Shortly after the election of Donald Trump, Russian exile Masha Gessen's essay Autocracy: Rules for Survival swept the internet, offering both hope and caution for the years to come.
Less noticed, but equally important, have been Gessen's follow-on essays about the overblown reputation and essential weakness of Vladimir Putin and the dangerous distraction represented by Russian interference conspiracy theories.
In a new essay, Gessen cites careful, large-scale analyses that show that "fake news" primarily afflicts the political right, and further, that the Trump supporters consuming this fake news are already convinced of its worldview, are immune to fact-checking (and almost never consume fact-checks) — but that, despite this, Americans of all stripes, including die-hard Trump supporters, know that the GOP tax plan was terrible (I would add that there is similar bipartisan disgust with the FCC's annihilation of Net Neutrality).
Which suggests that, despite fake news and the imperviousness of Trumpists to reality checks about Benghazi and Pizzagate, "most Americans share a fact-based view of reality."
It's a complicated and nuanced idea — there are areas where wrong people are intractably wrong, and others, like healthcare and taxation, where no amount of disinformation makes an impact.
Still, the most salient, consistent, and counterintuitive result of these studies is that the image of the American public as divided into two equal partisan bubbles is wrong. Opinion data on Trumpian tax reform is real-life proof that most Americans share a fact-based view of reality. Poll after poll showed that voters opposed the tax bill, and that they did so on the basis of accurate information: they believed that it would benefit the rich. If there were indeed two equal-sized information bubbles in this country, one might reasonably expect half the population to buy Trump's incessantly repeated line that the bill constituted a tax cut for the middle class. One would also expect roughly half the voters to support repealing the Affordable Care Act. That a majority of Americans support Obamacare and do not support the tax law is proof that accurate reporting still matters—sort of.
Members of Congress who voted for the tax bill, which will disproportionately benefit the very wealthy and will gut Obamacare, may be justified in assuming that they can afford to make their donors happy at the expense of their voters: partisanship and gerrymandering, they reckon, will keep their seats safe. In other words, an informed public is a necessary condition of democracy, but not a sufficient one. Democracy may indeed die in darkness, but light is no guarantee that it will survive.
Fighting Fake News Is Not the Solution [Masha Gessen/New Yorker]
(via Naked Capitalism)