Are We In The Age of Internet Hysteria

Dare I use the word “hysteria” when discussing how the national media currently covers national affairs? I’ll leave that up to you.

Let’s start with the 2020 presidential election, which Donald Trump lost. He lost the popular vote and the Electoral College vote. After the election, the votes were recounted several times in “battleground” states, and those state officials — some of whom were hard-core Republicans — certified the results. On top of that, the U.S. Supreme Court, despite being partially packed by Trump during his administration, refused to hear any cases arguing to the contrary.

Furthermore, even if this phantom epidemic of fraud could somehow be conjured out of thin air, there is no mechanism in the Constitution for “re-installing” a defeated president. Yogi Berra once said: “It’s not over until it’s over,” but in this case, it’s over. This is precisely why they don’t make elections open-ended.

An old poker saying is appropriate here: “The winners kept laughing and telling jokes, and the losers kept saying ‘Deal the cards.'”

The cards have been dealt, the table cleared, and the lights turned out. There is as much chance of Donald Trump being “re-installed” as there is of Harry Truman coming back from the grave.

Except that this is the Internet age, when common sense has taken a back seat to immediacy. In the days before the Internet, before the concept of “news” was turned on its head, Trump’s claims would have been written off as nothing more than the griping of a sore loser, and we would have moved on. Tough luck, Donald — how about a rematch in 2024?

The problem is, there was just enough of a factual germ lurking in the background to make the “Big Lie” vaguely plausible. There has, indeed, been concern about the danger of nefarious forces manipulating elections with the click of a mouse. According to rumor, someone even came up with a software program that could change every third vote for Candidate A to a vote for Candidate B.

Not this time, though. The votes in Georgia and Arizona, and Pennsylvania were counted and counted and counted again. The t’s were crossed, the i’s dotted. Moreover, Trump’s poll ratings were underwater at the time of the election, so it isn’t as though Joe Biden had pulled off some inexplicable upset.

Still, this is what Donald Trump does. He is the king of smoke and mirrors.

By all accounts, Trump’s business career has been largely based on illusion. Among other things, he ran casinos and served as a reality show host, hardly occupations that would normally enshrine someone’s credibility. Yet the man is a magician, attracting attention in one direction while he pulls off his tricks in the other.

This is a skill he took with him into politics. Somehow, Trump managed to convince a sizable segment of so-called “working class” voters that rich people (the “elites”) were the cause of all their perceived problems. But not him, even though he lived in a penthouse and spent much of his time on a luxury golf course.

The two major political parties were once divided by something called “issues.” Now, these are often simply made-up fantasies that take on a life of their own.

Immigrants from Mexico are pouring over the border to take our jobs. Democratic politicians (but only Democrats) moonlight as sex traffickers. A long-dead South American strongman actually founded the Dominion voting machine company.

Does any of this make sense? It doesn’t matter — thanks to the Internet, it’s now “out there” and thus has to be addressed. I keep thinking about an eerily prescient Don Henley tune called “The Garden of Allah,” in which the Devil proclaims: “I am an expert witness. Why? Because I say, I am.”

So who are these “expert witnesses” that Donald Trump brings out to testify on his behalf? A lawyer (Sidney Powell) who lost every 2020 election-related case in which she participated, a convicted felon whom Trump had pardoned (Michael Flynn), assorted family members, and, lest I forget, the My Pillow Guy.

The My Pillow Guy declared in one media interview (and why, in the name of Edward R. Murrow, is anyone interviewing this person about anything other than pillows?) that the Supreme Court would, when faced with the shocking secret evidence he has collected, make Joe Biden’s victory “go bye-bye.”

Asked to elaborate about the judicial mechanics of this, the My Pillow Guy said something like: “I don’t really know that much about legal stuff.”

It’s as if someone were to gain the attention of millions by predicting, with no evidence, that Florida would be hit with record snowfall in July, only to admit, “but I really don’t know much about that weather stuff.”

Back in the saner days of media, someone like the My Pillow Guy would politely (or maybe not so politely) be turned away and told: “Listen, when you actually come up with that evidence you’re talking about, we’d love to see it. In the meantime, don’t call us …”

Now, though, it’s all about which media outlet can grab the most short-term attention. Thus, they interview the My Pillow Guy and trash-talking rookie House member Marjorie Taylor Greene (Jewish laser beams causing California wildfires?) and other conspiracy peddlers, thereby anointing them with visibility and causing the whole crazy misinformation spin cycle to rotate even faster.

It’s no longer about Republicans versus Democrats, conservatives versus liberals. Instead, it’s about common sense versus … the alternative.

For better or worse, the Internet has the power to make outsiders feel important. But, unfortunately, it can also take a single small event or public comment and magnify it far out of proportion.

Michael Flynn had just finished addressing a group of like-minded people recently when someone asked: “Why couldn’t we have a coup, like in Myanmar?”

“No reason,” Flynn replied.

The news media immediately seized on that quote as some sort of declaration of war. Even Flynn later disavowed it.

Maybe I’m wrong, but the whole “American democracy is in grave peril” fixation in the media seems forced.

Who would carry out this supposed coup? The Proud Boys? It probably wouldn’t be the actual military — why would they want to overthrow the government when it gives them all the money they could want and more? Moreover, anyone joining the military swears an oath to the Constitution. Finally, most of the military brass don’t even like Trump.

We tend to forget an important fact about the Jan. 6 uprising at the Capitol — thousands of people were already milling about on the Capitol grounds when the trouble started, so it isn’t as if some fearsome, well-organized army came goosestepping up Capitol Hill and through the gates. After fences went up and the surrounding streets closed off, nothing happened on Inauguration Day.

In other words, the media is attributing considerable power and influence to an obviously disorganized group of people acting on a variety of impulses.

As for the restrictive voting laws being passed by Republican state legislatures, this is hardly new — Republicans have been trying to neutralize Democratic-leaning voters for generations. Are they doing that now because many of these voters are black or Hispanic, or simply because they are likely to vote Democratic? Either way, legal challenges to some of these laws are inevitable — and even if they aren’t racist at their core, the optics, as they say, will look very bad in a general election.

It seems, therefore, like a potentially serious miscalculation for the GOP to tie itself so firmly to Donald Trump and his Trumpified version of the 2020 election. By next year — and especially by 2024 — Trump’s national influence may well have waned. He is not only out of sight these days, but largely muffled, except for planned rallies that will only attract diminishing numbers of people who already love him. And we Americans have a very short attention span.

Instead of threatening democracy, the Republicans seem to be trying to put their own spin on it. Except for their overly hyped lunatic fringe, you don’t hear any of them saying: “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to have Donald Trump back in office as an absolute dictator?” They’re simply using Trump as a pawn, just as he has used them.

The national media doesn’t seem to care. After all, fear sells advertising.

Maybe we all need to take a deep breath. If the sky was really falling, Jeff Bezos wouldn’t be talking about going up in space.

Darrell Laurant
Founder at Snowflakes in a Blizzard | + posts

Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."

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