follow up on later:

There’s an interesting column by Naomi Oreskes in the current issue of Scientific American, about how the social security is working just fine, but conservatives are trying to discredit and defund it because it belies their belief that huge government programs cannot work. I’ll discuss this in more detail when the column comes online, so I can link it and quote from it.

Also, the guy who called TV — in the 1950s! — a “vast wasteland” has died. I’ll discuss. (My quick take: TV has gotten better; the current vast wasteland is social media.)

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