Republicans in Congress have spent most of the last two years on two legislative initiatives: 1. The unsuccessful effort to repeal Obamacare, and 2. The successful passage of Trump's tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
Donald Trump to the rescue.
Trump has seized on a migrant caravan of several thousand people from Central America that is making its way through Mexico. The caravan has given Trump a vessel to shift the conversation from unpopular policy positions to his political comfort zone -- fear and bigotry.
In a series of tweets, Trump claimed that the caravan had been infiltrated by "unknown Middle Easterners" and "criminals." The caravan, Trump says, is the result of policies of the Democratic Party. These claims are entirely made up.
Journalists traveling with the caravan for days report that they have not seen a single "Middle Eastern" person. Trump does not know the criminal history of those traveling in the caravan -- many of them are families with young children.
While Trump presents the group as an immediate threat to the United States, they are traveling by foot and remain more than a thousand miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. It's unclear how many migrants, if any, will complete the journey.
All of this, of course, is beside the point. Trump isn't interested in the facts. He's interested in shifting the political conversation. And he's succeeding.
Trump has not been able to do this alone. He's had a lot of help from the right-wing puke funnel. Trump vomits words, and a constellation of collaborators gets them everywhere.
Trump's wild claims about the caravan have been amplified by numerous Republican politicians, including those who market themselves as a sober counterbalance to Trump. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example, tweeted that the caravan "was manufactured by supporters of a radical agenda." Who these puppetmasters are and how they convinced several thousand people to trek across Mexico goes unstated.
In a follow-up tweet, Rubio said that "every candidate for federal office in the midterms should be asked" about the caravan.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that Trump was "right" and described the caravan as a "threat against national sovereignty." He does not explain how a few thousand people from Central America, many of them children, represent a "threat" to American self-governance.
Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), a candidate to be House Speaker if Republicans maintain control of the chamber, said the caravan was proof Democrats want a "borderless hemisphere." Jordan is inaccurately quoting something Hillary Clinton said at a private event about trade, not immigration. Her remarks were summarized in an email which was hacked, and then published by Wikileaks.
It's unclear why this is relevant since Hillary Clinton is not the president or in any other elected position. But it keeps the story moving.
Trump bolsters his fact-free claims using the power of the federal government. On Tuesday, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Tyler Q. Houlton, tweeted that "Citizens of countries outside Central America, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere are currently traveling through Mexico toward the U.S."
Notably, Houlton's tweet did not specify that these citizens from the "Middle East" were traveling with the caravan. Later, "DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman clarified that the tweet about non-Central American migrants does refer to the caravan specifically."
There are people from various countries who travel through Mexico every day. There are 350 million legal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border every year. Houlton misled the public with his official government account to support Trump's inaccurate claims. And he did it on purpose.
Houlton also said there were members of the caravan with criminal histories, but provided no proof. In a group of several thousand people, it’s likely that some have a criminal history.
Facebook gives massive distribution to right-wing media outlets hyping and extending Trump's claims about the caravan.
These are the top stories, ranked by Facebook distribution, over the last three days. The data is from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics platform owned by Facebook.
1. As caravan approaches, Trump warns he'll cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador (Fox News).
2. PHOTO: Protesters in Support of Caravan Paint Swastika on American Flag, Burn It in the Street (Breitbart). The photo depicts two men in Honduras who are not part of the caravan.
3. 'Thank God': Homan Says Trump Is a 'Bulldog', Applauds Threat of Military at Southern Border (Fox News).
4. Migrant Caravan Swells To As Many As 10,000, Resumes March Toward U.S.-Mexican Border (Daily Wire). The Daily Wire is a popular right-wing site run by Ben Shapiro.
5. President Trump Calls Migrant Caravan A ‘National Emergency,’ Blames Democrats. (Daily Wire).
6. Young Angry Men & Gangbangers March Towards U.S. Yelling “Vamos Para Allá Trump!” (Judicial Watch). Judicial Watch is a right-wing advocacy organization.
7. Legal Immigrant Condemns Migrant Caravan In Shocking Terms: "Act of War." (Daily Caller). The Daily Caller is a right-wing site founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
I could go on. There is no mainstream or liberal reporting on the caravan in the top 10 stories. This list does not include various videos and memes about the caravan posted to Facebook; all the most popular ones support Trump.
Trump’s rhetoric about the caravan is a combination of lies and bombast. The mainstream media then reward him with straightforward headlines that repeat his claims. In the era of social media, headlines are often the only part of the story people read.
CNN: Trump on caravan: Assault on our country
USA Today: President Trump blasts Democrats over immigration, caravan during rally for Ted Cruz
PBS: Migrant caravan growing despite Trump’s threats
Reuters: Trump threatens to cut Central America aid over migrant caravan
Washington Post: Trump calls migrant caravan 'assault on country,' says he believes Democrats paid the group
CNBC: Trump tweets 'Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners' with migrant caravan
There are many "fact check" pieces in the mainstream media, including from the outlets above, that debunk Trump's claims about the caravan. But these pieces serve Trump's purposes as well. It keeps the focus on his chosen issue, the caravan. And Trump has trained his supporters to treat any inconvenient facts as fake news.
As was evident from the Facebook data, right-wing pieces amplifying his claims travel far more widely than any fact check.
Trump's claims about the caravan are also amplified to millions of people nightly on Fox News.
For example, on Monday night, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs brought on Tom Fitton, the head of Judicial Watch, as a guest. Dobbs claimed there were "radical Islamists" among the group. Fitton agreed and suggested Trump deploy troops to Honduras.
DOBBS: The fear is, to be clear, the fear is that some of them are radical Islamist terrorists that have intermingled with this group of Central Americans. The further fear is that many of them, so many of these migrants from Central America frankly are radical left-wingers, their leaders are left-wing party members for crying out loud out of Honduras...
FITTON: Well I agree and, so this is why the president needs to actively protect the country. He should deploy troops to Guatemala to support the effort there, at least logistical troops, so the Guatemalans can deploy their folks to the southern border and turn away the caravans that are forming on the south --
The participants in the puke funnel work in concert. Judicial Watch is also the publisher of one of the most popular stories about the caravan circulating on Facebook.
The power of the puke funnel
Curbing the power of Trump's puke funnel isn't easy. Many people look to the mainstream media, which can make things worse. The country lacks media infrastructure to combat multi-pronged disinformation campaigns. No one gets this better than Trump.
Thanks for reading Popular Information -- a political newsletter for people who give damn written by me, Judd Legum.
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