I'm not sure how it's possible for Donald Trump to get in a fight with Golf Magazine, considering that golf is the closest thing he has to a sacrament, but there you have it. Next month, perhaps, we will witness an epic showdown with Gilded Armchair Monthly or Wall Builder's Digest.
Golf Magazine has attained the presidential seal of disapproval, designated by the words Fake News, for revealing an unflattering anecdote contained in an upcoming Sports Illustrated story: The President is said to have told golfing companions at a course he owns in Bedminster, N.J., that he spends so much time on the links because "that White House is a real dump."
While it's piquant to imagine a U.S. president channelling Bette Davis in this manner, Mr. Trump denied on Twitter that he had said any such thing. Instead, the report was "TOTALLY UNTRUE" (I don't provide the capitalization, folks, I just transcribe it). The author of the golfing story, Alan Shipnuck, says he heard the anecdote from multiple sources. No matter: Golf Magazine enters the winner's circle with other Fake News champions including the Failing New York Times, the Amazon Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS. Mr. Trump brands his media foes "the enemy of the American people."
What is a president to do, faced with such calumny? In some countries that shall remain nameless, a loudspeaker is placed in individual homes in order to broadcast the dear leader's message unfiltered. That seems a crude mechanism for the world's richest, most sophisticated country. Instead, Mr. Trump has decide to launch a "newscast" on his Facebook page to reach directly into viewers' homes.
The Trumpcast is hosted by the President's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who perhaps drew the short straw at the last family barbecue. "I bet you haven't heard about all the accomplishments the President's had this week because there's so much fake news out there," she said in the video. Then she went on to outline some of those highlights, including Mr. Trump's donation of his salary to the Department of Education, the booming stock market and the deal that will bring a Foxconn manufacturing plant to Wisconsin.
She failed to mention that Foxconn will likely receive hundreds of millions in tax rebates from Wisconsin, but I'm sure that was strictly due to time restrictions (the President's weekly accomplishments were contained in a brisk 2 1/2 minutes). Nor did she mention Mr. Trump's tweet-decree banning transgender people from the armed forces or the smoking pile of rubble that was the failed Obamacare repeal. Those might appear in next week's episode, "Dateline Apocalypse."
All politicians try to reach voters directly, without the pesky interference of news outlets, especially in the age of social media. On the loose now is a different beast, one that seeks to destroy. Mr. Trump's strategy hinges on delegitimizing all criticism of his presidency, and setting up an alternative ecosystem of information delivery in its place.
And it's working. Consider that 72 per cent of Trump voters believe the story of possible Russian interference in the presidential election is so-called fake news, according to the firm Public Policy Polling. Even more jarring, only 45 per cent of those voters believe Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting with Russians, the polling firm notes with a sense of disbelief that seems positively 2015, "even though Trump Jr. admitted it."
The genesis of the media ecosystem favoured by the President, encompassing Fox News, Breitbart, Twitter and darker corners of the Internet you wouldn't visit without a hazmat suit, is outlined in Joshua Green's new book Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency. Mr. Bannon – "a Falstaff in flip-flops," in Mr. Green's memorable description – understood exactly how peevish young digital warriors could be used as shock troops, both to write inflammatory stories for Breitbart's website and to drive those messages through platforms like 4chan and Reddit.
More important, Mr. Trump for the past several years has shown an uncanny ability to adapt to this chaotic, conspiracy-loving landscape. When mainstream media turned on Mr. Trump after he promoted lies about former president Barack Obama's birthplace, the fringe right welcomed him with spindly arms. As Mr. Green writes, "he jumped the tracks to the parallel world of right-wing websites and talk radio. Here, his celebrity could still garner him the validation and genuflection he constantly craved."
The campaign over and his victory secured – the most tremendous victory in history, the biggest crowds, everyone says – you might think that Mr. Trump could put down his rhetorical weapons for a minute. He could recognize, for the good of the country, that there is some healing to be done. Instead, he's set fire to the very notion of truth and observed reality. Now the compelling question, as James Warren recently noted in Vanity Fair, "is whether Trump and people like him have so degraded basic notions of fact and authority that truth no longer matters."
It's hard to think of a more pertinent question for today. It would make an excellent subject for debate – on a newscast, let's say. Someone should suggest it to Lara Trump.