Sean Illing interviews
Matt Taibbi about his new book on Donald Trump. First, they go through some stuff about Taibbi's last book:
Illing: In 2009, you wrote a book called The Great Derangement in which you talked about various fringe political movements around the country. A big theme was the loss of trust in national institutions, like Congress and the media. You even described a possible future in which politics “stopped being about ideology and … instead turned into a problem of information.”
That reads like prophecy now. What did you see in 2009?
Matt Taibbi: The main thing was that I saw people tuning out the media. A lot of us have this idea that the truth has a kind of magical power, that if the truth is out there it will convince the country to unite behind it. But this isn't so. People can simply decide to not believe a version of events now. They can shop for information the same way they'd shop for everything else, and they pick the reality they find most pleasing.
Back when I was thinking about the rapture movement or the 9/11 truther movement, what struck me was that there are bubbles now that you can stay in and you don't have to engage with reality if you don't want to. So it occurred to me that in the future, people might decide en masse to completely tune out. Even the idea of having a debate with people about a commonly accepted body of facts seemed to be slipping away at the time.
And that's kind of what happened in this election. It was one group of people believing one thing and another group of people seeing something completely different.
The interview closes with some thoughts about the future:
Illing: Speaking of the next four years, your book ends on a pessimistic note. You basically declare the dream of unified country dead. Is it that dark?
Taibbi: Yeah, I think it is.
Illing: Are you encouraged at all by the massive protests or the fact that Trump is historically unpopular?
Taibbi: Not enough to feel especially hopeful about the future. I lived in Russia for several years and one of the things that struck me is how naive I had been growing up in the United States. If you grew up in America, you have no idea how bad it can get. The possibilities for awfulness in human experience are far beyond what we're used to.
I think we're just beginning to see how bad things can get. We have an illusion of stability thanks to our wealth and geography and the fact that we're still a young country. We take so much for granted. As Yeats said, things can fall apart. The center doesn't hold forever.
I see things starting to fray here and it's unsettling.
Illing: Political order is perilously contingent, and that’s a lesson America hasn’t learned in a long time.
Taibbi: That's exactly right. I’m not sure how this will play out, but it feels like we’re at the beginning of … something.
I am with Taibbi in this: the really disturbing thing about out time is the collapse of any shared notion of truth. If Americans divide into two groups with two completely different narratives about the world, I don't see how we can live in the same democracy.
1. There are two kinds of people. One group seeks out the "reality they find most pleasing." The other seeks out the reality they can rail against. I see a lot more of the latter than the former these days.
2. With the coming of the Internet and social mediums like FaceBook, Twitter, and Blogs, it's easier to belong to a cult -- little sacrifice involved. He alludes to this, but I don't think cults can win national elections in a country of 330 million. So he's missing something. This is not a new human phenomenon, but technology makes it easier to display itself.
3. How come I no longer hear the term "The Press?" Everyone, including reporters and analysts, use the word "media." I would think reporters and analysts would prefer distinguishing themselves from the larger group of crackpots, pundits, and bullies. They are just defining themselves down. I'm surprised the news show hasn't changed its name to "Meet the Media."
4. "Fake News" already is so misused, kidnapped and abused by the larger media, that I no longer use the term. I call fake news a hoax. I do like the phrase "Alternate Facts," though. It truly signifies the times we live in and makes arguing so much easier. You can truly talk past one another when you argue from different premises.
5. Much of this has to do with the loss of civility, I think. No one is civil any more. It's considered a weakness. Our president is a crude man, uncivil, representing the grossest elements of our pop culture. He's a stereotype. His incivility is the scariest thing about him, and what worries me more than his total failure as a president is his total success as president. Then he might become an archetype.
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