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James McArdle discusses Donald Trump, #Pizzagate and Plato's uncanny democratic populist prediction.

PAUL MCGEOUGH'S frightening, must-read article in the Sydney Morning Herald refers to a scandal – possibly Russian inspired – involving leaked emails, where pizza parlour owner James Alefantis and Hillary Clinton's chief of staff John Podesta discuss a fundraising event.

The exchange apparently provides irrefutable "proof" of Hillary Clinton personally running a child sex ring from the basement of the premises, with "pizza", I’d imagine, being used as a code word for child-trafficking.

At least Watergate derived its name from an upmarket office complex but Pingpongpizzagate?

But what incriminating information was in these emails? Now, it can't be: Just a heads-up James, Hillary’s coming around tonight to personally check on her child sex slaves in your cellar.

Because there is no evidence. None. As McGeough points out, some innocent remarks were taken out of context, cobbled together, then transmitted Chinese whispers-like, through half a dozen looney right-wing websites, like The Donald and The Vigilant Citizens, to emerge as an article headlined: '"Pizzagate": How 4Chan uncovered the sick world of Washington's occult elite'.  

The story involves: 

'... a strange network of high-powered people who, through art, events and social media, actually celebrate a culture that revolves around death, torture, cannibalism and … child abuse.'

The Late Show host Stephen Colbert discusses #Pizzagate (source: @colbertlateshow).

The upshot? An idiot with an assault rifle enters a Washington pizzeria and at gunpoint orders a large pepperoni to go, then demands to check out the basement while he's waiting.

Well, this is where things ramp up a bit. At the forefront of these allegations is Michael Flynn Jr, then one of Trump's transition team (who incidentally continues to transition smoothly despite his recent departure). He is also the son of retired Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn Snr, who is reputed to have fought Ben "Mad Dog" Carson to a standstill for the right to be nicknamed Mad Dog Flynn.

Carson – now bringing his foreign policy expertise to his new post as housing and urban development secretary – once said:

"... he is not opposed to a Palestinian state, but questioned why it needs "to be within the confines of Israeli territory …. Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt?"

But I digress. Flynn Snr, Trump’s new national security adviser, is convinced that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology. 

Which brings me to Plato, who opposed democracy, because of what he believed were its inevitable consequences. A populist would come along, promising ever more bread and lower taxation, while warning about an implacable foe at the gate, if not already inside. In ancient Greece, the successful populist would be he who could shout the loudest in the agora.

But Plato’s critique seems out of date now. Mass literacy and modern newspapers have changed everything. For two centuries, the press and then television and radio have been a bulwark against the modern-day populist. It has been their role to investigate the imposter, reveal his dirty secrets and hold him up to ridicule — like Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live. Unmask him for what he is — an empty, self-serving braggart. 

Since the 20th Century, step one for authoritarian regimes and dictatorships has always been to transform the media into a propaganda mouthpiece. Trouble is, you can’t do that in a democracy. And this is where we get to the nub of McGeough’s article. He points out that Trump has 30 million followers — 30 million! And where do they get their news and views from? Alt-right websites on Twitter and Facebook. 

An example:

"Did you hear President Obama said that illegal people could vote?” asked Camerota, only to be greeted with nods from the panel.

“Tell me, where?”

“You could find it — Google it. You could find it on Facebook,” said another Trump supporter.

If those followers/disciples do have a newspaper of record, it is likely to be the National Enquirer rather than the Washington Post. Their "facts" – McGeough calls them "Trump-era facts" – come from @realDonaldTrump, where they are told that the media are all part of an elitist conspiracy. So, why bother reading anything they say about him? Why bother with the media at all, when you can go straight to the source, right there on his Twitter feed?

A perfect example may be occurring now, with the CIA confirming that Russia had some involvement in Trump’s election. Republican Senator McCain has made what seems to be a reasonable argument. The facts are there and this needs to be investigated. National security is involved.

The president-elect’s response:

"I don’t believe it. I don’t know why and I think it’s just you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it’s another excuse."

Well, that’s that then. A Trump era-fact, if you can work it out. If Trump tweets to that effect – and it is a neat 140 characters – then it’s the "truth". The Washington Post can call foul and investigate and uncover all it likes, but it will be in vain.

With 30 million followers on the Twittersphere, Trump can shout louder than everybody else in the agora.

Plato was right.

You can follow James McArdle on Twitter @jamesMcArdle7.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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