“WHAT is he talking about?”

That was my repeated reaction to last night’s…whatever you want to call it. I’ll bet a lot of you had that reaction, too.

Every moment Trump spoke, he produced “information,” “facts,” that were utterly unknown to me — and I have been closely following the news for these horrible years. “700,000 jobs” — what? “Insulin — like water.”  What???

I lasted one hour and fifteen minutes. Ergo, I missed Trump’s stellar performance as commander-in-chief of the white supremacist Proud Boys, the sole armed force Trump seems to command. (They’re on his level.)

It was unsettling, so the first thing I did today when I went to the Times web site was to  read their fact check story. And a big “whew.” Because they addressed a lot of those moments I was saying, “What is he talking about?”

(I just turned MSNBC on. Chuck Todd is questioning a Trump campaign adviser who’s yammering Trump-quality garbage, won’t let Todd talk, and Todd is saying, “What are you talking about?” Now Todd is saying, “You know you’re making stuff up.”)

But after I read the Times’ fact check story, I came back to my discomfort while listening to Trump’s gobbledegook. And I recalled the first time I had that helpless sense of “What is he talking about?” — helpless, because I could not say, “that’s false,” or “you made that up,” or even “where are you getting your facts?”

Years ago, BT (before Trump), I got together for dinner with a couple of friends from high school, a married couple. Both are highly intelligent and, in a specific area, probably geniuses.

Somewhere between the pizza and dessert, “Steven” started asking me pointed questions about the country’s state of affairs and, when I didn’t offer support for his dark point of view, he began giving me “facts” about what was really going on – mobs of black teenage boys were killing white people in U.S. cities and did I know these facts?

He absolutely knew I didn’t, he said, because the “liberal” media I followed weren’t reporting on them. And he knew this because he still read those “liberal” newspapers – he had to keep vigilance over what lies they were telling and what big stories they weren’t covering.

What? My immediate reaction was, he’s nuts. But my secondary reaction was uneasiness and bewilderment. I had no information at hand, no facts to refute what he was telling me. I knew it was crazy but without proof, something to cite, I couldn’t engage in an argument.

Later, I realized what Steven had done was the prescribed delivery system for false information. He presented it aggressively, claiming that the reason I knew nothing about it was because the major news media weren’t reporting it.

So he was handing off fake news derived from some source I’d never heard of, while claiming the credible news sources I followed had some dark reason for not telling me the Truth.

I had been attacked, disarmed and rendered mute at the same time. A deeply unpleasant feeling. You can’t argue against people who are rabid over fake news by telling them no real newspaper has corroborated it.

After Steven and his wife returned home, he emailed me the “news” he’d been referring to. It was the headline story in some vile internet rag. As racist as Steven’s reference had been, it was nothing compared to the monstrosity of this thing he sent me.

I was repelled. I deleted it without responding to him.

Later, I realized even if I’d possessed factual ammunition at the time, firing back at Steven would have been pointless. Like millions of others, he seems to have been captured by a kind of fearful cult that has erased facts from their followers’ minds, put them into a sort of trance. He would reject anything I’d said.

Last night Trump gave me that same feeling.

 

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