This last week, since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, has been both chaotic and surreal. Trump’s election represents the kind of transition period in a country’s life that historians marvel at, but only rarely have the chance to live through.

With the rise of Trump, and the ascendance alongside him of elements of the far-right fringe of American politics, we are ushering in a new chapter of America’s story. The chapter of Alt-Reality.

The Alt-Reality movement has been slowly growing for a while in America. Elements of it have been part of past campaigns and administrations. But it has never controlled the Congress, let alone the White House. And, as we know from other examples where fringe elements find themselves suddenly, and unexpectedly, in power — including here in Maine — the transition from angry opposition to governing is a difficult maneuver that fails more than it succeeds.

Any movement that comes to power must have certain elements in place, including a strong leader, a means to continually propagandize its followers, and a way to reach out to new converts.

In this country, both the internal communications and the outreach arms of the conservative movement that preceded the Alt-Reality one has been — at least until recently — Fox News. Fox has brilliantly turned the idea of fact-based media on its head, deriding all other media as “biased,” even while openly operating as the most partisan news outlet in the country. And then, in a brilliant and shameless example of the power of propaganda, branding itself as “fair and balanced.”

By providing both the arteries and the nervous system of the growing conservative movement in America, Fox has managed to push the country further and further rightward, and helped move the centerline of American politics along with it.

The Left has, of course, had its own version of Fox News, with MSNBC and a few other efforts, but they are middle school newsletters compared to Fox, and none has ever achieved anything near the reach and influence of the Fox empire.

To today’s Alt-Reality, which Fox news has spawned, even that network has become too moderate. Groups like Breitbart and other conspiracy-driven echo chambers have sprung up to move the country even further toward the extreme far right, which has not, until now, found fertile enough ground in America. These are movements that we have little experience with, but that would be familiar to Europeans and Asians, particularly in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan.

The problem for Trump, and his Alt-Reality advisers, is that they have little or no experience dealing with governing, the economy and international relations. And it will be in the wide canyons between the Alt-Reality world and the real word where all of the clashes of the next year will occur.

We’ve seen it already, almost every day this week.

• Trump and his spokesman claimed that his inaugural audience was the largest in history, using patently false Metro ridership numbers.

• He claimed that he lost the popular vote because of as many as 5 million undocumented votes, particularly in California, without a shred of evidence.

• He’s continued to vow to build a wall that the Mexicans will pay for, which they of course will not. (If your neighbor wanted to build a fence and loudly stated to all your neighbors that he’d make you pay for it, would you?).

• Trump promised better health care for less money, and that nobody will lose their coverage. Republicans in the House just want to kill Obamacare.

• He says he’ll bring back manufacturing through trade barriers. Even a fifth grade economist knows that will produce higher consumer prices.

• Trump declared again that torture works, even though the military and intelligence community says it doesn’t.

The other piece of history that occurred last week was the women’s marches in Washington and around the world. Their significance won’t be measured by how quickly they sprung up, or whether they produced a larger D.C. turnout than the Trump inauguration. What they will represent, over time, is the leading edge of a broader movement that will emerge, over the next few years, to compete for power with the far right.

Don’t be surprised when those grassroots movements, all rising to limit the damage of a Trump administration, are quietly reflected in resistance within government, where 2 million civil servants will confront Trump’s 4,000 ideological, but inexperienced, appointees.

It’s going to be a year of spectacular fireworks, folks. For those who fear the damage that the Alt-Reality movement can do, this is no time for spectator politics. It is a moment, instead, to begin writing the next chapter of American history.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: