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Vanessa Selbst: "It's Like We're Living in Echo Chambers"
Being a high-profile poker pro and a lawyer in the US, Vanessa Selbst is in a unique position to dissect the current US economic and socio-political climate.
Her conclusions aren't promising.
Just over a year ago PokerListings and Vanessa Selbst met in Barcelona to talk about the upcoming election and how racism – or classism, as Selbst suggested – affected popular opinion.
Now the election is over, the US is clearly divided and there seem to be similar tendencies in several European countries. At this point, a new online poker bill is not top of the priorities.
We caught up with her again at EPT Prague.
PL: Is the US election result a nightmare come true for you?
Vanessa Selbst: I guess it is for the majority of people all around the world. However, half of Europe for example seems to be going in the same nationalistic, anti-immigrant direction.
Marine le Pen is up for election next year and even (Angela) Merkel, who probably is the last liberal, the last non-crazy person in power, now suggests conservative stuff like Burqa bans.
Maybe it’s strategic. I don’t know enough about Germany, maybe she says it so she doesn’t lose the next election.
PL: It sure is as there are an estimated 50 women in Germany who wear a Burqa.
VS: That’s interesting from my point of view because it brings my main interests, poker and politics, together. I’m very idealistic in a lot of ways, or I used to be, but I know you have to have some level of pragmatism.
So, even if you would generally denounce the idea, if that’s what’s needed to save an election and if it only applies to such a small number of people, maybe that’s what needs to happen.
PL: But let’s look at the US again. The political landscape has turned around completely.
VS: Yes. Eight years ago when Obama came to power he had the majority in both houses and maybe he should have got more things done at that time.
But he didn’t because he wanted to work with the Republicans. Only when he lost the majorities he found out that the Republicans are much less ethical than he is and that they would just obstruct everything. It’s a problem in our system that this is possible.
PL: Do you feel a change in the way everyday life feels?
VS: I live in New York City, which really is a bubble in the sense it’s one of the most liberal places in the world and really unique.
Many people in New York follow the news and are aware of what’s happening and the atmosphere on the whole is just depressing.
There isn’t a single day without horrible news like Trump announces someone to a very powerful position who has no knowledge and no experience in the field and so on.
But the good thing is people talk about what’s going on a lot and they try to find a strategy to deal with and respond to it.
As I said, this is not representative, though, because I don’t know anyone who has voted for Trump. It’s almost like we’re shut off from the rest of society. But that doesn’t just apply to New Yorkers. It applies to everyone.
It’s like we’re living in echo chambers. Everybody lives in their bubble and, for example, follows completely different news, even from the same source.
PL: How is that possible?
VS: They put different spins on it, tailored to you. For example, a headline for an article on voter fraud might read “Trump falsely claims there are three million illegal voters in California."
Someone else gets as the headline “Trump attacks illegal voting." And that would be the same article, and this example is from the Wall Street Journal.
That’s terrifying. At least in the third paragraph they would state that there is no proof for voter fraud, but the thing is that Trump lied.
Unfortunately many people are not able to distinguish between obvious blatant lies from propaganda sites like Breitbart and Info Wars.
PL: Are the US reaping the harvest of its cuts to education?
VS: It is well-known that we have one of the worst educational systems in the world. We also have a lot of poverty and people born into poverty-stricken places.
That means we get a lot of uninformed people who are easily manipulated and that’s a big part of the problem. There is a campaign of disinformation and it’s spreading fear.
I have two friends who want to get married. They’re both women, so they say they need to get married before January 20 because who knows what’s going to happen.
I have teachers among my friends and they tell me their pupils are terrified because they think their parents are getting deported. We’re talking about undocumented people here, so if Trump stands by his word these are the people he’s going to remove.
Looking at what Trump’s doing every day, looking at the conflicts of interest he has every day, it’s just … [deep sigh] … I don’t even know. People like to say ‘let’s wait and see’ but the problem is the wait-and-see approach is incredibly dangerous.
Maybe the worst thing is what he’s doing to the press. He and the Republicans have discredited the press to a point where there is no paper anymore that you can trust.
Even the New York Times or the Washington Post aren't trusted anymore. If the New York Times reported fact A you’d say it’s true because they generally make sure something is true before they report it.
But now Trump simply objects and says the “failing” New York Times and people believe him more. And now he’s appointing his cabinet and two-thirds of the people are military generals.
Makes you wonder what he’s really preparing for. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I find it terrifying.