Tent Pole Truth and Conservative Media
I have talked before about how conservative media (particularly talk radio and news) have come to dominate a large cross section of American life. President Donald Trump is perhaps the embodiment of that concept, a man who was elected not for his record, not for his personal life, but for the stories he and his enablers weaved for the American public, especially in the last few weeks of the 2016 election.
I call it Tent Pole Truth. The basics of TPT are pretty simple to understand. Imagine one of those old big top circus tents, with the big pole in the middle and a few other smaller poles holding up the sides and such, with a big tarp draped over the whole thing. That tarp is usually a bright color and painted with promotional material, branding, what have you. That big pole in the middle actually holds the whole thing up, it’s the only real structure in the deal. Everything else is loose.
So take that image, and imagine it as a talk radio host trying to create a narrative or to shade someone or some thing. Clearly, they cannot come out and just lie. So what they do is they pick one or two relatively strong facts, often taken entirely out of context, and use them as tent poles. Then they drape a big fake story over the top of them just like a brightly colored circus tent, and most people don’t worry too much about all the empty air under that story tent. When asked if the story is true, they point with much pleasure at the truth bearing tent poles and say “see, this is solid man, the solid truth all the way through!”. The reality is that outside of those one or two very narrow pieces of truth, the rest of the story is entirely made up.
That is tent pole truth.
Rush Limbaugh is one of those guys who mastered this TPT without even really thinking it through. He just does it naturally. An example might be taking a politician’s vote against something specific, and turning it into a generalization. Let’s say someone votes against a law that would allow concealed carry of loaded bazookas in primary schools. Rush would take it as “This evil socialist poltician voted against your right to arm yourself, and he and the democrats are clearly comming to take your guns away from you!”. The statement is made up of a single fact that he voted against a firearm law and then tacking on a very standard and unsupported claim about the guys party and a very specific anti-gun move.
That creates a situation where the politician did the right thing (bazookas in primary schools should never be loaded), and by using tent pole truth he would be able to paint him as an anti-gun nut socialist / communist liberal trying to take away your rights.
Without a doubt, the sheer volume of conservative talk radio out there and it’s continued influence on Americans is a big factor in all of this. Pretty much all of them follow the model set by Limbaugh in the past, ignoring unflattering facts and cherry picking things that support your point of view, and then draping your view over it and acting as if it is fact. Professional liar Donald Trump is in many ways the physical manifestation of this, but it doesn’t work as well for him long term because mainstream media (liberal and conservative) can see through his lies and misdirections and report them as such. It’s why he calls them #fakenews, because his entire appeal is based on getting people to buy the tent.
If Trump loses on November 3rd (which is looking very likely, according to this and other reports), you should get ready for a huge number of truth tents to get built in a very short period of time. There will be a lot of pent up stuff that will come pouring out and try to paper over the Democrat win.
My guess is that we are near the end of this trend. Trump has literally mined it all out. He apparently wants to take over One America News Network and turn it into Trump News, which might play to his faithful but would be an open cesspool to everyone else. Rush Limbaugh is apparently not long for the world, with AM radio in serious decline (more than 30% of Americans don’t have a functional AM/FM radio in their homes anymore) and the listenership aging rapidly and as a result dying off. It’s quite likely that 2015-2020 will have been the last gasps for the medium and the dinosaurs roaming on it.
I also think that Americans are tired of lies, deception, and being mislead. The whole issue with Karens and #karentology in the last year or so has shown how a significant number of people have been literally brain washed by powerful media sources. Most Americans are tried of this stuff, and no longer want to live with it. The turn towards the democrats in 2020 is likely as much about wanting to heal and get away from Trump as it is to support Biden. Americans have tried the alternative, and they know things are bad now.
2021 will be a turning point, that is for sure!