• The Media and the Myths of Trump

    December 1, 2017 // 23 Comments »


    Donald Trump’s victory was so loathsome to journalists that instead of acknowledging their cultural and partisan blindness lead to them misreport the election, they doubled down, growing two overlapping myths to delegitimize the presidency they never wanted to happen.

    The two myths are Trump did not really win the election, and that once in office Trump is so unfit to serve that he is a danger to the nation and must be removed as a people’s act of literal self-defense. Psychiatrists call this denial; political scientists may call it a kill shot to democracy.

     

    The myth Trump did not actually win exploded outward like the Big Bang from November 8, 2016. There were the Jill Stein recounts, and false claims of voter fraud, gerrymandering, and racist voter suppression that lead to an “unfair” win. This all morphed into what stands as one of the most ignorant themes ever expressed in American politics, that because Clinton “won” the popular vote she was somehow entitled to the Oval Office. Reporting on all this came close to claiming the Constitution itself conspired against Hillary. “We’re in uncharted waters,” proclaimed CNN’s Anderson Cooper; the network also featured an ex-CIA officer calling for a new election, what in CIA-speak is better known as an overthrow.

    Instead of dismissing such unconsitutional nonsense, the media featured elaborate justifications, and coined the term “Hamilton Electors” to tie the quixotic effort to one of the few Founding Fathers voters knew via song. An online petition to declare Clinton president that in normal times would have been seen as a crank call was instead promoted into gaining the largest response in Change.org history. Editorials called for the Electoral College vote to be unconstitutionally postponed. Once-cogent pundits like Lawrence Tribe and Robert Reich were handed mainstream platforms to morph themselves into human cottage industries proclaiming the impeach-ability of various Tweets and statements.
    Even today, the New York Times’ White House correspondent beats the fan fiction drum for the importance of the popular vote. Her paper continues to focus on the urgent need to do away with the Electoral College after 220 years, the system that put Obama and Clinton and Carter into office, before the next time Trump runs. In what under normal times would be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, Huffington Post features interviews saying the election may not be “legitimate,” over a year later.

     

    The efforts to somehow keep Trump from office continued right up to the swearing in ceremony, itself boycotted by Democrats who did not want to “normalize” the election.

    It was at that point the second myth came to the fore: Trump was unfit to serve. The uber-disqualification is that Trump is literally a Russian agent (“Is Donald Trump Working for Russia?” asked New York magazine, in a headline that would have made reporters blush during the McCarthy Red Scares), directly under the control of the Kremlin, who holds power over him via some sort of pornographic pee tape no one has seen, or sweetheart real estate loans no one has seen, or in return for buying Trump the election demonstrated by evidence no one has seen.

    Alongside the “Trump is a Russian agent” disqualifier are a handful of memes never before seen in American politics. Trump’s hotels make his presidency illegal under the Emoluments Clause, a Constitutional snippet that generally escaped notice for 220 years (that Obama might get a $60 million book advance to write about things he did in office but only paid out, alongside six figure speaking engagements, after he left office, or that foreign governments donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Secretary of State, are not discussed.) Trump’s tax returns, available to the IRS for decades, are a media strawman; only if the people of Twitter examine those old 1040s can democracy be saved, IRS auditors and their technical knowledge be damned. Maxine Waters, a Member of Congress, said Trump should be impeached because he is boorish and crude.

    Waters’ statements and other similar, albeit slightly more coherent ones, are addendums to the myth, the idea that Trump is on borrowed time. The media fans the flames of Mueller, expecting the smoking gun that has so far eluded the CIA, NSA, FBI, IRS, and NYT to emerge any day. The 25th Amendment, created after the Kennedy assassination to codify the line of succession should the president become incapacitated, has been crowd-sourced into some sort of psychological failsafe mechanism whereby the Vice President, et al, will wake up one morning, realize the Washington Post has been right all along, and force Trump out of office.

    Ensuring that Trump is to appear as unqualified, the media focuses on “evidence” of that. Looking at his trip to Asia, the main story out of the Japan leg was some silliness over Trump overfeeding fish, not what was discussed with the Japanese regarding North Korea. CBS News’ White House Correspondent purposefully pulled a quote about Japanese auto manufacturing out of context to make Trump appear uninformed, whereas the full statement paints the opposite picture. From China, the theme was Trump was “rolled,” cajoled into, well, something, via a VIP visit to the Forbidden City. The main point of the APEC meeting in the Philippines? A silly photo. His speech in Korea, focusing on the problems with the North, was largely reported based on a irrelevant cherry-picked sentence about a Trump golf course. Back at home, the New York Times headlined Trump taking an awkward drink of water.

     

    Running alongside such spot reporting is a steady stream of anonymous source-based predictions war is imminent in Iran or North Korea, and that DeVos, Mueller, Sessions, Kushner, Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly will be fired or resign. That such things haven’t happened in a year is irrelevant; the media says without evidence they still might. A silly Trump tweet criticizing a reporter becomes “evidence” the President has abandoned the First Amendment. Journalists, who as a group once took pride in their objectivity, now openly proclaim their “not Trump” political allegiance.

    Routine tussles of government, the stuff of our system, are overstated to a rube-like public such that courts doing what they are supposed to do, ruling on the President’s immigration orders, are inflated into “constitutional crisis.” It’s not a crisis if the system functions as it was created to do.

    Journalistic standards of evidence, typically requiring multiple sources and/or on-the-record witnesses, are replaced by the egregious use of anonymous sources that are little more than gossip from interns. Watch the mushroom-level growth of headlines with colons, such as Revealed:, Sources: or Reported: and passive constructions such as “I’m told…” that get around the fact that the story is not really based on facts.

    Reporters compete with one another to show how aghast they are at the “latest.” Newsweek is gleeful at the possibility Trump won’t finish his term. CNN talks of deposing the president. Politico runs an innuendo-heavy but fact-free piece claiming the KGB, seeing into the future, compromised Trump in 1987.

    The sum of such snarky, non-substantive reporting is clear: America is on the lip of chaos, Trump is not leading America, he is accomplishing nothing of substance, he is unfit.

     

    But the most unprecedented element of myth is the steady stream of reporting the President of the United States is so mentally ill that his continued presence in the White House is a suicide plan for America. Never before have mainstream media so freely and casually declared the President to be medically, legally, insane, and all based on little but fear and a few Tweets. The media has normalized this into common knowledge; as an example, an article pitch I made to a global media outlet explaining why war was not imminent in Korea was rejected because I could not “prove” Trump was not insane (The American Conservative bravely published my story.)

    The myth is buttressed by medically unethical remote diagnosis, such as that of Dr. John Gartner, former assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. “I don’t think people have any idea how close we are the point of no return,” Gartner said. “I think that there is an 80% chance he’s going to push that nuclear button. Why? Number one, Trump is a malignant narcissist. As far as I know, I cannot recall a single malignant narcissist in history who did not start a major war.” Gartner concludes “the noose is tightening around their necks and unlike Richard Nixon, Trump and his cabal are not going to leave gracefully. Donald Trump is going to be really like Bonnie and Clyde; he’s going to shoot his way out.”

    Though the nation’s nuclear command and control procedures have for better or worse been left relatively unchanged since the Truman administration, it is only now, under the guise that Trump is insane, that the media and some Members of Congress are promoting the idea that change is needed. Media outlets champion the idea the military could refuse to launch missiles, advocating insubordination, essentially a coup, as the best hope our nation will survive. Such paranoia exceeds the worst of Cold War fears.

    Along the way the myths have created their own new normals; it is now perfectly acceptable to call out the President with schoolyard-taunts: Trump has small hands, a joke about Cheeto Jesus, the orange man-child, homophobic jokes about Putin and bromance, that sort of thing. Writers like Charles Blow in the New York Times build whole columns out of lists (“ignorant… churlish… tacky”) of personal insults.

     

    For the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, many in the media wanted to stop him from entering the White House. Failing that, they delegitimize the president in the manufactured-from-thin-air belief that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy democracy in America to save it.

    At some point Trump will leave office. CNN and others would be expected to return to their originally scheduled programming at that time. The problem is once you let the genie of trying to overturn an election loose, you won’t be able to stop it. It’s foolish to think this process won’t be used again in 2020, or 2024. The clumsiness of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy to delegitimize a president is nothing compared to the approach being tried with Trump. People are getting more skillful at the game, learning more about the tools available. A new political weapon has been unsheathed. America is playing with fire.

     

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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    End of the World, Progressive Article Edition

    January 4, 2017 // 30 Comments »

    marlon_brando

    For those who would like to become a progressive columnist in the world of Trump, here’s a guide for your first and every subsequent article:

    — Everything was pretty freaking close to perfect on November 7. Yeah, tough about Bernie, but Clinton was going to be great.

    — Putin, Comey, media, maybe Bernie, everyone you hate and fear, elected Trump because 62 million Americans are white, misogynists, and Nazis. They also are wrong about not having good jobs; don’t people in the Rust Belt read the job statistics?

    — Anyway, Trump is an oaf and/or an evil genius.

    — He is out to destroy America; riff off this for the next forever.



    Your First Essay Example

    And if you’d like a good example on how to do it, turn to Neil Gabler’s essay on the otherwise intelligent blog from Bill Moyers.

    Here’s how that essay starts:

    America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

    Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on November 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country.

    First of all, points for the “bang and whimper” cliche, followed by the happy bullsh*t about how wonderful America was last month as described by phony Hamilton the musical lyrics. I bet the show’s cast could make values, morals, compassion, tolerance, decency, common purpose, and identity rhyme.

    Dude, we are a helluva people! Exceptional!

    Because prior to the election results we weren’t a nation founded on a slave economy, which 250 years later still has its cops imprison and murder Blacks, who doesn’t have the highest incarceration rate in the world, mostly for small amounts of weed that has been long legalized in other western nations. Our compassion is set to full, except if you are different than me in your race, religion, or views on guns, gays or abortions. Of course we don’t really do much for women, and unlike say India, Israel, the UK, Burma, and a whole mess of other places, have never had a female chief executive.

    Yeah, whatever, all that.

    And lovely, that bit about American becoming an international pariah. Could happen. Luckily the world has overlooked so far that we are the only nation to have used atomic weapons (twice, on civilians), stayed at war, spied and overthrown governments in their countries pretty steadily for 70 years, set the Middle Easton on fire over fake WMDs, drone kill wherever we like, torture people, and run an offshore penal colony right out of Les Miserables. Man, Trump, amiright?



    No More Democracy for You

    Later in the article, author Gabler throws in a whopper: “Republicans… haven’t believed in democracy for a long time.”

    Yep, one of the two parties in America, in fact the one that’s been out of power for the last eight years and which was voted into office via an election, does not believe in democracy. Makes sense. And to throw us off the trail, the sneaks are conducting a peaceful transition of power!

    Luckily the Democrats over the last eight years have only drone killed American Citizens without trial (Fifth Amendment), spied on all of us (Fourth Amendment) and racked up the worst Freedom of Information Act response rate since the Act was created (First Amendment.)


    This is the End

    Wrapping it all up, Gabler says:

    But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us. We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

    So there you go. It’s pretty much the fault of us white guys, except for great white guys like Lincoln and Roosevelt. Other once-famous white guys like Jefferson, maybe Kennedy and Carter, didn’t make the list. Hell, Carter was even a southerner.

    There are going to be troubles ahead. Trump will not be a good president, and he is surrounding himself with inept people. The world is a complex place and even the best of our great white men have struggled with that. But for f*ck’s sake, stop imagining an America that never existed on November 7, and creating a dystopian nightmare that you imagine popped into being a day later.

    A clear view of history is a necessary starting point as we edge into 2017.



    BONUS: Neil Gabler is not otherwise an idiot. His biography says he is the author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Senator Edward Kennedy.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Will the Media Reset After the Election or Are We Stuck With This Tabloid Stuff?

    November 3, 2016 // 42 Comments »

    edward-r-murrow

    The venerable New York Times ran a story saying Donald Trump lies about the height of his buildings.


    For no apparent reason, the Times resurrected some information from 1979 saying Trump insisted on counting the basement levels of his signature Trump Tower in the overall count of how many floors the building has. The Times compares this lie to “reports” that Trump adds an inch to his actual body height in his bio materials, and also repeated the gag line that he boasted about how long his penis is (no word on whether it is or is not actually longer than expected.)

    You have to wade down to paragraph 12 to learn other New York developers use the same count-the-basements levels gimmick to be able to advertise their buildings as taller. There is absolutely no news.



    The Russians

    Head over to Slate, which published an “investigative piece” alleging a Trump computer server was secretly communicating with a Russian bank. The story had previously been debunked by the New York Times and The Intercept, but Slate ran it as if they had uncovered the smoking gun proving Trump is under the control of the Russians.

    At Mother Jones, another article alleged that an anonymous, former intelligence officer provided the FBI with information on a Russian scheme to help Trump win the presidency.

    “There’s no way to tell whether the FBI has confirmed or debunked any of the allegations contained in the former spy’s memos,” the story said. “But a Russian intelligence attempt to co-opt or cultivate a presidential candidate would mark an even more serious operation than the hacking.”

    One more example, from Vox, which wrote without even bothering to source it at all “There is basically conclusive evidence that Russia is interfering in the US election, and that this interference has been designed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There is strong evidence linking Trump’s foreign policy advisers to Russia, and Trump’s stated policy ideas are extremely favorable to Russian interests.”

    Journalism Much?

    I’ve chosen these examples because they are from publications that have in the past enjoyed decent reputations for reporting, and because these stories were run as “news,” not opinion columns, where the standards go right through the floor. Even Mother Jones, which clearly works left-of-center, used to do so with some solid journalism.

    Not any more.

    These places (never find fringe publications) are now working with the same standards once reserved for reporting on aliens at Roswell, Elvis sightings and the Illuminati New World Order. It is apparently now within the bounds of mainstream journalism to build a story out of, well, nothing, such as a factoid from 1979, or essentially accuse a presidential candidate of treason based on a single, anonymous source, or claim the Russians have taken over our electoral process based on no sources at all.



    And Clinton…

    On the other side, reporting on Clinton by many of these same publications swerves between hagiography and poo-pooing away anything unfavorable. Emails? Who cares! Questions about what her accomplishments as Secretary of State really were? If you ask, you hate women. Pay-for-Play with the Clinton Foundation? Hah, everybody does it, it doesn’t matter. The standard seems to be absent a notarized receipt for a donation matching an arms sale, or a criminal conviction, nothing matters.



    Next?

    So be it. The media has fully sh*t the bed this election. That’s where we find ourselves.

    But what’s next? Will the media reset itself after November 8, or will they run President Trump is Putin’s dog stories for the full term? Will President Clinton be given a pass on, well, everything, for four years, with apologists and explainers on the front page of the Times, never mind in editorials?

    At what point will the media dig themselves out of this and start real reporting again?



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