Illustration by Spencer Olson

Fact-Checking a Trump Supporter in a ‘Post-Truth’ World

MEL’s earnest attempt to burst our own liberal bubble

Trump’s election victory signaled a systemic failure of our information ecosystem. Virtually no mainstream media outlet gave him a chance at winning. The New York Times had Trump’s odds in the single percentage points for much of election season before raising them to a paltry 15 percent just before Election Day. The Huffington Post predicted a Hillary Clinton victory with an astounding 98.2 percent certainty. FiveThirtyEight, a site dedicated to objective statistical analysis, gave Trump a 28.6 percent shot. “We were not having a reality-based election,” CNN’s John King said on election night, while handling his electoral map. MEL was guilty, as well. Our entire office — save for one lowly blogger — thought a Hillary Clinton presidency was a near-certainty.

Many have blamed social media, particularly Facebook, for the disconnect. Personalization features allow users to filter out any opinions or information that might challenge their existing political beliefs. For people on the left, it gave the false impression Hillary was certain to win. And on the right, it allowed a disturbing amount of misinformation to spread unchecked.

Humbled by the election results, and troubled by the role misinformation might have played in them, MEL wanted to make a genuine effort to engage those outside our progressive bubble. (We’re located in Los Angeles County, where 71.4 percent of voters went for Clinton.) Our efforts led us to Trump supporter and Reddit user Xahnel. We initially asked Xahnel for an interview about his media consumption habits. His response revealed that we didn’t just disagree about Trump’s fitness for the presidency, or the relative merits of various news outlets; we couldn’t even agree on the facts by which to form our political opinions.

This seems to be because our media consumption is so different. Xahnel’s primary news sources are r/the_donald, a reddit community for Trump supporters, and conservative YouTube personalities including Milo Yiannopoulos and Steven Crowder. He also occasionally listens to conservative AM radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

The danger of information bubbles is they allow inaccurate and even outright fabricated news to reinforce our biases and amplify the worst of what we all might want to believe.

So below is our effort to reach or at least, approximate a factual consensus regarding Trump, the election and what’s transpired since his victory. In bold are portions of Xahnel’s original message, interspersed with commentary and fact-checking from MEL. Our goal is to engage Xahnel and other Trump supporters in a productive political conversation. Here’s hoping we’re not too post-truth for such a thing.

Your magazine is biased. Your presentation is biased. I’d bet your entire organization is biased.

You are not incorrect. MEL has a progressive sensibility, and we don’t hide that. But having a particular set of values doesn’t necessarily mean we’re incapable of engaging in a fact-based discussion about Trump (or any subject).

I have spent this election being insulted by the media and by the politicians and by the celebrities. I have spent this entire election being lied to about Trump.

“Oh, he called all Hispanics rapists!” No, he said Mexico was sending criminals across the border.

Trump’s oft-referenced “rapists” quote occurred last summer in his speech announcing his presidential run: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

So, yes, he never said, “All Hispanics are rapists.” Instead, he made a long public statement portraying Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, and included one offhand comment about how some of them might be upstanding human beings. There’s also zero evidence that Mexico actively forces citizens across its northern border.

“Trump said he grabbed women by the pussy, he’s a rapist!” No, he was bragging about how easy it is to get laid, that women wanted him, that they made it easy for him, threw themselves at him. And while bragging about one’s sexual conquests is quite crude, there was never any assault.

Well, he actually said his celebrity entitles him to “Grab [women] by the pussy,” which doesn’t really square with your image of women throwing themselves at Trump or wanting the attention, does it?

Oh, and let’s address the women who came forward alleging he assaulted them. Amazing that you don’t hear anything about them anymore. The last article I can find is Allred demanding Trump not sue her and her accusers. Amazing how no one ever apologizied [sic] after one by one his accusers were demonstrated to be liars. And don’t even get me started on the fake child rape case that a fucking Jerry Springer producer is behind.

Some women have actually reiterated their allegations against Trump at great risk of personal harm, including People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff and Trump’s former business partner Jill Harth, both of whom are aghast he was elected amid their allegations. And attorney Gloria Allred did not ask Trump not to sue her clients who have accused Trump of sexual assault. Rather, she said she would “defend them vigorously” were Trump to sue.

By contrast, the child-rape case (a civil suit, since dropped) does seem highly questionable. But its dubious nature has been covered at length by left-leaning sites like Vox, The Huffington Post and even the prominent feminist blog Jezebel, so it doesn’t really fit the bill for a liberal-media conspiracy. (In fact, one of the major forces behind the case was anti-abortion activist and conservative donor Steve Baer.)

Do you in the media know what the words ‘sarcasm’ and ‘hyperbole’ mean?

Have literally never heard of them.

Those are verbal tools used for humor, or to emphasize a point. There was a key quote that I saw that explained the media’s squealing perfectly:

“I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. … I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment, their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.”

But there’s evidence Trump supporters, including some on r/the_donald, interpreted Trump’s wall promise literally. He insisted it would be a “real wall” at a June rally in Albuquerque, and he frequently mentioned its specific height. He has since backed off, saying a portion of the wall would be a fence. Then again, Trump does exaggerate so often that his own supporters have said they know most of what he says is purely for show.

Trump is a big fan of tools of language like humor, sarcasm, and hyperbole. So when he says ‘ten feet higher’, while Politifact feels the need to ‘debunk’ the literal statement, we supporters chuckle and enjoy the sentiment. When he says ‘Mexico is sending criminals’, we understand that the Mexican government isn’t literally sending anyone, they just aren’t doing shit to stop it.

So while the media was taking Trump literally, but laughing at his chances, while HuffPo was declaring with 98% certainty that America would choose a criminal who was protected by a dirty cop over the entertainer son of New York, we were taking him seriously.

This brings up an interesting point about the relationship between Trump supporters and Trump’s words. Clearly he knows his audience and how to inspire them. But isn’t it the media’s job to take powerful people’s statements literally? And isn’t it worrisome we can’t expect to take the president-elect at his word?

Expecting the public to discern when Trump is and isn’t being sincere is a dangerous proposition. “[W]hen you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re president of the United States. Everybody around the world is paying attention,” President Obama recently said. A misinterpretation could be catastrophic on global scale, and that is not hyperbole.

And even now the media is lying. The media is spreading fear declaring that Trump is going to make America a white supremacists [sic] paradise, dragging out the dying KKK to wave about like the perverbial boogieman [sic], pretending that he’ll abolish gayness, put women back in the kitchens and on the delivery table.

“Paradise” might not be the right word, but he’s made our country more comfortable for white supremacists by appointing Breitbart executive Steve Bannon as chief strategist, a move praised by the KKK and American Nazi Party.

But his first three cabinet choices are a black man, a gay man, and a woman.

The black man you reference is presumably Ben Carson, who has since taken himself out of consideration. The gay man and woman you reference are presumably Richard Grenell and Ronna Romney McDaniel, who are being considered for ambassador to the U.N. and Republican Party chairwoman, respectively. (The latter is not a cabinet position, for the record.)

So far, the only cabinet-ranking members appointed are the aforementioned Bannon and establishment Republican Reince Priebus. So much for draining the swamp.

Newsflash: I don’t hate groups (well, that’s not entirely accurate, I hate terrorists). If I’m gonna dislike someone, I let them earn it as an individual. I am not sexist, I am not racist, I am not homophobic (I am, in fact, bi), I am not bigoted that I am aware of.

Great news! There’s hope for you still.

But I think you’ve touched on a fundamental disagreement between the right and left over what constitutes racism, sexism, homophobia and all other kinds of bigotry. For instance, most of us at MEL believe trying to overturn Roe v. Wade to be inherently misogynistic, since doing so would deny many women the power to control what happens to their bodies—a right that men take for granted. Saying that a significant portion of Mexican immigrants are criminals amounts to racism in our book. So does encouraging violence against protesters at Trump rallies, many of whom happened to be people of color (coincidentally, I’m sure).

Even Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan can be interpreted as hostile to women and people of color. Great again for whom? White men who have lost power as society has become more equitable?

And that was really what pushed him over the top and into landslide territory.

Is losing the popular vote by some 1.5 million votes a landslide?

The media insulted us, the voters. Instead of speaking to us, finding out and assuaging out [sic] concerns, we were talked down to and denigrated as lesser beings. And now look where that has led. It seems daily on the_donald I see another story of leftist crybullies assaulting people for exercising their most sacred American right, voting how they pleased. I saw a mother throw her eight year old son out of her house to punish him for daring to vote Trump in a fake election. Meanwhile, I have yet to find a single instance of actual abuse coming from our side. Thus far, the only two I’ve seen were faked (a young Muslim woman claimed she was assaulted, then told cops she lied; a young gay man claimed he was assaulted, but it turns out he’s a special effects makeup artist, and he has since deleted his online presence).

This seems to be a hard place for us to exist within similar landscapes of truth. You note that Trump’s fans have faced real backlash for their views, but you believe that the people who allege mistreatment by Trump supporters are making up their claims. That seems unfair and unrealistic, doesn’t it?

A Trump supporter reportedly punched a woman in a Brooklyn restaurant earlier this week. Was this staged? What about the below video of a Trump protester being tackled off some steps at Ohio State University?

Meanwhile, George Soros is provably funding these fake riots, demanding that we dispose of the one thing keeping the nation from being run by big city liberals, the electoral college, because Hillary supposedly won the popular vote (even though we have huge amounts of provable vote fraud from across the country, some reports claiming the fake votes total over three million.)

The protests formed organically, and there is really no evidence to suggest otherwise. But you are right that lots of people are mad about the electoral college.

Voter fraud is exceedingly low in the United States—almost nonexistent. There were only 10 documented cases of voter impersonation from 2000 to 2012, according to a recent analysis by News21, a joint investigative reporting venture by the Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. The InfoWars story about 3 million votes coming from illegal aliens is based entirely on unverified tweets from Gregg Phillips, who readily admits he has a conservative agenda. Why should we believe this man’s analysis?

https://twitter.com/JumpVote/status/797218284034752512

And what does your magazine do? You display Abraham Lincoln protesting.

You have a lot of work to do if you honestly want to reform, and remove your bias. I have an idea. How about you start with an open interview of members of the_donald? You talk to the mods, you post your questions, we’ll answer them. We’d be glad to get our side of the story out.

That actually sounds like a good idea.

Feel free to publish what I’ve said here. Just know that if you misuse my words, I will be laying out everything bare for the internet to see.