“Trumping Democracy”

How Trump Won

Amos Lassen

Donald Trump won the American Presidency by three states and this victory was engineered by ultra conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, who bought Breitbart News and put Steve Bannon into the campaign. Another Mercer company, Cambridge Analytica, was able to acquire data on millions of Americans and micro-targeted by zip code voters who were most likely to swing for Trump. In the last days of the campaign, they bought Facebook “dark posts,” deploying manipulative ads that were seen only We now know that Trump’s, a victory engineered by an ultra-conservative faction that came to power using fake news, lies and psychometrics.

“Trumping Democracy” is documentary that follows multi-billionaire Robert Mercer, who bought Breitbart News and funded the effort to win the Presidency while inserting Steve Bannon into the presidential campaign as its manager. Using data of millions of Americans (gained from Facebook, Google, banks, credit companies, social security and more), Cambridge Analytica, a Mercer-owned company, used tactics that had been perfected during the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign and identified voters whom they believed could swing for Trump. “Dark posts” is a little-known Facebook feature which they used to deploy highly manipulative and personalized messages that could be seen only by the user and disappeared after being read. What we see here is that data trumped democracy and America gained a new president who was totally out of reach with the reality of the world. It was when Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but won the Electoral College, the debate about the way we elect a president became more urgent.

This documentary gives us insights that calls into question the process and relevancy of the Electoral College as well as points out disturbing factors that have been brought on by the digital age. Director Thomas Huchon, a French journalist and documentary filmmaker shows how unvetted information and disinformation can quickly go viral on the Internet. As he searched to understand how Trump gained the presidency, he examined cutting-age digital tools, dark money, and a network of interrelated players all of whom had common ideological goals.

At the center of it all is hedge-fund billionaire and computer scientist Robert Mercer. Mercer was a staunch supporter of altering campaign election funding rules especially those that that for sixty years had reined in individual and corporate donations.

Huchon breaks down his film into three chapters: “Lies”, “Cover-Up” and “Manipulation”. The first two chapters look at better-known material. The third chapter connects the players and this is alarming. Using a group of experts from journalism, political strategy, law and technology, we get some very unsettling information.

We first see a New York Trump voter who is disgusted with mainstream media and who gets his news from online outlets, including “pseudo-news” sites that push bogus stories. We hear from Paul Horner who speaks about fictitious stories he has posted that are disseminated by right wing outlets. He has something to say about a fictitious post that he wrote and was picked up by Eric Trump who then retweeted it with the hashtag #CrookedHillary.

Next we get the back-story of Breitbart News and see it defined as a platform promoting anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny, and white supremacist content. We see a graph that shows how the Breitbart readership rose dramatically in 2017 during the months of October and November, from 45 million monthly users to over 100 million.

Political strategist, Tad Devine shows the changed habits of how the public consumes news and we see that it is not like the days when three broadcasting stations delivered the nightly report. He puts emphasis on Trump’s “delegitimization of the mainstream media.” Pollster Ben Tulchin shares that Conservatives don’t believe the reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN.

While a candidate, Trump stated he would express facts “plainly and honestly” but the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact found that Trump’s statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.

From this, we understand that Fox News and Breitbart helped Trump to create and propagate his own truth. Trump saw himself as the only person who could make America a “winner” again. At the same time, behind the scenes, Mercer took the opportunity to put his unlimited funds into the service of his extreme vision of limited government.

It is not a coincidence that the three entities, Breitbart News, Glittering Steel Productions and Renaissance Technologies (a hedge fund of which Mercer was co-CEO but has since stepped down) all share the same building address in Los Angeles. It was at RenTech that Mercer used the trading algorithm he innovated to make a fortune. Mercer has become a top billionaire on the political scene. Besides his own family foundation, he funds many conservative think tanks. Tax documents clearly show the recipients of Mercer’s support. Unsurprisingly, the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Government Accountability Institute, and the Heartland Institute are on the list. Mercer paid for an ad against the placement of a mosque near the World Trade Center locality.

In 2011, Mercer invested $10 million in Breitbart News and developed an arm of the media to promote his point of view. Steve Bannon took over Breitbart and publicly announced that it was his goal to “deconstructing the government of the United States.”

During the 2016 election season, Mercer backed Ted Cruz and put $13 million into Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” campaign. As Trump decimated his opponents, Mercer shifted his allegiance to Trump and gave the campaign $15 million.

With major money invested in Trump, Mercer moved to take over the campaign reins in July of 2016. His daughter Rebekah met with Trump and offered more money along with the “talents” of Bannon to spearhead the campaign. Conway who was once on board the Mercer train for Cruz joined the team.

To see how all of this played out, you must see the documentary and if you are like me, you will watch it in a state of shock as all those ideas you have had about the election turn out to be true and then some.

We hear from a host of experts including Psychometric scientist Dr. Michael Kosinski, PhD Psychology (University of Cambridge); David Carroll, associate professor of media design at the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design; Rosie Gray, Whitehouse Correspondent, The Atlantic; and Brendan Fischer, Director, Federal & FEC Reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C. based non-partisan nonprofit, the tracks campaign finance, government ethics and political transparency.

Trump has become beholden to outside interests and his entanglements became clear when money and paper trails show up in the records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). There were no payments in the Trump campaign for Bannon’s salary. However, through a Mercer PAC, there are recurring payments to Glittering Steel, the company run by Bannon.

Huchon returns to his original question of how Trump won the Presidency in chapter three of the documentary. This begins with the London firm, Strategic Communications Library (SCL) whose mission it is to evaluate data to determine “what impacts people and how they think.” It’s known as  “Psychological operations (PSYOP)” and provides “behavioral influence planning and evaluation” for clients who want to “influence or treat a problem.” Its roster of clients includes NATO, the British Ministry of Defense, the NSA, and the U.S. State Department. They use methods to manipulate people without their awareness and often create a problem in order to solve it. SCL’s “subsidiary” branch to manage data is Cambridge Analytica. They set up shop in the United States and partnered with Mercer and Bannon became Vice President. Cambridge Analytica employed “data-modeling” by taking readily available personal data off the web as well as buying it from banks, credit card companies, and the social media giants and were able to accrue four to five thousand pieces of data for 230 million adults in America. This is all legal!!!

Expert Michal Kosinski explains digital data and psychological profiling and explains how Facebook “Likes” can create an accurate assessment of a subject’s religious views, politics, sexual orientation, personality and intelligence.

Cambridge Analytica offered their services to Trump, who was not interested until he learned they had worked on the successful Brexit initiative. Then the two parties connected in June 2016. By the end of July, Trump had paid over $6 million to Cambridge Analytica. Another $5 million would come in the near future. It was assumed that Trump didn’t have a chance at winning the popular vote but if he went after wavering voters in key swing states, he could win the Electoral College. The goal was to isolate conservative Democrats who might vote for Trump and geo-target them. Looking at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, Cambridge Analytica concentrated on those undecideds by defining thirty-two personality types and determining which voters were the most vulnerable to Trump’s messages of fear and anger.

Before the election, Trump revisited those geographical areas and anxious voters received personal messages on Facebook that were tailored explicitly to them. These posts disappeared hours after appearing in the specified user’s timeline. They remain untraceable and without any record except on Facebook’s server. It worked and Trump got 77,000 votes from those three swing states.

I understand that during the documentary’s production Cambridge Analytica refused all requests for interviews. However, in October, the company was asked to share their records by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and we can only hope that this is a sign that there is still hope for democracy and the democratic way of life.

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