“But reporters were clapping and laughing, they loved it.” — a commenter defending Trump’s first press conference.
“But members of the CIA were clearly laughing at his jokes and clapping, so what he was saying couldn’t have been inappropriate.” — CNN pundit defending Trump’s CIA speech where he talked about his war with the media, in front of a memorial to men and women who lost their lives in actual wars.
The clapping and laughing you hear in both instances are Trump’s own people, who initiate and get the crowd to follow. They are sycophants who he brings to cheer him on and make it seem like what he’s saying is being well-received. And it’s working.
The laugh track was invented to cue the audience to the jokes and encourage laughter in response. But it has another effect: If you hear people laughing and you’re not, you start to question if maybe there’s something wrong with you for not getting it. You might even impulsively start laughing just to fit in, not because you think anything is funny.
In fact, that’s exactly how this works — one person initiates a clap and suddenly everyone thinks there’s something to clap for. And then everyone is clapping. For no reason.
This is how he’s going to chip away at our understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s not.
Both during that press conference and during that CIA speech, what he was saying wasn’t as surprising as the fact that the response wasn’t dead silence or audible fucking gasps.
How does the president say, “We should have taken the oil in Iraq” and “Maybe we’ll get another chance” to a crowd of CIA agents roaring with laugher?
It made me wonder — wait, am I the crazy one?
I’m not. Like everything with Trump, it’s made up, it’s put on, it’s a fucking illusion.
But Trump’s seemingly warm reception might have been manufactured, according to The Washington Post’s lead fact-checker, Glenn Kessler. “The pool reports indicate the cheering and clapping was not from the CIA staffers but people who accompanied Trump,” Kessler tweeted.
Brennan also deplored the rally-style event, according to his former deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro. Brennan “is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Shapiro said in a statement provided to Newsweek. “Trump should be ashamed of himself.”
This is how he’s going to chip away at our understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s not. This is even stronger, more powerful gaslighting — making us question our own instincts and even start doing things because we want to fit in with “everyone else” who from what we know, seem to think this is all fine.
Trump wants a cheering section at all his press conferences and if you don’t realize that those are not the reporters clapping, it will seriously fuck with you.
The media needs to take a cue from one of Trump’s own complaints during the campaign: Show us the crowd. Let us see who is clapping, and who is not. Otherwise, we’re all going to start feeling like we’re going crazy, even more so than we already are.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.