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Inside the Trump Bubble

A view from inside the silo.
February 11, 2020
Inside the Trump Bubble
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump covers his face from TV lights as speaks to the media prior to departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, November 02, 2019. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

In a moment of weakness and jet-lagged naïveté I found myself musing that maybe, possibly, the new revelations about Donald Trump’s fleecing of taxpayers by charging the Secret Service exorbitant rates might make a difference with some of Trump’s base.

When I said this aloud, a younger and wiser colleague lowered his eyes, and shook his head. I think he was embarrassed for me.

Because of course it wouldn’t matter.

Just like the evidence about Trump’s meddling in Ukraine didn’t matter, or last week’s dual meltdowns at the Prayer Breakfast and in the East Room didn’t matter. You think the new budget and deficit numbers will move the needle? Or the fallout from the trade war? Or the 15,000-plus false statements he’s made since taking office? The probability of any of this mattering to Trump’s base ranges from “impossible” to “no effing way.”

We know this, right? Because we know that Trump has benefited from an alternative-reality bubble that has effectively isolated many of his supporters from inconvenient information. “The American Right,” Matthew Sheffield wrote back in 2016, “has become willfully disengaged from its fellow citizens thanks to a wonderful virtual-reality machine in which conservatives, both elite and grassroots, can believe anything they wish, no matter how at odds it is with reality.”

This is the explanation for one of the central and immutable facts of our politics: Trump’s approval rating has been remarkably durable and nearly immune to the shocks and jolts of the news cycle.

How does this work? Two emails I received this week highlight the challenges of breaking through the Trumpian bubble.

The first message came from a long time reader from New Berlin, Wisconsin, which is located in Crucial Waukesha County. (They should officially change the name.) He had been talking to a number of friends and colleagues. These are not stupid people. But they were remarkably uninformed and resistant to negative information. They had internalized many of the Trumpian talking points, and seemed to get much of their information not from traditional media outlets, but from Facebook. Here’s the email:

I will also point out that the same people who were extremely knowledgeable about what was going on during the Obama administration amazingly have very little knowledge of what’s going on day-to-day in the Trump administration and frankly they tell me they don’t want to know. Out of three people not one watched the East Room performance last Thursday, nor did they read about it or hear even drops from the tirade.

There is definitely a marked regression in knowledge of what’s going on politically during the Trump administration. Out of sight, out of mind.

It was difficult to challenge their points or even have an informed discussions with them, because whatever I mentioned, they had no knowledge of it occurring. Very much short on facts. Had all of the repeated Trumpisms, witch hunt, hoax, etc down pat. But if you try to drill down a little deeper you couldn’t hit home.

I included that email in my newsletter, where a reader from Seattle saw it, and then sent her own note. This is what she wrote. (I’ve changed the name to protect the clueless.)

I had the EXACT same experience on Friday. We are having electrical work done and our electrician asked me, since we are recently moved from Seattle, what we think of Trump. I pled the 5th; he went on to tell me he didn’t like some of the things Trump tweeted but he liked what he has done for the country.

I swear I am not making this up: Roger thinks Trump has saved the taxpayers money. Leeches and layabouts are no longer stealing from “us.” I think I looked a little confused about who, exactly was doing all the thieving. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate who “they” are. This is one of the biggest agricultural areas in the country, so in general people are pretty pro-Mexican, and if anything they didn’t like Obama’s making it harder to hire people to work on farms.

Roger likes the economy and gives Trump credit—his business is booming and he observed that you look around town and see lots of new fancy trucks—which I guess is the most accurate gauge of the economy. Trade wars hit our apple, beef, and wheat crops particularly hard, but Roger wasn’t in any way aware of how badly our county is harmed by the hits the export markets are taking.

He knew about Pelosi ripping “a government document.” Uday and Qusay’s living large? Blank look. The Ukraine thing? Nope.

Our area has been hit hard with flooding and it all broke loose Friday. Roger had to leave suddenly to help stack sandbags. I asked where he was getting his news about the flood and what help was needed where and he said Facebook.

This is a working guy and his wife has her own business—plus they have a farm. So they are busy people who don’t sit in front of a TV—they get their news on their phones from Facebook. It has replaced TV, radio, and newspaper for busy people.

Facebook has created an impermeable barrier so that people are NOT seeing anything that is different from what their tribe wants to believe. The worst part about it is that people think they are getting the news instantly—they have the illusion that they are instantly aware of what is going on, but the reality is a highly deceptive, manipulated, and curated dribble of propaganda.

When I asked her if I could use her email, she followed up. “The scary thing about Roger is that he’s the kind of guy that is the backbone of the community,” she wrote. “ Super smart, but no college. Wiring is a lot more complicated now than it used to be. Forty years ago he would have come home and watched an hour of news while his wife made dinner. Now I bet he makes dinner because he’s the one that punches out at 5:00 p.m. I grew up in a world of Rogers.”

And now, we all live in Roger’s world.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.