We can hope the mainstream media journalists who praised President Donald Trump after his supposed redemption speech last week will now understand the country is clearly dealing with an unhinged, calculating liar as its leader.
As the bizarre tweets over the weekend indicate on a larger, cosmic level, any effort to find praise for the racist and misogynistic Trump at this point for anything is an exercise in crass deflection, a grave error and disservice to this country and democratic institutions throughout the world. Some decent reporters and analysts in the mainstream media, of course, didn’t fall for Trump’s intentional misdirection play when he addressed Congress last week in a more subdued manner, temporarily abandoning his normal ranting style so we can maybe hope there’s still some hope maybe.
But the praise for Trump, mainly from the major television networks, was as bizarre as Trump’s weekend tweets, and it just wasn’t Fox News.
Of course, Trump lied his way through the speech, which the now-trying-to-be honest media, such as The New York Times, reported diligently, but the president’s television enablers—the hairs as I call them—were so struck by his different tone they became convinced his speech was some type of miraculous change in style, tone and, get this, substance. Maybe they think this is all a reality television show that ends happily for someone. That all stopped in the next couple of days as his fellow liar and campaign surrogate, fellow racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, got caught in his own web of deceit, and the Trump regime imploded once again into a carnival of the bizarre.
By the time the weekend arrived, Trump was tweeting wild accusations about how former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of his offices back in October, which is not even legally or, well, physically possible unless the former president did it himself with a ladder, pliers and top secret eavesdropping gizmos. Even FBI director James Comey eventually called Trump out on the craziness and absurdity of his outburst. In one ridiculous tweet, Trump referred to Obama’s fictional action as a Watergate-type scandal and then as McCarthyism when, in fact, the continuing exposure of the Trump’s regime Russian connections is the real Watergate in the living room.
As we now know, Sessions’ lying made him recused himself from any investigation examining Trump’s and his campaign’s connection to Russia, which meddled in our recent election on both presidential and Congressional levels by hacking into emails and supporting conservatives and authoritarians for office.This mainly included support for Trump as the Russians released mundane emails through Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks of national Democratic Party officials, innocuous emails that received breathless coverage from our dysfunctional corporate media. The infighting in the Democratic Party was so important, wasn’t it, just like the Benghazi investigation and Hillary Clinton’s server, right? Does anyone, except those directly involved, even remember all the specifics about any of those two events?
Let’s be clear that the Russians duped the nation’s media outlets as much as anyone else, and they continue to do so. All this leads us to the issue of relationship between the “deep state,” which represents our intelligence agencies and our basic democratic institutions, such as the three branches of government, which, of course, are vitally important at least on some symbolic level. But that’s another post for another time.
So I’m certainly ready to give The Times, The Washington Post and some other major media outlets, such as CNN, another chance at reporting the truth instead of the he-said-she-said reporting that marked the American journalistic era Before Trump. Now is the time for a relentless reporting of truth combined with complete and utter skepticism that Trump will ever start telling the truth, which he never will. Donald Trump will never start telling the truth on a consistent basis. Now is the time for daily front-page editorials demanding, among other things, that Trump release copies of his tax returns and information about his campaign’s connections with the Russian government during his run for president.
How many lies will it take? How many times will the media fall for Trump’s misdirection plays as he assumes, momentarily, a fictional calmer demeanor or a softer tone? How more obvious can it get? How many more people have to die by hate-crime murders before the media wakes up? The blood is on every journalist who works at a major news outlet and isn’t speaking up. They have the money and instruments to report the truth. Will they do it?
Some in the media continue to want to play by the old rules in which a politician stretches the truth for simple political gain or defense in a moment of controversy or parses the numbers in a distorted manner and then there’s some back and forth on a particular issue. This isn’t the case with Trump. He lies on a truly spectacular level, and his supporters and most of the leaders in his political party, the GOP, simply don’t care. So who cares about Trump’s demeanor at any given moment on one particular day? He’s a damn liar. To normalize him is to accept all explicit liars as president from now on. It only takes one, and then it happens again and again, and there goes democracy down the drain.
Trump’s consistent lying threatens the foundation of America’s democratic institutions and our diverse culture and what freedom and voice and agency we still have. If those are not worth fighting for, then there’s pretty much nothing left worth fighting for here. People have started to rise against Trump, true, but it will be difficult to get anything done if a complacent and powerful media is still searching for its mission in the past while a president who lies repeatedly is not held accountable.
Are the people alone on this sinking U.S.S. Democracy ship? Look carefully at the two Trump tweets I’ve used so far in this post. In the first tweet I posted, note how Trump uses the term “very sacred election process” and “Bad (or sick guy)!” Isn’t it obvious that these are the allegations against Trump himself, that he and/or his surrogates encouraged the Russians to help him get elected in the “sacred” election and that he’s the one who is coming off as mentally unbalanced “sick guy” or, at least, extremely unhinged? It’s obvious he’s trying to use the same criticisms against himself on Obama to conflate truth with a mirror lie in which he levels the same criticism he faces against what he perceives as hi opponents. Let’s be clear: Trump didn’t even run against Obama, who never exhibited one sign of mental illness during his presidency.
The second tweet I posted mentions “McCarthyism,” which is another misdirection. Joseph McCarthy, the U.S Senator and Wisconsin kook who started investigations of supposed American communists in the 1950s, was a Republican, just like Trump, as was Nixon, who had to resign because of the Watergate scandal. Two things to note here. The reference to McCarthy takes us again to a parsing of our country’s relationship to Russia, a former communist country which seems front and center in the president’s mind. Trump is expressing a liberal platitude—the communist witch hunt was wrong—as a misdirection in an extremely reductionist sense and, once again by inference, is showing in yet another way a deference to Russia through a history argument. (Look how awful those people accused of “plotting’ with Russian communists were treated.) Meanwhile, Trump is also condemning the extremism and blunders of McCarthy and Nixon, two Republicans who disgraced and still define their party. But, see, Republicans recognizing the collective memory hole of American don’t care about the brand as long as they get to dismantle programs for poor people in any given legislative session to serve the oligarchy. Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t need a political party or anyone for anything.
Obviously, one question is whether the tweets are simply stream-of-consciousness rants or calculated minutely after detailed, obsessive consideration. I speculate they are calculated on this level: Because of his power as an extremely wealthy person in our culture, which attracts nauseating, faux adoration, Trump has been allowed to just make things up as he goes along, which has been met with consistent, deferential treatment from sycophants. That even allowed him, with the help of the “liberal” media, to become president as reporters clung to his every crazy word and reported the Clinton’s non-controversies as Serious Journalism art work. Why wouldn’t Trump or any millionaire for that matter continue with what has been successful for them to gain and hold power? He continues his bizarre behavior because he knows nothing else, and, no, he will never know how to act differently or become “presidential,” whatever that means at this point in our country’s history.
As all this was unfolding in the tweetashpere, Trump managed to get this out to the American public because it’s so so important:
The media needs to start out-tweeting the president of the United States. It can do so. It has the power and the intellectual power. It has, to paraphrase the late poet Allen Ginsberg, the best minds of its generation. There’s no excuse, anymore. The Times has made a small first step. Now it needs to get real. Its own survival is at risk. The buffoon Trump is a maniac, not someone who can be laughed away, although humor and satire have their serious role in the resistance and protest movement.
I’ll try to end on a constructive note. Here are some of my humble suggestions for the mainstream media, offered up as a former newspaper journalist, a current professor and a longtime blogger.
Run regular front-page editorials and television news commentaries demanding Trump release his tax returns.
Dispense with such qualifiers such as “misleading” or “distortions.” Trump is a liar. Call his lies lies. Remind readers and viewers that Trump is a liar. Call him a liar in virtually every context in your reporting as in “Trump has repeatedly lied in the past . . .” I still see a reluctance among media outlets to use the terms “lies” or “liar.”
Join forces with alternative media outlets to frame Trump’s lies in a broader context. Don’t worry about accusations that the “‘lamestream’ media is liberal.” Who cares about that at this point?
Stop all the contrarian viewpoints about any given issue when it’s obvious Trump or one of his surrogates has lied. Don’t allow anyone, even so-called experts, to parse through some ridiculous qualification of his lies. Trump is a liar; the people around him lie. That’s a given at this point.
Embrace groups and organizations that know the lies of the Trump regime are threatening our country’s democracy. Report on their actions with respect and urgency. Don’t dismiss the collective voice emerging from identity political groups. Help to grow it by reaching out.
Hire staff members who know that the country is at a dangerous moment in our history and wants the U.S to endure as a democracy with fair elections and some semblance of representative government.
Give up on the idea—and this especially applies to the larger coastal news outlets—that people who still support Trump can somehow be swayed by truth. That’s never going to happen on any large scale. This is a time to retrench on the truth, to call people who believe in the truth and fundamental democracy to action. Truth is not relative when it comes to Trump. People who support him, from high-ranking GOP leaders to the white supremacists who adore him, are not only complicit in his lies they also want him to lie.
Refuse to accept any advertising, political or otherwise, that attempts to qualify the lies of the Trump regime or attempts to normalize him in any form.
Embrace partisan politics by fully reporting on how the Republican leadership wants to dismantle the remains of democracy in this country. Embrace liberalism and express it openly. Use the words “liberal” and “progressive” in your mastheads and your television logos. Channel Five—the progressive voice of City, Somewhere, USA.
Create journalistic investigation teams made up of brave individuals who will look into Trump’s regime, such as his repeated lies, his personal finances, his family’s business ties, his connections to Russia, his anti-immigration initiatives and his build-up of the country’s war machine. Realize the categories are all connected under our historical conceptual knowledge of fascism and dictatorship.
This is a partial list. I could go on. The point is there needs to be a paradigm shift in the media on a major level.
But I only have so much hope the media will respond in real opposition despite some encouraging signs lately. In the end, people have to show up in the public square in large numbers to resist and protest. They will face bodily harm and arrest, as all people protesting authoritarian governments have faced throughout history. Their lives could be disrupted in major ways that could define them forever in both positive and negative ways, but the alternative is even more grim. To function in silence at this dangerous moment is complicity.