Anyone who has ever read a Superman comic book is familiar with Bizarro, one of the stranger characters from the man of steel’s rogues gallery. Bizarro is the simple-minded opposite of Superman, who lives in Bizarro World, a cube shaped planet where everything is the opposite from the way things are here on Earth. It’s all incredibly far-fetched and silly and not meant to be taken particularly seriously.
Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans who currently live in Bizarro World. They are called Trump supporters and they inhabit a completely different dimension than we do, one that has a different set of rules and even a different language than the rest of us have. They consume completely different media than we do. They believe entirely different facts from you and me.
In Trump supporter Bizarro World there is no scandal of Russia attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. It doesn’t exist. It just didn’t happen. I know the rest of us are following this closely every day in the news, but the Trump supporters are not getting the same daily updates and breaking stories as we are. In Trump supporter Bizarro World, the real scandal is that the FBI and the Justice Department wanted to investigate a possible attack on our country, and that some of the agents of our government might have, gasp, political opinions. In the world you and I live in, we have watched the Robert Mueller investigation issue indictments for and make arrests of former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, among others, and are patiently waiting on indictments for people like Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. In Trump supporter Bizarro World, however, they are biting their nails, expecting the inevitable arrests of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and James Comey.
It’s gotten to the point that even having a political discussion with those living in Bizarro World is an impossibility, since we can’t even agree on the basic underlying facts. How on earth did we ever get to this place?
Donald Trump himself is a big part of the problem, of course. He has used Twitter as his hermetically sealed soap box, where he can declare any news story critical of him or his administration as “fake news.” In his first year in office, President Trump told over 2,000 lies, according to an article in Esquire, but he’s been extremely successful in convincing his followers that he is the sole arbiter of revealed truth in the country. In some instances, such as with the debate over the crowd size for his inauguration, he has been able to convince his followers that his word is more trustworthy than the evidence of their own eyes.
The issue of America’s version of Bizarro World predates President Trump, however. It has been fueled for more than 20 years now by an increasingly dishonest and toxic right-wing media, which feeds the viewers and readers (who have morphed into today’s Trump supporters) a steady diet of their fears and prejudices, safely packaged as exactly what they want to hear. Fox News perfected this model, and now younger, hungrier outfits like Breitbart News and InfoWars have streamlined disinformation, turning it into a well-oiled machine.
It is always tempting for commentators to point out that “fake news” is not only a conservative issue and that liberals spread their fair share of disinformation also, but an extensive new study by the Oxford University Internet Institute, and reported by the Washington Post, suggests this isn’t the case. They studied 13,477 Twitter users and 47,719 Facebook pages and determined that far-right and Trump supporter groups shared more “fake news” than all other groups combined. It’s not so much that we are just living in separate universes. Some of us are living in a universe based squarely in reality, while others are living in one built largely out of lies and delusion. Earth and Bizarro World, if you will.
A perfect example is the recent scandal involving White House aide Rob Porter. Those of us in the real world are very aware that Porter was forced to resign after his allegedly heavily abusive relationships with his ex-wives came to light. We know that he was dating presidential advisor Hope Hicks and that she helped craft the White House’s public response to his scandal. We also know that both Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have defended Porter while offering absolutely zero words of sympathy for the women who were abused. If you are a Trump supporter living in Bizarro World, however, you might not even be aware of who Porter is. According to reporting by CNN, when the news of Porter’s alleged abuse broke on Thursday, it became the subject of non-stop commentary on MSNBC and CNN, as well as front page news for all the major papers. Fox News and Breitbart, on the other hand, hardly mentioned it at all. During Fox’s primetime lineup on February 8, Porter’s name was not mentioned a single time. They and Breitbart have since done a story or two on Trump’s reaction but have downplayed the abuse angle as much as possible.
I wish I knew the solution to this problem, but at the moment I do not. I do know it’s much bigger than just Donald Trump. The president could be impeached tomorrow and the issue of these two separate realities is not going to go away. It begins with holding outlets like Breitbart, InfoWars, and Fox News accountable to some level of truth, facts, and reality. Whether we like it or not, it also involves the citizens of this country finally taking a cold hard look at some of the horrific mistakes we have made as a nation, such as slavery and the genocide of Native American societies. I know that sounds ugly and hard, but our failure to do so to this point has helped lead, in my humble opinion, to the impasse we face now.
Our democracy simply cannot survive with most of us here in reality while millions of others are trapped in an impossible-to-escape Bizarro World.