Trump’s fake-news pres­i­dency

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Dana Milbank Colum­nist Fol­low Dana Milbank on Twit­ter, @Milbank.

Buzz Feed re­ported re­cently that fake news sto­ries about the elec­tion gen­er­ated more en­gage­ment on Face­book than the top elec­tion sto­ries from 19 ma­jor news out­lets -- com­bined.

And that’s not the half of it.

Not only is fake news get­ting more at­ten­tion than ac­tual news but the lead­ing pur­veyor of fake news in the United States is now the pres­i­dent-elect.

For 17 months, Don­ald Trump treated the na­tion to a se­ries of out­landish prom­ises. He’ll elim­i­nate the $19 tril­lion fed­eral debt in eight years. He’ll bal­ance the bud­get with­out cut­ting So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and other en­ti­tle­ments. He’ll bring back lost coal jobs. He’ll make Mex­ico pay for a bor­der wall. He’ll de­port 11 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants while grow­ing the econ­omy by at least 6 per­cent.

Now Trump is the pres­i­dent-elect, and it’s time to de­liver on the im­pos­si­ble. No won­der his tran­si­tion is racked with chaos and infighting. Scrip­ture tells us you can’t serve both God and mam­mon. Yet Trump pro­poses to be served by both Reince Priebus and Stephen Ban­non — one a chief of staff who is a paragon of the es­tab­lish­ment and the other a top ad­viser who is a lead­ing voice for white su­prem­a­cists. The ar­ray of im­pos­si­ble prom­ises and false claims has all the ap­pear­ances of a Ponzi scheme, with the $18 tril­lion U.S. econ­omy in the bal­ance. Bernie Mad­off’s scheme lost only $50 bil­lion.

Early in­di­ca­tions are that Trump plans to con­tinue to fake it. On Thurs­day night, he tweeted that as a result of his work with Ford, the au­tomaker would keep a plant that makes Lin­coln SUVs “in Ken­tucky — no [sic] Mex­ico.”

But Ford had never planned to close the Ken­tucky plant. It was merely plan­ning to make more Ford Es­capes in­stead of Lin­colns there — a change that would have re­sulted in no job losses. Ford is pro­ceed­ing with its pre­vi­ously an­nounced plan to build a new fac­tory in Mex­ico.

We see the Ponzi scheme un­rav­el­ing in the sub­stance of what Trump is propos­ing, too. One of Trump’s sur­ro­gates, Carl Hig­bie, caused a furor last week by say­ing the in­fa­mous in­tern­ment of Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War II pro­vided a le­gal “prece­dent” for Trump’s plan to cre­ate a Mus­lim registry. But for all the out­rage Hig­bie caused, the ac­tual pol­icy be­ing floated — re­in­state­ment of a Ge­orge W. Bush-era pol­icy — is far more mod­est than Trump’s pro­posed ban on Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion and threat to reg­is­ter Amer­i­can Mus­lims.

This is the best-case sce­nario — that Trump’s fake news pres­i­den­tial cam­paign re­ally was all a con. Pre­pos­ter­ous prom­ises give way to mod­est pro­pos­als. This would dis­ap­point his sup­port­ers, but per­haps save the coun­try.

Trump’s vow that Car­rier would re­verse its plans to move a fac­tory to Mex­ico and elim­i­nate 1,400 U.S. jobs by 2019? Car­rier is con­tin­u­ing with its plans.

No sur­prise that the tran­si­tion is chaotic. Lob­by­ists are in, then out. Chris Christie and Mike Rogers are in, then out. Frank Gaffney is in, or per­haps not. Eliot Co­hen with­draws his co­op­er­a­tion, pre­dict­ing “ugly” things ahead.

And Trump says ev­ery­thing is pro­ceed­ing “so smoothly.”

The Bri­tish are fum­ing be­cause at least nine for­eign lead­ers, in­clud­ing Egypt’s, reached Trump be­fore theirs. Trump plays cat-and-mouse with the national press corps and con­tin­ues to tweet like an in­ter­net troll, com­plete with bad spelling. His ad­vis­ers give con­tra­dic­tory ac­counts about per­son­nel de­ci­sions. Qual­i­fied can­di­dates are re­jected in fa­vor of loy­al­ists.

You can’t make this stuff up. Or maybe you can. Paul Horner, the lead­ing pur­veyor of fake news on Face­book, told The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey he was stunned by Amer­i­cans’ gullibility: “I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said what­ever he wanted, and peo­ple be­lieved ev­ery­thing.”

But surely you can’t fool all the peo­ple all the time.

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