quinta-feira, 29 de setembro de 2016

The art of defrauding America

Entretanto sabemos que o debate nào correu bem a Trump e que a sua “arte”, pelo menos neste caso, não foi efectiva …
The art of defrauding America
Reality TV star turns liberal media values and voter cynicism to his advantage
Edward Luce
SEPTEMBER 25, 2016 by: Edward Luce

In the Art of the Deal, Donald Trump’s get rich quick guide, he explains how to seduce the customer. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,” he wrote. “I call it truthful hyperbole.”

At the presidential debate on Monday night, roughly 100m Americans will be exposed to Mr Trump’s magical thinking. The US can be great again by electing the best dealmaker in the world. Some will see it as a con trick. Others will be willingly gullible. A worryingly large share will care little about his truthfulness either way. Since all politicians lie, Mr Trump could hardly be worse than Hillary Clinton.

That, in purest form, is today’s voter breakdown — a world apart from the founding fathers’ informed citizenry. In the hunt for the mother of all deals, Mr Trump has two key partners. The first is the media. Conservatives believe the conventional media suffers from deep liberal bias. Most journalists probably are on the left by their measure.

But that is irrelevant. Mr Trump’s genius is to grasp that television’s desperate quest for ratings outweighs any ideological leanings. Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS, put it well earlier this year. Mr Trump’s celebrity had worked miracles on the network’s advertising revenues. “It may not be good for America,” he said. “But it’s damn good for CBS.” In an age of ever-thinner gruel for the TV business, Mr Trump offers repeated sugar highs. Monday’s record ratings will have little to do with Mrs Clinton.

The reality TV star has also turned liberal media values to his advantage. Fox News pays lip service to being even-handed. CNN, on the other hand, balances liberal voices with credible opposing ones.

At a time of acute polarisation, such false equivalence is gold dust to Mr Trump. He may run a pay-for-play charitable foundation but so do the Clintons. He may refuse to release his tax returns. But Mrs Clinton hid a private email server. After a while, everyone seems equally bad. In reality, the Clinton Foundation raises billions for philanthropic causes and its published accounts meet industry standards. Mr Trump, on the other hand, has used his to make political donations, buy portraits of himself and settle law suits. It is possible details of his serial “self-dealing” — painstakingly chronicled in the Washington Post — will sway some voters. But they will have to switch off their TVs first. Short of an Edward Snowden-type leak from the Internal Revenue Service, voters will never see his tax returns.

Mr Trump’s other key ally is public cynicism, which is also fuelling the media’s ratings crisis. In 1954, the career of Joseph McCarthy, the senator behind the “red scare” witch-hunts, came to a sudden end in a televised hearing when an attorney proclaimed: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or recklessness. Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

It is hard to imagine what — or who — could publicly shame Mr Trump. The gatekeepers have gone. In those days, figures like Walter Cronkite, the legendary news anchor, could turn opinion with a morally charged soliloquy. Mr Cronkite’s authority drew from a middle ground that no longer exists. It hinged on the public’s trust that it was possible to be objective. In the absence of such trust, the best Mr Cronkite’s successors can do is resort to a hollow “he said, she said” neutrality — or drop the pretence altogether. This, too, Mr Trump plays like a violin.

US election poll tracker

Which White House candidate is leading in the polls?
Will it work on Monday night? Quite possibly. Most of today’s TV anchors say it is the other candidate’s job, not the moderator’s, to correct factual errors. Their favourite analogy is a sporting one in which best game is where the umpire’s role goes unnoticed. But the comparison does not stand up.

No soccer game would last a minute if it were up to the players to call out the opposing team’s fouls. A fair referee will discipline players on merit. If it means one team gets six yellow cards and the other only two, so be it. Nor will a referee be intimidated by the booing of the offending team’s fans. By all accounts, Lester Holt, the NBC anchor, who will moderate the first debate, will try to be fair-minded. But Mr Trump is playing games with his head. Mr Holt is a Democrat and therefore biased, he says, although voter records suggest that Mr Holt is a Republican. The whole event — and the general election — is probably rigged in Mrs Clinton’s favour, he claims.

It is worth marvelling at how well Mr Trump has played a conventionally weak hand. He has branded CNN, which devotes just four per cent of its Clinton coverage to her policies — a third of what it has allocated to her email scandal — as biased. He calls it the Clinton News Network.

The leading outlets devoted more airtime to Mr Trump’s assertion that Mrs Clinton created Isis, than to her policies for defeating it. The first was Trumpian invention. The second is serious business. But Mr Trump grasps a truth about today’s low-trust democracy that still eludes others. People want to be entertained. “I play to people’s fantasies,” Mr Trump wrote in his best-seller. On that playing field, Mrs Clinton’s edge disappears.

As a species we are always vulnerable to deception. Remember those Weimar types in early 1930s Germany? None of them could hold an audience.


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