As protesters, detainees and those resisting Trump celebrate the temporary federal block on his travel ban, it’s hard to imagine that this victory, or the whole scandal itself, will still be the leading story at the end of this week.
Trump’s first days in office were always going to be heading the news and unfortunately they were bad as many feared they would be. The Muslim travel ban, global gag on abortion and approving nods in the direction of Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, have already made the claim that Trump was to be taken “seriously, but not literally”, seem particularly misguided. Yet the sheer velocity with which Trump is using these executive orders is scary in itself, outside of their content.
Each piece of news is so at odds with campaign ‘promises’, that it is quite clear than nothing really holds meaning anymore. This, combined with speed of delivery demanded by the 24/7 news cycle, creates an odd world, where people know what is happening but feel powerless influence events and believe nothing at all.
This is not an original idea, it is essentially what Adam Curtis was arguing in Hypernormalization, and what Peter Pomerantsev wrote in his book on modern Russia Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. Trump lies and everyone knows. The news will tell us endlessly about the latest Trump lie; whether it’s his failure to drain the swamp, his shifting stance on abortion or refusal to put his empire into a blind trust. We all know by now.
Yet this is the point. Trump lies, he even tells us that he lies. In his book, Pomerantsev writes how advisor to Putin, Vladislav Surkov, funded groups across the the political spectrum and then let that be known, blurring the lines between the constructed and reality. Trump’s lies work in a similar way. The news tells us of another scandalous Trump statement, but later we will hear it was a lie, and then Trump himself claims he never said it in the first place. This isn’t a hidden process, but the pundits think that by calling Trump out on his lies, saying gotcha and running a story they’ve solved the problem. In reality they only reveal their own impotence.
It doesn’t even have to be a lie, just something outrageous. In the lies, half truths and shocking actions that clog up our news feeds, Trump shows us the powerlessness of the media. Whether consciously or not, he exploits how they jump on his every move to overwhelm and confuse the viewer. Yet not all is bleak. We should be heartened by the actions of bodies such as the ACLU and grassroots protest in the US and tonight in the UK. Direct action and sustained protest have the power to end Trump, not punditry and not posting (I’m aware of the irony).