Steve Bannon’s styrofoam balls

It's not like reality gives up easily, and lets you roll over it. That's Distortion Field 101.

15 Feb 2017 1:27 pm 19 Comments

I will be brief because — like the news itself — I’m moving quickly today.

For a moment there I thought these guys were serious about treating the news media as “the opposition party” and trying to remove it as a check on power. That seemed to be the plan. They had the pieces in place. But when Michael Flynn was vanquished from the White House they revealed to us that for now at least they’re unable go through with it.

Here’s Greg Sargent:

Trump’s top adviser Stephen K. Bannon has offered up sublime bluster about how the news media has “no power,” arguing that its aggressive reporting on the Trump White House reflects nothing more than panicked media elite shrieking about the “new political order” that Trump is raising out of the ashes of the corrupt old order. As I’ve argued, the Trump White House has established — as an explicit, actionable doctrine — the goal of trying to obliterate the possibility of agreement on the news media’s legitimate institutional role in informing the citizenry, and even on facts and reality itself.

I agree: That’s what they’re trying to do. But if you’re going to do it, you have to really do it. It’s not like reality gives up easily, and lets you roll right over it. You can’t just say to the national press “you’re fake news” and “so biased no one believes you” like some once-in-a-generation tough guy and then when it gets really tough switch back to freaking out over what’s in the news.

The way they’re acting, you’d think these guys had never transcended reality or slipped the bonds of surly pundits before. Look at this report: should have a ‘pitiful if true’ sticker on it.

According to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

The trigger was a news report? That’s not how you do it. Leaks that are published in the fake news media (Trump’s term) are fake leaks! You have to call them that. And you have to act on that understanding. As soon as you let on that you’re using the news media the way other people do — to find out what’s happening, for real — you’re showing reality that it can roll you. I can’t believe I have to explain this to a Graduated Leninist like Steve Bannon, but I guess I do. Here are the steps:

1. “This isn’t happening.” Basic stuff! Anyone who says it is happening is off the team, outside the circle of power. These stories about Mike Flynn connecting with Russian officials, talking about sanctions on Russia, lying about it to the Vice President: that’s the biased media being the opposition party and spreading misinformation again. Like the news is fake, the sources are fake. If these “government officials” know so much, let them identify themselves. If there are recordings, where are they? Anyone can fake a transcript. Etc.

2. We are not the investigated, we investigate! You don’t fire your guy because journalists report he’s a liar and a cheat. That’s reality-based. You’re against all that, remember? You keep him in his post and start digging into who’s leaking and receiving the nation’s secrets. Every time the press asks about the Flynn mess you brag about how far-reaching your leak investigation is. They say Flynn’s calls were monitored? Well, we know how to monitor calls to find out who’s passing you this fake information. Drop the hint. This is Distortion Field 101, fellas.

3. No one in the press or the DC establishment will believe you; that’s the whole point! Incredulity is their gift to you. The opposition party is everyone who listens to the news and says: actually, this Flynn thing is happening. The more shocked and voluble they are, the better for you as our polarizers-in-chief. The wind of their insistence gives lift to your resistance. Didn’t your instructor in Wedge Tectonics go over any of this?

4. Supporters have to either a.) join in calling it fake news or b.) face spiritual collapse. You used to understand this. Back when you were on your game, like during the Sean Spicer debut. You let everyone on your side know the deal… Wanna be on the team? Then look at those pictures and see larger crowds for Trump. For that’s the price. Price too high? Then you can step off right now. Here, you want the worm of doubt to creep up a little— so it can be banished by core supporters. (And there’s frisson in that.) You gesture toward cognitive dissonance so extreme it would crush normal people, as in: the man who ‘tells it like it is’ lies constantly, about everything. You flash that fact, they flee it. Win for you.

If that’s winning, this is losing. Greg Sargent again:

This Flynn episode suggests that facts and reality do matter. The Trump White House is not invulnerable to them. A dogged and determined press corps can indeed ferret them out, notwithstanding the White House’s efforts to render them meaningless and irrelevant — or indeed to make them disappear.

He’s right. They got rolled by reality, as if reality had that kind of muscle! But what stands out for me is: Bannon, Trump, Miller, Conway, Spicer, the inner circle: they didn’t even try to show reality that it can be rolled. Let’s go over it again: You act as though this isn’t happening. You threaten to investigate those who document that it is. You remind the press that it has no power because it was humiliated in 2016. They remonstrate, you escalate. Use the pundit shows and briefing room to polarize. Cognitive dissonance takes care of your party and core supporters, but you have to show reality who’s boss.

Bannon is the one who surprises me. He pushed for Flynn’s firing? That’s standard eliminate-a-rival behavior, exactly what an establishment climber would do. He’s no Lenin. Turns out he has balls of styrofoam, and I think I know the reason. He reads the New York Times and Washington Post with fear in his heart. Like normal people in power do.

19 Comments

It’s a bit like Wile E. Coyote vs gravity and Road Roader vs gravity. The Road Roader can run off a cliff and keep going because it 100% doesn’t believe in gravity. Only the purest belief in NOT believing in gravity will make it work. Wile E. Coyote looks at Road Runner and thinks he’s got that lack-of-belief-in-reality down pat. He’s gonna run off that cliff and reality be damned. But he peeks. So gravity acts on him. He falls. That said, unlike the Coyote it’s possible Team Trump will learn it was the looking at the ground that caused reality to act. Next time they might just not look down.

Excellent, Rachel.

Gah just realized I misspelled “Road Runner” wrong twice. Well at least in an official government document.

I was thinking same since long time so just Free Job Alert 2017

Solid reality check, Professor . . . and fine phrase-making.

Impossible now to look at Steve Bannon without instantly picturing Wiffle Balls, just as I can see Spicey without thinking of a Super Soaker, leaf blower and mobile podium.

Plus, you commit — endearingly — a classic Rosen-ism: “I am going to be brief,” say the first six words of a 1,054-word post.

I tease because I adore. Compelling take on the topic du jour. I read it all.

* . . . just as I can’t see Spicey . . .

Di-Ann Hand says:

Correction “Old Spicey” It’s the tiny details that make me chuckle.

I like how you define the brutalism of the alternative reality manufacturers. And I buy it, but ..I knew the skids were under Flynn. Isn’t the maintenance of The Matrix an act of will rather than a genuine alternative truth? Flynn was looking at being outed by the NSA. Charles Manson had a whale of a time in the desert with all the girls until the cops turned up with all those squad cars and guns. What Trump really lost over Flynn was a claim (for the believer) of Infallibility. Something’s gone and it ain’t coming back.

Yeah, I’m saying they don’t have the will. Or they didn’t in this episode.

Dave Logan says:

Or perhaps they’ll sacrifice anyone to deflect negative attention in order to move forward with their crusade. People die in wars. What’s one measley General in the grand scheme of the Trump vision?

Bannon is like a shark… always moving, always eating.

paul lukasiak says:

I wish I felt your confidence.

IMHO, the “distortion of reality” is a tool to be used, not an end in itself. Sometimes, a tool doesn’t work quite the way you need in order to achieve your ends. Distortion takes an extraordinary amount of energy, focus and commitment — and the more that is at stake, the more energy etc. it takes to be effective. Flynn wasn’t worth the effort — and provided Team Trump with additional opportunities to distort (“the real story is the leaks”, “this was done to cover up Clinton’s failed campaign”)

All but a handful of GOP congresscritters are opposed to any kind of independent investigation of Russian interference in the election; the distortion field still holds. And that is scary.

We’re using distortion field in different ways. Here is Republican Senator of Rand Paul:

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” the Kentucky Republican told Fox News on Tuesday, just a few hours before it was revealed that Trump campaign aides were in frequent contact with senior Russian officials ahead of the election. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

He’s not trying to say that what happened with Flynn never happened. He’s just saying: we’re in power, why would we investigate ourselves? Politically, makes no sense.

That’s different Trump and Spencer style reality distortion. “The president has been extraordinarily tough on Russia.” “CNN is fake news.”

Rebecca L. Inscoe says:

“The wind of their insistence gives lift to your resistance.” So delicious.

Bernie Latham says:

The closest analogy I’ve been able to come up with for Trump and his relationship with his followers is the professional wrestling promoter and audience.

The last thing a pro wrestling audience wants is the truth of things. They don’t want to know about the hours of training and choreography (so that wrestlers aren’t mangled), they don’t want to know about the blood packets squirreled away to be splashed on the front row, they don’t want to know about the agreements made in offices earlier as to who wins and how the loser will then behave.

Trump’s audience is just like that. They understand implicitly (if less than fully consciously) that there’s a contract here and so do the promoters and the wrestlers.

Trump and team desire a media relationship comparable to what the producers, announcers, camearpersons, etc of such sports event have with promoters. And during the campaign events, they could pull that off pretty well (Yeah! Trump supporter slugs black guy! Yeah!). If Trump could manage now to have long-legged women in swimsuits walking in front of the stage where he’s doing rallies, he’d do it in an instant.

But this new sphere of the Presidency necessitates a different operating basis. Because it will be, inevitably, oppositional and questioning and fact-based, they have had to approach media as we have seen them doing: You are the opposition. Your questioning victimizes me/us. Your so-called “facts” are fake.

But as you and Greg observe, it is really far too tenuous a charade to pull off for any length of time given how news media will be forced to respond. And thank god major media are responding, in many cases, admirably to what is being thrown at them.

Michelle Basius says:

Bannon & his self absorbed plans, come from a place of deep personal rage because he did not win the gold ring in life…someone/something has to be blamed…someone/something has to pay…hence vendetta shrouded plans to overthrow establishment that rejected him..His self absorption blinds him to objective assessments…He is just fishing for glitter and easily hooked.

If we all survive this (and I worry about Archducal dominoes) the Trump era is going to be revisited endlessly by historians, economists, writers, film makers, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists etc. Special attention will surely be paid to those who identified reality correctly in the midst of absurd deflections. The future pedagogical potential is going to be huge, if we survive.

There will be anthologies for children taking classes in critical thinking to get their heads around. A few will feature mordant wit.

But if we may not make it out alive maybe it’s time to put together a Time Capsule. This piece (brilliant & funny) and some of the comments surely belong in it (along with James Fallows articles under the same rubric).

T1gerlilly says:

The sane attempting to attribute motive to the mentally unwell leads to all kinds of byzantine theories. Attributing coherent strategy or personal loyalty to a delusional narcissist is to take the first step down a VERY deep rabbit hole, as any attempt to puzzle out the logic of capricious and visceral reactions is likely to be more theological than relevant.
Trump and his cohort will ignore reality when it suits them, use it to confirm what they already believe, and attempt to shamelessly redefine it whenever we let them. Trump didn’t get rid of Flynn because he’s afraid of the media or cognizant of political realities. He got rid of him because he had an excuse and he likes firing people. He loves (and believes) anything that makes him look more powerful. He literally doesn’t allow anything that contradicts what he wants to be true to exist in his reality.
One of the problems with dealing with the mentally unwell is that you keep expecting them to behave as though they were sane. You try to puzzle out why they would do things that were clearly not in their best interest or completely contradictory. You start to think YOU must be crazy.
Flynn isn’t a triumph of the press. It isn’t a sign of incipient normalization. It doesn’t indicate a leash on madness.

Robert Pierson says:

Telling Flynn to go was a huge blaring billboard saying that Trump is weak. By not going to the wall for a loyalist, from a man who demands loyalty above all things, is going to prove to be a disaster for the administration. The war on fake news has gone from a grand strategy to pathetic whining.

The already almost insurmountable problem of finding candidates to fill the administration, 696 needing Senate approval, 34 so far nominated, is going to be even tougher as all can now see Trump won’t have their back.

Hat tip to Jay for seeing this as an important milestone.

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