On Thursday, Donald Trump unexpectedly folded on the question of adding a citizenship question to the census. After warning that he could absolutely put the issue in place with an executive order, Trump hauled out his attorney general and secretary of commerce, set up a podium in the Rose Garden, and did what he always does when not throwing insults—he whined. But Trump had the perfect audience for his “We tried to slip this in at the last minute, then ran out of time, so it’s all everyone else’s fault” complaint. Because on Thursday afternoon, Trump filled the Rose Garden with a collection of villainy and scum that would embarrass any Mos Eisley cantina.
The event was labeled as a “press conference,” but it was a very Trumpian press conference: one at which Trump took no questions, and one where the actual press was made to stand at a distance on the other side of ropes. That’s because all the chairs at this press conference were reserved for the internet’s most hateful: the alt-right pundits that were scraped up to attend Trump’s “social media summit.” That group didn’t try to ask Trump any questions. That’s not their role. Instead, they used this moment of access and historic location to join Trump in attacking the free press.
There was badge-wearing Nazi, and former Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka threatening reporters. And there was professional 9/11 truther Mark Dice yelling at CNN. There was pundit, songwriter, and congressional candidate Joy Villa—a candidate in California, or New York, or possibly Florida, she hasn’t made up her mind yet—smirking at the media and informing them that their day, the day where people asked questions, expected answers, and checked those responses for truthfulness, is over.
These are the voices that Trump is trying to elevate. Voices that scream racism. Voices that scream hate. And, in the case of Dice, voices that scream that both Hollywood and the music industry are run by a combination of Illuminati and Satanists who hide spells in Super Bowl halftime rituals designed to blind the public to the existence of a worldwide gay conspiracy. And the Starbucks logo features a mermaid prostitute. And Katy Perry is a witch.
But the real purpose of Trump’s “social media summit” wasn’t to promote conspiracy theorists. It was to promote two of his own conspiracy theories.
The primary focus of Trump’s summit on social media was … how awful all the social media platforms are. Despite not just a lack of real evidence, but mountains of genuine counterevidence , Trump continues to push the conspiracy theory that “conservative voices” are being banned from Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms for nothing more than supporting Trump. As The Washington Post reported, Trump spent much of his time focused on telling the alt-right that they were the real victims of one of those conspiracies they love to write about.
“We have terrible bias. We have censorship like nobody has any understanding,” said Trump. This is the reason Trump believes his tweets get much less support than those of Barack Obama, who, three years out of office, continues to have far more followers than Trump. And, in fact, Trump did go on at length about ways in which he believes Twitter has suppressed his followers. But the actual fact is more likely that Trump doesn’t believe it anymore than Mark Dice believes that “monkey bars are racist.” It’s just a handy claim.
It’s handy to Trump in reinforcing his even bigger conspiracy theory. His “They’re all out to get me” theory. That’s the theory in which every honest investigator looking into his actions is part of the “deep state”; any honest reporter showing that Trump’s words aren’t true is spreading “fake news”; any judge following the law is part of the “swamp”; and every torch-carrying white supremacist is “good people.” Anyone, even someone who organized a boycott of a Star Wars movie because it was “feminist propaganda” (and yes, that’s Mark Dice again), is good people, so long as they support Trump.
This is the America that Donald Trump champions, and for a very good reason. Because when there is no authority for truth, the loudest voice wins. It really doesn’t matter if those voices are screaming hate. It doesn’t matter if they’re networks of screaming bots run by the Russian military. All that matters is that they’re screaming loud enough to drown out the press … which has to stand way back there, behind the ropes.