Kayleigh McEnany is an enemy of truth
I was unfortunate enough to meet Trump's latest Press Secretary in person.
America is an oligarchy organized by the hierarchy of the white supremacist patriarchy. Pancake Brain is a (free) Friday newsletter dedicated to replacing the status quo with equitable public power. If you’re into that kind of thing, I hope you’ll subscribe and share. This project is based on How to Start a Revolution, which you can read (or listen to) here.
Dearest Pancake Brains,
Last week, I was disturbed to learn that Kayleigh McEnany has been appointed as Press Secretary. A clown car of demons has held the position, but I was unfortunate enough to meet this one in person.
I was on CNN with McEnany shortly after the 2017 Women’s March. We were in the New York studio together with four other panelists, our heads displayed in CNN’s Brady Bunch squares atop a chyron reading, “Women’s March: Moment or movement?” (As I mention in How to Start a Revolution, more than four million people joined the Women’s March across the country. Compare that to protests of Richard Nixon’s inauguration in January 1969, which built to the Moratorium protest in October of that year, cementing mainstream opposition to the Vietnam War. Approximately one thousand anti-war protesters showed up to mess with Nixon’s motorcade. “Moment or movement” is a ridiculous question, but if you’re genuinely asking, CNN, the answer is “fucking movement.”)
McEnany is basically what would happen if a lab accident fused whatever venomous spores created Tomi Lahren and Kellyanne Conway. She came to the Women’s March panel prepared with the verbal Napalm of anti-choice rhetoric, which she effortlessly invoked by pivoting to “women’s rights of unborn fetuses.” I wonder if the camera caught my jaw drop.
The only thing more shocking than McEnany’s weaponized anti-intellectualism was her demeanor immediately after the segment. She seems to adorn herself in vicious bigotry with more ease than the application and removal of mascara. As soon as she declared her position, I registered her as an enemy in the fight for equality. By contrast, she treated me as if we had just gotten brunch.
McEnany caught up to me on the way to the elevator after the show. On the ride down to the lobby, she babbled about how many CNN segments she had appeared on lately. There were plenty more lined up. She had a smile on her face as she told me how easy it is to profit from being a pretty woman willing to support Trump on TV. It was almost a relief to hear this gambit spelled out in explicit detail. It appears McEnany is willing to say anything to get ahead, and now she is speaking on behalf of the nation’s highest office. I suppose it was only a matter of time.
The Trump administration is filled with con men and amoral toads, but the villains who choose to lie to the public on his behalf are among the worst of the lot. As American taxpayers, we are funding our own deception.
Of course, Trumpian disinformation is nothing new. In December 2016, I published “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” after then-President-elect Trump contradicted our intelligence agencies. I’ve read several takes declaring that “gaslighting” has been overused, a few which directly blame me for the critical mass of the term. I would counter that the description of the tactic is not the thing that’s been abused.
In retrospect, the piece seems quaint. Trump’s gaslighting was only amplified when he took office. After he was sworn in, the inaugural clown demon Sean Spicer displayed what remains one of this administration’s most blatant acts of deception. In an obvious attempt to diminish the impact of the movement launched by the Women’s March, Spicer stood before the press corps and falsely claimed that Trump had "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."
Anyone with eyes and a pulse could determine this statement was untrue, and that was the point. The goal of authoritarian disinformation is often not to convince the public of the content of any given false claim. Rather, the aim is to undermine the public’s ability to comprehend reality at all. Trump’s gaslighting is intended to beat us into submission, to make us throw up our hands and give up on trusting our own sanity.
McEnany’s career trajectory and the nature of Trump’s lies share a startling similarity: Saying evil shit is easy. Building a case for the truth takes work.
This paradox of bullshit was on grand display on Monday when Trump declared that governors do not have the authority to reopen their states' economies. "The president of the United States calls the shots,” Trump said. “It's a decision for the president ... [governors] can't do anything without the approval of the president." Asked for further explanation, Trump doubled down, “When somebody is the president of the United States,” he declared, “The authority is total.”
It’s (hopefully) easy to look at that statement, and think, “No, you fucking idiot, you are not KING of America.” Disproving it as a journalist isn’t quite that simple. The role of the press in countering the claim requires gathering and verifying the receipts that disprove Trump’s bluff. The New York Times ran a first-page article consulting with constitutional scholars on the veracity of the assertion. Vox published an explainer on the 10th amendment. When Trump says things like this, it’s as if he has thrown a flaming turd into the center of every legitimate newsroom across the country. And then, for the next several days, many of our foremost political reporters play hot potato with said turd.
While the disinformation coming out of this White House has always been extraordinarily dangerous, the emergence of the coronavirus has added a molotov cocktail to what was already a dumpster fire. Even those leaders who appear to have their constituents’ best interest in mind are struggling to sort through what is and is not true. As we work to grasp the nature of the virus, cockamamie rumors are confirmed as fact as once-trusted information is invalidated. The coronavirus safety guidelines would be changing with head-spinning rapidity even if there wasn’t a notorious liar in the Oval Office.
The takeaway here, while increasingly pressing, is the same as it’s always been: it is your civic duty to build your own foundation of fact. That’s true of surviving this pandemic and striving for real democracy.
It’s probably true that we’ve heard the word “gaslighting” too much. The label only has power if we reckon with its meaning: Lying aids Trump’s quest for unfettered power because it robs us of the foundation of fact that is required for resistance. We must insist on our freedom by arming ourselves with the information we need to survive this nightmare, and that means behaving with the rigor of the journalist: Seek out information from several reliable sources, and compare and contrast what you find. Do the double-clicking to verify anything before you share it in conversation in real life and online. Look to scientists and local officials who aim to be held accountable to the public they serve, and tell your friends and families to do the same.
It’s exhausting how much work it takes to solidify the truth that we need in order to fully participate as democratic citizens, but that is what is required to survive both this pandemic and the epistemic crisis that ushered it into total pandemonium. Refuse to accept information just because it is fed to you. Trump and the various clown demons who surround him will only be defeated if we commit to the daily effort of critical thinking. It is our civic duty to empower ourselves with information just as routinely and rigorously as we now wash our hands.
With earnest irreverence,
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I’m trying to grow this little community into a virtual garden where we can have the kind of thoughtful conversation so sorely missing on social media. I’m glad you’re here, and appreciate your help as in spreading the word. ❤️