Former Pres­ident Donald Trump. | Wiki­media Commons

Noam Chomsky is a radical leftist, but he taught me more about Donald Trump than any other public intellectual. 

In his 1988 work, “Man­u­fac­turing Consent,” the political activist, philosopher, and lin­guist described how elites manip­ulate public opinion — and in doing so, he antic­i­pated the fall of Trump.

Chomsky writes that man­u­fac­turing consent is the explicit job of the news media, who spew out pro­pa­ganda on behalf of those in power so as to con­struct political reality. 

America’s mass-com­mu­ni­cation media, Chomsky says, “are effective and pow­erful ide­o­logical insti­tu­tions that carry out a system-sup­portive pro­pa­ganda function, by reliance on market forces, inter­nalized assump­tions, and self-cen­sorship, and without overt coercion.” Essen­tially, he argues that the purpose of the media is to build support for those who hold eco­nomic and political power. In this model, the media is not objective, free, or unbiased. It fixes the very premises of dis­course so as to control what the public sees and under­stands. In this way, those in power are able to maintain control as they dictate what the media covers, and are thus able to “man­u­facture” the consent of the gov­erned by molding their opinions. 

In 2016, Donald Trump threatened this model. Despite vicious attacks by main­stream insti­tu­tions, the cor­porate media, and both Repub­licans and Democrats, Trump pre­vailed and was elected pres­ident. The man­u­fac­turing consent model failed, and the gov­erning elites had to change their strategy. But they did not change their strategy; they beat back harder. 

During Trump’s pres­i­dency, the media and our gov­erning class — politi­cians, public intel­lec­tuals, and members of Silicon Valley, Hol­lywood, and uni­ver­sities — screamed “bloody murder” about the horror of the new admin­is­tration, exhausting the public and pum­meling it into sub­mission. The public, to make the con­stant screaming stop, sub­mitted to the ruling elite’s worldview, which con­stantly stated that Donald Trump was a very-bad-no-good-evil-racist who was on the verge of starting World War Three. 

In her book, “Resis­tance at All Costs: How Trump Haters are Breaking America,” Kim­berley Strassel describes the media’s con­stant fear-mon­gering, and, as a con­se­quence, the molding of public opinion. Strassel writes that during the age of Trump the press “embraced its bias, joined the Resis­tance and declared its alle­giance to one side of a par­tisan war. It now openly declares those who offer any fair defense of this admin­is­tration as Trump ‘enablers.’ It acts as willing scribes for Democrats and former Obama offi­cials; peddles evi­dence-free accu­sa­tions; sources stories from people with clear political axes to grind; and closes its eyes to clear evi­dence of gov­ernment abuse.”

During the Trump admin­is­tration, the mass media did every­thing to paint the White House in a bad light, further cementing public opinion against the pres­ident — all to the dictum of the elites. What the elites thought of Trump the media reported as fact, blinding the general public and obscuring its under­standing of political real­ities. This is a threat to any demo­c­ratic society, for whoever has the ability to shape public opinion to his own ends holds the real power, not the people. 

The people are most in power when they are able to decipher political reality them­selves, and not be swayed by a one-sided, biased, and corrupt mass media. This is why the people were most in power when Trump was elected. Trump was a repu­di­ation of the neoliberal gov­erning class, and even though he was painted as a villain by that class, enough people rejected that char­ac­ter­i­zation and voted for him. The man­u­fac­turing consent model was dis­rupted, the elites lost their grip, and Trump was sent to the White House.

Throughout his entire pres­i­dency, Trump was char­ac­terized as “unpres­i­dential,” lacking the tone and manners fit for a pres­ident. His brazen char­ac­ter­istics were probably one of the most important fea­tures Trump offered, as they rep­re­sented a sym­bolic repu­di­ation of the type of person who prin­ci­pally com­poses the ruling class (and hence, man­u­fac­tures consent). Those who rejected Trump because of his char­acter did not under­stand that was his primary appeal. Trump was the first non-politician in the White House in a long time, and voters rec­og­nized that. They were tired of slick-talking cogs who force open borders, sexual immorality, and East Coast orthodoxy down their throats. Trump was unabashedly Trump, and people realized they could rely on that. Trump was (and is) important because he rep­re­sented voters’ ability to think outside of the insti­tu­tions that man­u­facture their consent.

But after a world-wide pan­demic, a summer of burning cities, and bitter par­ti­sanship, the elites molded public opinion back in their favor, and Trump only served one term. Joe Biden is now pres­ident, and the man­u­fac­turing consent model rages on. Puff pieces on the 46th pres­ident come out on the daily (a nice respite from the weeping and gnashing of teeth that marked cov­erage of the 45th). There are actual news pieces about Biden’s choice of pants (“A Grateful Nation is Relieved to Once Again Have a Pres­ident Who Wears Jeans,” the Wash­ing­tonian gushed). The New York Times, in their front-page story on Jan. 21, revealed how they were feeling about retaking power: “Biden Inau­gu­rated, ‘Nightmare is Over.’” And they’re ter­rified they will lose control again. The enigma of Trump remains.


Vic­toria Mar­shall is a senior George Wash­ington Fellow studying pol­itics. She is the Science & Tech Editor for the Collegian.