Links and Comments: America’s Reputation; Facebook; Cognitive Dissonance

NY Times, 25 Sept.: I Feel Sorry for Americans’: A Baffled World Watches the U.S.. Subtitle: “From Myanmar to Canada, people are asking: How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And why won’t the president commit to a peaceful transition of power?”

A Pew Research Center poll of 13 countries found that over the past year, nations including Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany have been viewing the United States in its most negative light in years. In every country surveyed, the vast majority of respondents thought the United States was doing a bad job with the pandemic.

Such global disapproval historically has applied to countries with less open political systems and strongmen in charge. But people from just the kind of developing countries that Mr. Trump has mocked say the signs coming from the United States are ominous: a disease unchecked, mass protests over racial and social inequality, and a president who seems unwilling to pledge support for the tenets of electoral democracy.

And Washington Post, editorial: Trump’s contempt for truth leaves a toxic legacy around the world

Democracies cannot function if ideological differences are compounded by the circulation of conspiracy theories and falsified data; established facts are the foundation for policymaking and legislative compromise. Mr. Trump has greatly accelerated what was already a drift by elements of the Republican Party toward rejection of science and other hard reporting. His incessant lying — from inflation of the crowds at his inauguration to the course of the coronavirus pandemic — has led many of his followers to beliefs that are provably false and, in some cases, are the product of disinformation campaigns by hostile powers.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has waged a relentless campaign to discredit the institutions that seek to disseminate truth and discredit false stories, especially the U.S. intelligence community and the news media. Thoroughly documented intelligence reports on Russia’s interventions in U.S. politics, including the current election campaign, are, he says, “a hoax” conjured by a “deep state.” Media revelations of corruption and malfeasance in his administration are “fake news.”


NYT, 18 Sept., Jamelle Bouie: Facebook Has Been a Disaster for the World. Subtitle: “How much longer are we going to allow its platform to foment hatred and undermine democracy?”

Facebook has been incredibly lucrative for its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who ranks among the wealthiest men in the world. But it’s been a disaster for the world itself, a powerful vector for paranoia, propaganda and conspiracy-theorizing as well as authoritarian crackdowns and vicious attacks on the free press. Wherever it goes, chaos and destabilization follow.

And today in NYT, Thomas Friedman: Trump Sent a Warning. Let’s Take It Seriously.

The column is mostly about the danger Trump threatens to America’s democracy, but includes this passage:

I worry because Facebook and Twitter have become giant engines for destroying the two pillars of our democracy — truth and trust. Yes, these social networks have given voice to the voiceless. That is a good thing and it can really enhance transparency. But they have also become huge, unedited cesspools of conspiracy theories that are circulated and believed by a shocking — and growing — number of people.


The Atlantic: For Some Trump Apologists, the Cognitive Dissonance Is Just Too Much. Subtitle: The need to defy reality on the president’s behalf is pushing his appointees beyond the point of reason.

Note this isn’t about Trump supporters, but his apologists, including some of his appointees, who increasingly are tasked with shaping government reports to suit Trump’s narrative, despite the facts.

…White House and Cabinet agencies will contain ideologues with no experience—or, worse, ideologues with a long record of bad judgment and terrible errors. But the cases of Crews, Caputo, and Paul Alexander suggest an additional conclusion: that people whose jobs require them to provide “alternative facts” on a regular basis might eventually break under the strain. Maybe there is a price to be paid, in loss of mental clarity, for supporting the fantasy world needed to sustain this president.

The president, the Republican Party, and its campaign machine are collectively seeking to create a completely false picture of the world. This isn’t just a matter of wishful thinking or a few white lies. The president’s campaign staff needs voters to believe that the pandemic is over, or else that it never mattered; that 200,000 people did not really die; that schools aren’t closed; that shops aren’t boarded up; that nothing much happened to the economy; that America is ever more respected around the world; that climate change isn’t real; that the U.S. has no legitimate protesters, only violent thugs who have been paid by secretive groups. This fantasy has to be repeated every day, in multiple forms, on Fox News, in GOP Facebook ads, on websites like RedState. Inevitably, it will affect people’s brains.

…But the same dissonance may also be fueling some of the more ridiculous conspiracy theories now circulating online. The adherents of the QAnon cult may have literally been driven past the point of reason. In order to make sense of the world they can see all around them, they have created an elaborate and obviously false explanation—that an omniscient Trump is fighting a cabal of deep-state satanists and pedophiles. No wonder Republicans, instead of shunning QAnon believers, are working to elect some of them to Congress in November. They genuinely serve a function, helping Trump supporters navigate the gap between the reality they live in and the fiction they see on Fox and Facebook.


Salon: The Supreme Court is finished: Republicans have killed it. Now it’s time to fight back

What’s striking here is the writers descriptions of the Republican-appointed sitting justices, whom Amy Coney Barrett will presumably join.

Clarence Thomas? A clown. Samuel Alito? A rubber-stamp hack. Neil Gorsuch? A replacement bell-ringer for racism. Brett Kavanaugh? A weepy beer-swilling prep-monster. John Roberts? He wrote the brilliant line, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

This echoes my characterization of the last few Republican presidents: elected not for their expertise, but for their willingness to advance specific policy goals.


Slate: Judge Rules Tucker Carlson Is Not a Credible Source of News

A judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on the grounds that any reasonable person would understand that Carlson

is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.” … Given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ …

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