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On Not Falling For The Big Reveal

Last night, the left got played -- hard. Rachel Maddow teased on Twitter that she had Trump's tax returns, and social media went into a frenzy. As it turns out, Maddow had two pages of Trump's 2005 filing, which showed nothing new or particularly scandalous. No funny business. No nefarious ties to Russia. Just a rich dude using the tax code as intended. (I suspect there is nothing terribly scandalous in any of Trump's tax returns. He's continuing to hide them because releasing them would mean his critics "won" and he "lost," which would be a big blow to his ego.)

The big lesson here is, as I've written before, that the more you -- justifiably! -- hate Trump, the more vulnerable you are going to be to clickbait. I could rehearse all of the usual lectures about fact-checking and paying attention to your sources here. But even that, I think, doesn't go far enough. Clickbait can come from any source. Folks on the left generally regard Maddow as a credible, quality source. But even she is, ultimately, in the business of selling your eyeballs to MSNBC's advertisers.

The real defense against anti-Trump clickbait is to give up on the myth of the Big Reveal. What made Maddow's promise so sensational was the hope that Trump's taxes would be the Big Reveal, the piece of information that finally confirmed what we all suspected, and made it incontrovertible to our opponents. Trump's perfidy would be laid out in black and white, and we could feel satisfied at being vindicated, while the floor fell out from under his supporters. It's the hope of the eucatastrophe -- just when things look darkest, to hear Maddow shout "the tax returns are coming!"

The Big Reveal makes a good dramatic climax to a movie. But real life doesn't work that way. Remember the Billy Bush tape? We all thought that was going to be the Big Reveal that took Trump down. In reality, it dinged him a few points in the polls for a couple weeks, then he bounced back. The Big Reveal only works if we're all living in the same world. But we're not. Liberals and conservatives are working from such different starting premises, such different sets of basic values and basic frameworks about how the world works, that no one piece of information can make everything change.

That doesn't mean that the situation is hopeless, or that getting more information (including the rest of Trump's tax returns) is useless. But it does mean we can't hope for one big piece of information to suddenly change everything. What will change things is the long, slow process of shifting people's basic value systems and worldviews. Once we set aside the false hope of the Big Reveal, we won't be as easily taken in by clickbaiters dangling it in front of us.


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