Friday, February 17, 2017

A Few More Trump Press Conference Thoughts: The Perfidy of the Media, Hillary Clinton Still The Rival

Now that a day has passed since our Dear Leader spoke to, and admonished, the media, I have these thoughts to offer about what makes Donald Trump tick.

1.  The press conference was largely about the Greatness Of One Donald Trump, and about attacking those who in his view are hampering the general adulation he so rightly deserves.

Thus, he kept returning to Hillary Clinton, he kept telling us how much better he is than Hillary Clinton, and he kept reminding us of his absolutely tremendous election victory.

He can't stop thinking about her, the rival who lost,  and this is not the typical pattern new presidents demonstrate when beginning their administration. But Trump is greatly bothered by her, by some niggling doubt that perhaps his victory wasn't quite that shining, quite that bigly, and so he can't stop addressing the topic.

2.  The most common theme in the press conference, by topic count, was Trump's great dislike of the media.  He returned to that topic several times, he admonished the journalists who were present, he demanded certain types of questions, and he kept telling the journalists that they represented fake news.

This is because the media is not sufficiently adulatory, not sufficiently in the anus kissing business.  Trump needs the crowds to cheer for him, and what is a press conference but a small crowd in front of him?  In short, the reasons for the two topics:  Hillary Clinton's perfidy and the crookedness of the media, have the same root:  Trump's narcissism.

3.  My final thought troubles me greatly, and that is the way Trump works to turn the media into his real opposition.  It smells of the treatment of the press in countries where the rulers are essentially dictators (Russia and Turkey come to mind), and it opens up the very real possibility that facts are whatever the Dear Leader wants them to be.

Trump's tirades against the media exclude the Fox News, because Fox is conservative and pro-Trump.  He likes praise!

But note that Trump's anger is squarely aimed at the most highly rated news organizations in the world:  the New York Times, the BBC and so on.  If he succeeds in making a sufficient number of his supporters into the deniers of those news that are most likely to be based on actual research and multiple sources, how are Americans ever able to agree on even what may have happened?

That is not a bug, but a feature in the plans of the power behind Trump's throne, Stephen Bannon.  Dictatorships require what Trump is trying to achieve here, although the reasons Trump attacks the press are much closer to home and have to do with having to read negative news about His Own Greatness.

The question how to determine what "truth"  might be is complicated and philosophically difficult.*  But Trump's only statement on how he decides what  is fake and what is true is demanding that he be viewed as a credible eye-witness:  "I was there."

The problem is that he is not an impartial observer of the events.  Rather' he is the center of the whirlpool and he is extremely interested in shining a good light on himself. 

  *  But it's feasible to explain how one might try to establish, say, the truth of an academic study:

Establish the credibility of the individuals who carried the study out (based on their curriculum vitae, academic reputations and earlier studies), and the credibility of the journal that published the study, assuming it is a published study (whether it is peer-reviewed, whether access to publishing is just based on paying money etc., the rejection rate of the journal etc.).

Learn about any public statements of the researchers, their membership in various political organizations, and other opinions they have given in interviews.

But NONE of that means anything, except for being a small additional check.

Most of the verification should be focused on finding what other studies, deemed central in the field have found, and of course what the study itself says.  The methods of the study, the theories it chooses to address or to hide, its sampling method, the size of the sample and its composition, the measures the study uses:  All these must be evaluated.  Does the study have methodological errors, data handling errors or severe omissions of alternative explanations?  Do its conclusions follow from its findings?

And if the evaluator's skills or knowledge are insufficient for all that work, then the study authors and other experts should be used to find the answers to unsolved questions.

Doing all this doesn't guarantee that the final assessment is correct, but the alternatives are much worse.