Liar-in-chief: Trump’s dystopian campaign of revisionist history

Liar-in-chief: Trump’s dystopian campaign of revisionist history

McKay Coppins writes:

On February 28, Donald Trump stood before a crowd of supporters in South Carolina and told them to pay no attention to the growing warnings of a coronavirus outbreak in America. The press was “in hysteria mode,” the president said. The Democrats were playing politics. This new virus was nothing compared with the seasonal flu—and anyone who said otherwise was just trying to hurt him. “This is their new hoax,” Trump proclaimed, squinting out from behind a podium adorned with the presidential seal.

Six weeks later, the coronavirus has killed more than 25,000 Americans, the U.S. economy has been crippled—and Trump is recasting himself as a pandemic prophet. At Monday’s White House briefing, the president responded to questions about his handling of the crisis by dimming the lights and playing an Orwellian campaign-style video: “THE MEDIA MINIMIZED THE RISK FROM THE START,” the onscreen text read, “WHILE THE PRESIDENT TOOK DECISIVE ACTION.”

This flagrant recasting of recent events wasn’t a fluke. For the past several months, I’ve been reporting on the “disinformation architecture” that Trump’s coalition of partisan media, propagandists, operatives, and trolls are relying on to reelect him. Their strategy has always been to drown out inconvenient facts with a noisy barrage of distortions—to “flood the zone with shit,” as Steve Bannon once put it. But in recent weeks, the president and his allies have been waging a dystopian campaign of revisionist history more brazen than anything they’ve attempted before.

If you’ve tuned in to one of the daily coronavirus-task-force briefings, you’ve likely seen Trump himself make the case. “I knew it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” the president boasted last month. “I knew everything,” he reiterated a couple of weeks later. Asked to assess his response to the virus, he responded emphatically, “I’d rate it at 10.”

Cable-news outlets have struggled with how to responsibly handle these briefings, which intersperse valuable updates from public-health officials with the president’s free-wheeling insult-comedy and medical misinformation. But the briefings command huge ratings—viewership at times rivals that of The Bachelor, as Trump has gleefully noted—and coverage of them trickles down into local newscasts and social media.

This dynamic has effectively enabled the president to narrate America’s national trauma, while editing his own role in it. There are signs that his efforts are working: One Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to describe private research, told me that when voters were shown 90 seconds of a recent Trump briefing, his performance in a general-election matchup against Joe Biden improved by more than two percentage points. [Continue reading…]

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