That is, to quote various Internet commentators—themselves quoting Ice Cube’s character in the seminal comedy Friday—upon hearing the news Sarah Sanders plans to leave the White House by the end of the month, ending her tenure as press secretary.
Of course, now begins the rampant speculation as to who will succeed Sanders in this role. A few people have wryly suggested conservative vloggers, social media personalities, political activists, and Fox Nation hosts Diamond and Silk are the new oddsmakers’ favorites to win the position. This is a joke—although given the disjointed and surreal way the Trump administration has operated heretofore, you can’t rule this possibility out either.
From a survival perspective in the tumult of the Trump White House, Sanders’s run is notable. Certainly, she has well eclipsed the likes of Anthony Scaramucci, whose short service in the capacity of White House Director of Communications is the minimum standard by which future Trump appointees might be judged. For that matter, she also has far surpassed her predecessor, Sean Spicer. If we’re giving Sanders credit—the conditions for which doing so are seemingly miniscule in the Trump era—there’s that, at least.
As Sanders’s watch comes to a close, though, and as per the wont of the American opinion journalism landscape, one is left to ponder what her legacy is alongside her contemporaries and others who have held her title in the past. Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent for CNN, puts it rather succinctly: “Sarah Sanders’ primary legacy as White House press secretary will be the death of the daily press briefing.”
On the infrequency of her appearances before the media, he’s not wrong. At this writing, Sanders’s last press briefing occurred on March 11, more than three months ago. In doing so, she broke her own previous records for the longest span without a briefing held in White House history. As an added bonus, and as Stelter notes, last month, reporters spied a coating of dust on her podium. Yeah, it’s that bad.
To be fair, many might not consider this a significant loss given Sanders’s propensity to stonewall White House reporters if not lie to them outright. From the details of the Mueller report, we know she admitted to fabricating tales of “countless” FBI agents thanking President Trump for firing James Comey as director on multiple occasions. She later characterized her description as a “slip of the tongue.”
But this was more than just misleading. This was a lie. When members of the journalism community found this much out, several called for her immediate ouster or resignation. Whatever credibility Sanders had maintained up to that point, she had destroyed it by acknowledging her prior comments were “not founded on anything.” Without the public’s trust, what good is having her on board?
Sanders’s wanton disregard for truth-telling, paired with the notion that her replacement probably won’t be much of an improvement—if at all—would therefore seem to render her departure inconsequential. As Stelter finds, meanwhile, her abdication of even the pretense of authenticity and transparency is a significant departure from past precedent. Both she and President Trump have contended that these press briefings aren’t essential when the president and other members of the administration are accessible in other ways. Namely Twitter.
And yet, 3 A.M. rants by the Commander-in-Chief aren’t the same as scheduled events marked by the ability of a free press to ask the White House direct questions. As Stelter puts it:
Press briefings matter for both symbolic and practical reasons. Symbolically, televised briefings show that the White House is open for business and willing to answer questions. And on a practical level, briefings are an efficient way for the administration to address numerous topics and engage with a wide variety of news outlets.
Accountability. Directness. Fairness. Visibility. These are hallmarks of good communication notably absent from the White House with Sanders as press secretary. Even within the confines of the Trump era, Sanders is not the only representative of the president to have a contentious and disingenuous relationship with the media; Kellyanne Conway’s thumbing her nose at the Hatch Act as well as the very existence of verifiable facts is an affront to everyone who listens to her speak. From an historical perspective, too, there are umpteen instance of presidents nakedly exhibiting antipathy toward the press. See also “Nixon, Richard.”
This merely provides context, though. It does not exculpate her as a member of an administration that has all but declared war on journalists. It doesn’t clear her of going after Jim Acosta’s press credentials if not his job citing blatantly edited footage, his alleged grandstanding aside. Or for tweeting about the Red Hen restaurant refusing to serve her from her official government Twitter account. Or for accusing the media of spreading “fake news” about President Trump. Or for insisting he has never encouraged the use of violence against protestors.
Wait—there’s more. Or for misrepresenting legal situations involving the president or members of his administration such as Rob Porter. Or for citing the Bible and blaming Democrats for Trump’s family separation policy. Or for seriously overstating the numbers of individuals on the terror watch list getting apprehended at the Mexican border. Or for repeatedly failing to agree with the idea that the press “is not the enemy of the people.” Sanders may not be the only or worst example of bad behavior in the White House—we need look no further than the man setting the tone at the top for the ugliest conduct of all. But she’s an example of it nonetheless.
Indeed, as someone who once tweeted with relish about “Trump derangement syndrome,” a fictitious malady supposedly afflicting Democrats and other liberals, one has to assume Sanders, at least on some level, approves of Donald Trump and his agenda. That she’s jumping ship now like so many other officials have done under Trump’s watch shouldn’t make her look more palatable, nor should she get a round of applause given the difficulty of her placement. She agreed to this arrangement. Like the rest of her fallen comrades, she had to have some idea of what she was getting herself into.
What is perhaps most befuddling about the news of Sarah Sanders’s imminent departure is that it comes attached with multiple reports of her political aspirations, specifically “seriously considering” running for governor of Arkansas, a post once held by her father, former-presidential-candidate-turned-online-conservative-troll Mike Huckabee. Sanders has already established that she’s a professional liar, which some might concede makes her better qualified to be a politician. Our cynicism aside, is this the kind of person Arkansans want to represent them? Because her dad used to be governor, does she therefore make more sense than other candidates? Or is it that she carried water for President “Make America Great Again?” She didn’t even finish a full term as press secretary. What makes voters think she’ll be willing to work with them over the long haul?
Even yet more quizzical is the news that members of the media are evidently planning a going-away party for Sanders involving “farewell drinks” at an upscale D.C. bar. A going-away party? For the woman who refused to say that the press is not the enemy of the American people and who has let her podium literally collect dust? It’s preposterous and yet totally believable coming from a group that sought to console Sanders after her roasting at the hands of Michelle Wolf at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Wolf did her job. Sanders has flouted her responsibility. The only “going-away party” I would want to see or attend if I were a White House reporter is one saying “good riddance” to someone who didn’t have my back after my colleagues came to her defense for being the lying mouthpiece of a would-be despot.
Again, Sarah Sanders may not be the worst the Trump administration has to offer and her yet-unnamed successor stands to be a downgrade. That’s not saying much for her as a person, however. As far as I am concerned, and as I know other conscientious objectors to the Trump presidency feel, Sarah Sanders, you will not be missed. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
A while back, I attended a Saturday morning meeting for a group of Democratic Party supporters in northern New Jersey. Former FOX News personality and Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky was the special guest. She talked about, among other things, having conversations with people who hold different political views, and at one point, fielded questions from those in attendance.
Anna Wong, a tireless activist and someone I know from her work with Indivisible NJ-5, stepped up to the mic, and with a sense of due frustration, asked how we’re supposed to reach across the aisle when we can’t even agree on a set of facts, let alone whether facts matter.
Anna’s question and how she delivered it prompted laughter from the audience—myself included—but she was very earnest in her query. Thinking back to this scene, as I frequently do, I too wonder how having a dialog with people of opposing ideologies is possible when both can’t agree to the same qualitative or quantitative data—right down to what we see.
The episode which jumps to mind, especially as a tone-setter for the Trump administration, is the whole business about whose inauguration crowd was bigger: Donald Trump’s or Barack Obama’s. It seems like eons ago when Sean Spicer—remember him?—was trying to persuade us to believe that the president’s detractors were manipulating camera angles of aerial views to diminish Trump and his achievements.
Meanwhile, in the real world, objective visual analysis showed Obama’s numbers clearly bested Trump’s. Like, it wasn’t even close. If Washington, D.C. transit numbers are any indication, Obama walloped Trump in attendance, managing 513,000 trips on the Metro by 11 A.M. in 2009 to his successor’s 193,000 by the same time. The numbers, at least in this case, don’t lie.
And yet, Trump et al. held to their erroneous claim. As Groucho Marx would say or is thus attributed, who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes? Like some errant, erratic philosopher, President Trump seemed to be arguing against the very existence of verifiable truth. To borrow a phrase from Kellyanne Conway, there were no lies—only “alternative facts.” Seeing is believing? No, no—believing is believing. If you’re not on the side of the president, you’re not on the side of America. How are we supposed to make the country great again if you don’t buy in?
We’re in 2019 now, but the same tactics are being used by conservative commentators and, in turn, centrist media outlets to make us question what we see and know. Back in November, there was an uproar from the right after CNN reporter Jim Acosta was alleged to have manhandled a female aide who tried (unsuccessfully) to grab his microphone during a Trump press conference. Abuser, they cried! Assault, they railed! Of course, there was a proportionate uproar from the other direction when the Trump administration moved to revoke Acosta’s credentials (and deservedly so), but with various critics calling for his ouster at CNN, one might’ve been concerned the network would give in to the calls for Acosta’s head.
What was truly disturbing about the whole episode was not Acosta’s conduct—the CNN correspondent may have been a bit defensive about giving up the mic but he did excuse himself as the young woman grasped for it—but rather the attempts to discredit him. Instrumental in the effort to get Acosta canned was a video shared on social media by InfoWars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson and later passed along by Sarah Sanders that showed the interaction between Acosta and the aide.
The clip appeared to show Acosta arresting the woman’s arm with a “karate chop” of sorts. Casually omitted from proliferation of this video segment, however, was the knowledge that the action had been slowed or sped up at points to make Acosta’s movement seem harsher than it actually was. The audio of Acosta excusing himself also was removed. The footage from the press conference was, in a word, doctored.
By the time the clarifications could be assigned a day later, the right was already off and running with its narrative. To this day, conservative trolls maintain that Acosta should’ve been fired for his “attack” on the aide. In doing so, they have chosen a very convenient point at which to come to the defense of a young woman when members of the Republican Party are generally so intent on circumscribing women’s power and freedom. But I digress.
These cases are a little bit different in their presentation. With the aerial shots that proved Obama’s crowds were bigger beyond the shadow of a doubt, there was little Donald Trump and his cronies could do outside of arguing for the relativity of truth in the abstract. Re Jim Acosta vs. the female White House aide, there was intentional manipulation at work(Watson denies it, but it’s not like he and InfoWars have built a strong sense of credibility), though there were other versions of the clip from more trustworthy sources available. Either way, you were made to doubt what you saw or thought you saw. The eyes, they play tricks. And as we know, tricks are for kids. You’re not a kid, are you?
It is within this context that we can view the much-talked-about interaction between Covington Catholic High School (KY) students in Washington for a March for Life and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and veteran present for the Indigenous Peoples March. The iconic moment, if you will, happened when Nick Sandmann, one of the students and one of a number of them wearing a MAGA hat, stood face to face with Phillips while the latter beat a drum and sang. As Phillips has said in interviews, he was attempting to intercede between the students and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who shouted epithets at the high schoolers and preached about how they were “cursed Edomites.”
In the initial reaction to video from the interaction, most people regarded the Covington Catholic H.S. students fairly negatively. They were akin to a mob, standing in menacing opposition to Phillips, who was but one man. And that smirk. The enduring image of Sandmann staring motionless and speechless with a smirk on his face conveyed notions of racism and white privilege. Here were a bunch of white kids ganging up on an older person of color, a veteran and Native American no less. What better symbol of Trump’s effect and how discriminatory values are inculcated in future generations?
Not soon after, though, the narrative began to change. Additional videos were released that showed additional footage, including the students being egged on by the Black Hebrew Israelites. All of a sudden, these boys were the victim or were regarded with less contempt than before given the circumstances. Actually, now that I look closer, Phillips accosted them, not the other way around! We owe them an apology! We’re so sorry, Covington Catholic High! Our mea culpas and retractions can’t come fast enough!
Thankfully, not everyone is buying the “both sides” arguments and self-flagellation many among the media, their associated outlets, and Hollywood’s elite have begun to make. Laura Wagner, reporter at Deadspin, for one, advises us not to doubt what we saw with our own eyes.
Recounting the predictable shift from immediate condemnation of the boys’ conduct to downplaying if not outright denying any wrongdoing, Wagner addresses the notion that the kerfuffle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is nothing more than a Rorschach test for what you personally believe:
One lesson of the past two days is that you will see what you want to see here, if you are determined to do so; that does not mean that there is anything to be seen but what is there. I see a frothing mass of MAGA youth—who, since we’re taking in all angles here, go to a school where students fairly recently wore blackface to a basketball game—frenzied and yelling and out of control. I see four black men who seem to belong to the Black Israelites—a threat to women in their orbit, but not to random white people they’re heckling—yelling insults at the students. Then I see Phillips, as he has stated from the beginning that he did, walk up to the teens, in what seems to be an attempt to diffuse the situation. I see them laughing and dancing, red MAGA hats bobbing up and down in glee. I see them yell in Phillips’ face, and I see that he doesn’t falter. I see the smugness of a group secure in its relative power over someone more vulnerable than they are. Nothing about the video showing the offensive language of Black Israelites changes how upsetting it was to see the Covington students, and Sandmann in particular, stare at Phillips with such contempt. I don’t see how you could watch this and think otherwise unless you’re willing to gaslight yourself, and others, in the service of granting undeserved sympathy to the privileged.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Various individuals backtracked, excused themselves, blamed their “reptile brains.” They ignored their initial emotional responses and, without much else informing their decision-making, reversed their position. I apologize. I regret. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.
As far as Wagner is concerned, the reason for this is simple: it makes them seem more reasonable and trustworthy. They’re not among the followers of the news who react impassionedly to it, betraying their better judgment for the sake of an outrage fix. Even if that means, as Wagner puts it, “siding with some shithead MAGA teens and saying that 2 + 2 = 5 in the face of every bit of evidence there is to be had.”
Whatever the reason, the final outcome still stands. These people failed to believe what they had seen with their own eyes.
One criticism from people tracking this story is that these kids are being demonized by some, but what would you have them do instead? Unfortunately for promoters of this line of thinking, the answers are pretty easy. Walk away. Find a chaperone. Certainly, don’t make mocking tomahawk chants. For those suggesting “boys will be boys” or pointing to the folly of youth, that shouldn’t be an excuse. If Gillette can make an advertisement about toxic masculinity (which you may hate for being too preachy, but that’s another story), these Catholic school kids can behave in a respectful manner. Blame the parents if you want, but let’s have some responsibility assigned.
Otherwise, some might point to the remarks made by Nick Sandmann and agree with his side of the story. But come the eff on. Why would this kid and his family need to hire a PR firm if, as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free? And that smirk. I know I’m harping on it, but it’s pretty hard to get past. Sandmann says he was trying to diffuse the situation, but he could’ve taken any of the prescribed actions to do that rather than standing within feet of Nathan Phillips and smiling like an entitled little asshole. That Savannah Guthrie would encourage his defense of his “right” to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and listen to Phillips as part of a softball interview is downright nauseating.
The last objection to deliberation on this altercation may be perhaps the most valid: “Who cares?” That is, why are we spending so much time on whether some high schooler was smirking at an older Native American man when there’s a crisis in Yemen, lead is still being found in drinking water, and other catastrophes abound? Relatively speaking, the events of this past weekend are a blip on the proverbial radar.
Their symbolic value, meanwhile, carries more weight. It’s about media portrayal of members of different ethnicities. It’s about how pressure by conservative commentators and right-wing trolls—including threats of violence and release of personal information—can influence individuals and media outlets to spin the national conversation toward white victimhood. And it’s about how people irrespective of gender or political ideology can be made to doubt what they see. It has nothing to do with “intelligence” either. When group dynamics are at work, the pressure to conform is a powerful force. We’re all susceptible.
Returning to the anecdote from the start of this piece, if it’s hard to agree on what is factual or whether that matters, it’s that much more difficult to have a meaningful conversation when something is right before our eyes and we can’t come to a consensus on what we see. That’s the most disturbing implication of the Covington Catholic/Nathan Phillips standoff and why people like Laura Wagner invoke 1984‘s dystopia. When you’re made to question your own judgment, you’re liable to believe anything.
Should Nick Sandmann or anyone else involved herein be sent death threats? Of course not. But should he and his peers be absolved of all culpability? I submit no, and neither should the antagonists of the Black Hebrew Israelites. If you saw what I saw, you’re not wrong—lying eyes and all.
When it comes to the present-day incarnation of the Republican Party, always beware the shell game.
Per Dictionary.com, shell game is defined as “a sleight-of-hand swindling game resembling thimblerig but employing walnut shells or the like instead of thimblelike cups.” If you’re familiar with the setup of three-card Monte, the logistics are essentially the same, only with cards instead of shells. Find the pea (or the Queen of Hearts) under the shell. Double-down on your ability to find it again. If you’re successful, you win big. If you’re not, the opposite happens.
With Donald Trump, Con-Man-in-Chief, working in cahoots with a party whose agenda seems increasingly predicated on deception—so that you don’t discover how bad their policies actually are for you or the country at large—this diversionary tactic is alive and well. Before your eyes, numerous issues await your attention, but energy/money/time being limited, you can only pick one on which to act at the risk of having all three suffer.
Concerning the events of the last week and change, three “shells” jump to mind being of national import, especially fresh after Election Day. All merit scrutiny as threats to democracy, and yet, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
That press conference
President Trump has had some stupendously bad press conferences during his tenure, but his post-election presser, if not the outright worst, ranks right up there. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to the nitty-gritty, shall we?
The great and powerful Republican Party: First things first, Trump started by lionizing the GOP’s “achievements.” Apparently, not losing control of the Senate and ceding control of the House qualify. At any rate, they were achievements because the Democrats had an unfair advantage in fundraising from special interests and wealthy donors and because the media is so gosh-darned mean to Republican candidates. Also, we had a bunch of retirements. But we had big rallies! And we did better than Obama! The country is booming! If the Democrats don’t screw everything up, we’ll all be united and thriving together!
On bipartisanship: With the whining about the Republicans’ handicap thus dispensed with, it was time for questions. First up, about that spirit of bipartisanship he and Nancy Pelosi talked about. Like, that’s not really going to happen, right? Especially with all the investigations expected to be going on and unless y’all compromise? Trump demurred on the issue. No, we’re totally going to be able to work together with the Democrats. Of course, if we can’t, they’re the ones in control of the House, so you know—their fault.
Oh, that border wall… We’re gonna build the wall. We’ve already started building it, in fact. Just try and stop it. The American people want it. The Democrats want it—they just don’t want to admit it. Fine by me. I’ll take the political capital and run with it. But the caravan is coming, ladies and gents. I can’t say for sure that I’d advocate shutting down the government for it. But come on—I totally would.
On the ever-tumultuous Cabinet: Trump is totally happy with his Cabinet. Good Cabinet. Great Cabinet. As long as no one suddenly displeases him, he has love for all. At this point, in a completely unrelated move, the President pushed a button revealing a pool of sharks underneath the floor and lowering a human-sized cage suspended above it from the ceiling.
The Jim Acosta portion of the program: If there’s one moment of the press conference you heard about, it was likely this. CNN’s Jim Acosta, established persona non grata among Trump’s base, pressed Trump on referring to the migrant caravan in Central America as an “invasion.” Trump was all, like, well, I consider it an invasion. Acosta was all, like, but that caravan is hundreds and hundreds of miles away and you’re demonizing immigrants by showing them climbing over walls, which they’re not going to do. And that’s when things got really interesting. As Trump settled into Attack Mode, Acosta tried to ask a follow-up question. Trump was all, like, you’ve had enough, pal. Nevertheless, he persisted, trying to ask about the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, a female aide tried to grab the mic away from Acosta, which he stifled with a “Pardon me, ma’am” and a hand on her arm. Before Acosta relented, Trump called the investigation a “hoax” and called Acosta a “rude, terrible person.” Fun times.
More about the Jim Acosta portion of the program: NBC News’s Peter Alexander came to Acosta’s defense as next reporter up—only to get harangued by the President in his own right—but the implications of this kerfuffle and the subsequent revocation of Acosta’s press privileges in covering the White House are serious. I don’t care what you think about Acosta personally, even if you feel he’s a self-aggrandizing hack. Judging by the smarmy attitude of other CNN personalities like Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo, elevated self-appraisals seem to be a fairly common occurrence there. I also don’t care what you think about Barack Obama’s frosty relationship with FOX News and the questionable treatment its reporters received at the hands of the Obama White House. On the latter count, two wrongs don’t make a right, and if Trump and Co. want to distinguish themselves, they should do it by being better and less petty—not the other way around. To that effect, squelching Acosta’s voice in a dictatorial way should be concerning no matter where you stand politically in the name of journalistic integrity and a free press. And let’s not start with the whole “Acosta assaulted that young woman” narrative. If you’re relying on a doctored InfoWars clip to make your argument, you already should take the hint you’re probably on some bullshit.
More on bipartisanship: After Jim Acosta was given the ol’ Vaudeville Hook, Alexander questioned Trump on why he was pitting Americans against one another. To which Trump asked back—and I am not making this up—”What are you—trying to be him?” He was referring to Acosta, of course. Even after what just happened, it was stunning. For the record, Pres. Trump gave a dodgy “they’re soft on crime” answer and suggested the results of the election would have a “very positive impact.” So, um, yay togetherness!
If the Mueller investigation is unfair to the country and it’s costing millions of dollars, why doesn’t Trump just end it? I’m posting the whole question here, because the President sure didn’t answer it convincingly.
On voter suppression: “I’ll give you ‘voter suppression’: Take a look at the CNN polls, how inaccurate they were. That’s called ‘voter suppression’.” Um, what?
On the individual mandate: You know, I could tell you what he said, but do you have any confidence that, regardless of how people feel about the individual mandate, Republicans have a plan in mind which will allow them to keep premiums down and cover preexisting conditions? Neither do I.
When all questions by women of color are “stupid” or “racist”: Speaking of three-card Monte, here’s a shell game within the shell game in which you get to pick which one is the most flagrantly dog-whistle-y. PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor asked Trump about whether his claim to be a “nationalist” has emboldened “white nationalists” here and abroad. Trump said it’s a “racist” question. Putting aside the notion held by many that racism implies power and Trump therefore has no idea what he’s talking about in this regard, it’s a legitimate question. Trump pivoted to his overwhelming support from African-American voters—a fabrication, at any rate—but his lack of an appropriate response betrays his complicity on this issue.
More on denigrating black female reporters: While the dialog with Alcindor was the only such interaction with an African-American female reporter during the press conference, it’s not his only recent unflattering characterization herein. In response to a question by CNN’s Abby Phillip about whether he appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting Attorney General, he called her query “stupid” and opined that she asks “a lot of stupid questions.” As for April Ryan, Trump recently referred to her as a “loser” and someone “who doesn’t know what she’s doing.” If these comments were isolated incidents, one might be able to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. In such close proximity to one another and based on his track record, though, Trump deserves no such consideration. He’s attacking these women of color because he has a problem with being challenged by strong females and because it’s red meat to throw at his base.
Other odds and ends:
Trump evidently can’t turn over his tax returns because he is under audit. This is complete and unmitigated bullshit.
Trump likes Oprah. Even if she, too, is a loser.
If anything is going to be done with DACA, it will apparently have to be dealt with in court. Whose fault is that? You guessed it: the Democrats.
Trump claimed to have a lot of trouble understanding people from foreign news outlets. If there were anything to make him seem like more of the “ugly American,” well, this would be it.
What did Trump learn from the midterm results? Seeing as he learned that “people like him” and that “people like the job he’s doing,” he obviously didn’t learn a damn thing.
Will Mike Pence be Trump’s running mate in 2020? Yes. Glad that’s settled. Nice hardball question there.
How will Trump push a pro-life agenda with a divided Congress? Like a mother trying to give birth, he’s just going to keep pushing—don’t you worry, evangelicals.
Did China or Russia interfere in the election? The official report’s, as they say, in the mail.
How can we enact a middle-class tax cut alongside the existing corporate/high-earner tax cut? With an “adjustment.” What kind of adjustment? Trump’s “not telling.” YOU HAVE NO IDEA. JUST SAY IT.
Per “Two Corinthians” Trump, God plays a very big role in his life. He’s also a “great moral leader,” and he loves our country. On an unrelated note, a lightning bolt ripped through the ceiling during the press conference, narrowly missing Trump as he delivered his remarks.
Au revoir, Monsieur Sessions
Politics makes strange bedfellows. If you’re thinking how strange it is to be protesting the firing of Jeff bleeping Sessions, you’re not alone. Sessions’ aforementioned removal as AG in favor of Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker—assuming he actually was fired and didn’t resign, though how would we know?—is not something that anyone feels bad about for Sessions’s sake. You make a deal with the Devil, and eventually, you expect to get burned, no? Given his profile as a notorious anti-drug dinosaur who infamously once professed that good people don’t use marijuana, some drug reform activism groups are even happy he’s gone.
Outside of this context, though, the larger partisan hostility toward Robert Mueller and his investigation matters. I’m not going to even get into whether Trump has the right to remove Sessions and replace him with someone like Whitaker who wasn’t confirmed by the Senate, or whether it matters if he was fired or if he quit. Honestly, these questions are above my ken as a citizen journalist.
If past statements are any indication, however, putting Whitaker in charge of the DOJ is suspect. The man didn’t exactly write the book on how to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation, but he did pen an opinion piece for Trump’s favorite news outlet on how it should be done. As with invalidating Jim Acosta’s White House press privileges (a move which has prompted another lawsuit against the Trump administration, mind you), such is a line the president should not cross, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. As Americans, we should all be worried about the fate of the Mueller investigation as it comes to a head, and should implore our elected officials to safeguard the inquiry’s results.
The ghost of the 2000 election
Oh, those hanging chads. It’s somehow comforting—and yet actually deeply, deeply disturbing—that not much has changed since the fracas surrounding the 2000 recount that captivated a nation and prompted cries of a “stolen” victory for George W. Bush. Then again, that Al Gore didn’t win his own state and that thousands of Florida Democrats voted for Bush puts a bit of a damper on pointing to these shenanigans and Ralph Nader as the only reasons why Gore lost. As with Hillary Clinton losing in 2016, alongside legitimate concerns about Russian meddling and James Comey’s untimely letter to Congress, it’s not as if strategic miscues or lack of enthusiasm about the Democratic candidate in question didn’t play a role.
Now that I’ve set the scene, let’s talk about 2018. There were a number of close races across the country this Election Day—some so close they still haven’t been certified or conceded. Depending on your views, some were either disappointments or godsends. If you were pulling for Beto O’Rourke in Texas, while you still should be encouraged, you were nonetheless dismayed to find that enough voters willingly re-elected Ted Cruz, famed annoyance and rumored Zodiac Killer. If you were pulling for Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, meanwhile, you likely were over the moon once the race was finally called.
Of the key races not yet called at this writing, those in Florida and Georgia loom particularly large. In the Sunshine State, the candidates of both the race for U.S. Senate between Rick Scott (R) and Bill Nelson (D) and the race for governor between Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D) are separated by less than half of 1%. Meanwhile, in the Peach State gubernatorial race, there are enough outstanding votes that Stacey Abrams (D) and her campaign are convinced they can force a runoff election based on the margin.
In all three cases, despite the razor-thin vote disparities, Republicans have been quick to cry fraud or try to expedite certifying the results. Scott, with Trump throwing his own claim around wildly in support, has made accusations of electoral malfeasance without the evidence to back it up.
And this is just speaking about what has happened after the election. Leading up to the election, DeSantis caught flak for telling voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, dog-whistling loud enough for racists across the Southeast to hear. Brian Kemp (R), meanwhile as Georgia Secretary of State, oversaw the purging of voters from rolls, the failure to process voter applications, and keeping voting machines locked up—all primarily at the expense of voters of color, a key Democratic constituency.
Depending on how far back you wish to go, the antics of DeSantis, Kemp, and Scott are only the latest turn in a long-standing American tradition of voter suppression aimed at blacks. Carol Anderson, professor of African-American studies at Emory University, provides a concise but effective history of keeping blacks from the polls—by hook or by crook. We may no longer be threatening prospective voters of color with tar and feathers, but voter purges, closure of polling locations, and disenfranchisement of felons from being able to vote aren’t much of an improvement. This is 2018, after all.
As Van Jones and others might insist, Kemp et al. can only win one way: by stealing. To put it another way, if these Republicans were convinced they had won legitimately, they wouldn’t need all the chicanery, subterfuge, and insinuations of impropriety. Even if they do prove to have the votes necessary to win, their conduct is a stain on the offices they have served or will serve.
Like it is with the White House’s revocation of Jim Acosta’s privileges following Trump’s press conference or the suspicious installation of Matthew Whitaker as head of the Department of Justice, the injustice here is such that it should, ahem, trump partisanship. Instead, our “winning is the only thing” mentality and emphasis on results over process all but ensures bipartisan inaction.
Assuming a shell game is run fairly, the customer playing need only follow the correct shell amid all the movement. This itself might be a chore depending on how much and how fast the shells move. Going back to the Wikipedia entry on the shell game, though, there’s an important note about how, frequently, games of these sort are not on the up-and-up:
In practice, however, the shell game is notorious for its use by confidence tricksters who will typically rig the game using sleight of hand to move or hide the ball during play and replace it as required. Fraudulent shell games are also known for the use of psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game – for example, by using shills or by allowing a player to win a few times before beginning the scam.
In other words, it’s a con. You’ve been following the wrong shell all along because the eyes deceive. In the context of President Donald Trump’s unbecoming behavior, his DOJ shakeup of questionable legitimacy, and the Republican Party’s stacking of the electoral deck, while all of these matters merit your justifiable outrage, they are yet a distraction from something else not even on the table.
For one, shortly after the press conference, Trump issued a directive designed to halt asylum-seeking at our southern border. It’s a particularly problematic order, in that it appears to fundamentally misunderstand asylum law and makes it yet harder to apply for asylum than it already is. It’s also reactionary policy that overstates the dangers of the migrant caravan and illegal immigration in general, and further puts us out of step with international standards on safeguarding refugees/asylees.
This executive order comes on the heels of Trump’s stated desire to end birthright citizenship, another move which would be of dubious constitutional validity and subject to challenge in court by civil rights advocacy groups, not to mention having U.S. troops stationed at the border with Mexico. It’s easy to dismiss these as political stunts designed to fire up his base when you have no skin in the game, so to speak.
For immigrants and would-be applicants for asylum/visas, this rhetoric is more worrisome. Owing to our country’s poor track record of acting on behalf of vulnerable populations—I’ll bring our sordid history of intimidating voters of color and otherwise acting in official capacities to deny them their rights back up, in case you need reminding—this is more than simple hand-wringing based on the theoretical.
In the miasma and noise of a Republican agenda fueled by the views of FOX News talking heads, Koch-Brothers-funded legislative influence, obeisance to moneyed interests and religious conservatives, Tea Party railing against deficits, and Trump’s own prejudicial outlook, it’s legitimately hard to cut through all the bullshit and focus on what we can do as possible influencers. By now, the sense of fatigue is real, especially because when we act to counteract said agenda, there’s also half-hearted Democratic Party policies and media clickbait designed to offend around which to work.
So, what’s the answer? Assuming my words are even that useful in this regard, I’m not sure. As noted, all of the above merits scrutiny, but we have our limitations. It may be useful to zero in on one or a handful of issues that arouse your personal political passions. Plus, if you can afford it, so many causes spearheaded by organizations devoted to the betterment of society deserve your donations, though throwing money at these problems does not automatically equate to solving them.
At the end of the day, though, what is abundantly clear after decades of failed policy initiatives is that tuning out is not a viable option if we want meaningful change. Indeed, people-powered solutions will be necessary if we are to fix our broken democracy—and there’s a lot to fix, at that. Recognize the shell game for what it is, but don’t refuse to play. Instead, change the game.
Michelle Wolf, comedienne, Daily Show alum, and writer, hosted this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You, ahem, may have heard about it.
Wolf, delivering her routine with a wry sort of smile that often belied a caustic tone, was an equal opportunity joke teller, hurling insults mostly at President Donald Trump, but not sparing members of his administration either. Nor were other media and political figures off limits, as Wolf also assailed the likes of Ann Coulter, Chris Christie, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Michael Cohen, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and the stars of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, among others. On top of this, she took the news media community to task for their part in propping up Trump for the sake of their profits and at the nation’s expense.
Before we get to the myriad responses to Wolf’s monologue, which tidily ran under 20 minutes in length, let’s first go over some of the highlights of her speech, as identified by yours truly:
Michelle Wolf began by asserting that her role was to tell jokes, and that she had no agenda or wasn’t “trying to get anything accomplished.” You can question the merits of her statement if you will, but if she came with any “agenda,” it wasn’t apparent by virtue of her barbs aimed in all directions.
Wolf did not dwell on the Trump-Russia situation, except at one point suggesting #45 is in some way compromised by this connection. Otherwise, she professed that she didn’t want to titillate the liberal media among the audience by going on about it, and seemed to express frustration at how this story has dominated headlines and has encouraged discussion panels reminiscent of a bad family argument at Thanksgiving dinner.
That said, Wolf went after Trump. Hard. She called him a “pussy” for not attending the Dinner, and rather than harping on his misogyny, racism, and xenophobia—though not letting him off the hook about these qualities either—she made a series of jokes designed to eat away at a key part of his image and truly gall him: that he’s not as rich as he says he is.
Wolf also referenced Trump’s pandering to white nationalists, and surmises the term “white nationalist” itself is a cop out. As she said during her monologue: “Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies’ man’.”
Wolf expressed the belief that Trump shouldn’t be impeached, if only because Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.
Wolf also mentioned Trump’s Cabinet, and joked she had specific comments for its members, but that they keep changing. She quipped, “You guys have gone through Cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out black people.”
As mentioned earlier, if Wolf wrote her routine with any sort of agenda, it was political—especially in the feminist sense—but not partisan. She took Hillary Clinton’s campaign to task for abandoning Midwest states like Michigan, and more broadly chided Democrats for their strategic miscues in races up and down tickets.
Indeed, for all her (deserved) criticism of Trump, her particular disdain for women in positions of relative prominence was apparent. She identified Kellyanne Conway as an out-and-out liar who has no business appearing on news channels, she characterized Ivanka Trump, self-professed advocate for women, as “as helpful to [them] as an empty box of tampons,” likened Sarah Sanders to the character of Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale, a brutal authoritarian figure and spreader of propaganda. Last but not least, she took a shot at Megyn Kelly and NBC’s handling of her contract: “Megyn Kelly got paid $23 million by NBC, and NBC didn’t let Megan go to the Winter Olympics. Why not? She’s so white, cold, and expensive, she might as well be the Winter Olympics.”
Wolf’s harshest words perhaps were aimed at the media, and specifically for the way they’ve taken advantage of Donald Trump’s rise within the sphere of U.S. politics. Comparing their attitude toward Trump like a woman who professes to hate her ex-boyfriend but secretly loves him, she uttered, point blank, “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off him.” For Wolf, this point was one that she sees that members of the media are loath to acknowledge, but bears discussing and repeating.
Wolf’s closing words, underscoring the seriousness of her commentary and serving as a reminder in case anyone forgot (or chose to ignore it): “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” As far as responses to emergency situations are concerned, I’m sure there are those in, say, Puerto Rico who would nod their heads and add their own situations to the mix.
Reactions to the speech have been fairly predictable. Pres. Trump, of course, hated it, calling it “a very big, boring bust.” Takes one to know one, Donald. Sean Spicer called it a “disgrace.” Ditto. Other conservative publications and sites panned Michelle Wolf’s performance, highlighting the opinion she “bombed.” One tends to wonder if they actually watched her performance or simply formed their opinion based on snippets from blogs and their own kneejerk reactions in defense of the President, but this apparently is the state of critical political analysis in our country today.
To be fair, Wolf has had her detractors outside the political right, too. The media, perhaps likewise predictably, have balked at the idea they have helped create the “monster” that is Trump. As someone like Chris Cillizza of CNN and formerly of The Washington Post would aver, he and other reporters have covered Trump to the extent that he has done and said things that no other president/candidate has done, but that Trump, as the “angry id of the GOP,” was on the rise whether the mainstream media gave him the attention or not. That is, while sites like CNN have indeed profited off of Trump’s increased exposure, Cillizza believes this is different from “creating” him.
Other criticisms seem directed at Wolf’s perceived mean streak, particularly in her take-down of Trump administration officials like Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Sanders. In addressing the media and telling various outlets not to book Conway, she joked, “If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?” She immediately qualified that she wouldn’t want Conway hurt or killed by the falling tree, just stuck, but the image was enough for some people.
In assailing Pence and his anti-abortion views, a sore spot for many women and people concerned with personal rights, she riffed, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it, and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” Abortion jokes, even for the pro-choice crowd, are always a questionable choice. As for Sanders, Wolf’s comments about her make-up and her resemblance to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale have been branded as unfair and tantamount to bullying, though Wolf professes she was not making fun of Sarah’s looks, but merely her propensity to lie and spin as a buffer between Trump and the press corps. Despite not having an “agenda,” Wolf was clearly not playing to the room, or for that matter, playing nice.
The bilateral backlash to Wolf’s routine has been such that even White House Correspondents’ Association president Margaret Talev publicly distanced herself from the content of the monologue, putting forth the notion that Wolf’s remarks were not “in the spirit” of what the WHCA tries to accomplish, that the occasion should be one of civility, and of defending a free press and celebrating great reporting, and not intentionally divisive. In making this statement to fellow Association members, Talev seemed to be indicating a bit of buyer’s remorse, and at one point, after making an off-color joke about her own anatomy, Wolf herself followed it with the perhaps-too-on-the-nose line, “You should have done more research before you got me to do this.” Touché, Ms. Wolf. Touché.
At the same time, however, Michelle Wolf has her defenders, especially among her comedian brethren. As they contend, Wolf did the job she was asked to do, and if she ruffled a few proverbial feathers, so be it. Their sentiments echo the feelings of some people that the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the problem, not Wolf or her “speak truth to power” mindset. For years, critics of this annual tradition have highlighted the oddity of an event designed to champion fearless reporting and freedom of the press and yet encourage reporters and political or otherwise public figures to coalesce with one another.
The mere suggestion that members of the press are in some way complicit in Trump’s political rise or in downplaying his administration’s dangerous propensity to lie is therefore bound to be uncomfortable. To put this another way, and to sympathize with the views of chief New York Times television critic James Poniewozik, maybe the WHCA should just not hire a comedian if they want less controversy, and as he puts it, “send the cameras away [and] have a nice dinner in peace.” After all, there’s nothing obligating the Association to hire a stand-up performer. Why do it if you’re unable to handle criticism in your own right?
Michelle Wolf, for her part, has responded to criticism of her speech by indicating she wouldn’t change a word of it, and that the backlash she’s received from her comments means she was actually in the right. Poniewozik, in his closing remarks, also defended Wolf to the extent that the White House Correspondents’ Association did not:
The irony of the association’s disavowing Ms. Wolf is that her routine, whether you agree with it or not, was ultimately about defending the mission of the White House press: sticking up for the truth. Michelle Wolf had the W.H.C.A.’s back Saturday night, even if it didn’t have hers the day after.
As Margaret Talev has made evident by distancing Wolf and her jokes from the Association and its purported mission, she is a comedian and not a member of the press. From where Wolf stands, this is probably a good thing, in that it frees her from any conventions which might prevent her from calling a spade a spade. Still, that the WHCA would publicly disavow the contents of Wolf’s monologue and risk chumming the waters for conservative trolls seems like a questionable stance to take.
It’s reminiscent of when Donald Trump, shortly after the contents of the Steele dossier started becoming public news, shouted down CNN’s Jim Acosta during a press conference, calling Acosta and his employer “fake news.” Looking at this situation retrospectively, it’s not so surprising that Trump would verbally attack a member of the media given his frequent angry Tweets lobbed at the “liberal media.”
At the time, however, it was unnerving to see Acosta shut down by the President and have none of his colleagues come to his defense. Sure, Neil Cavuto and others at FOX News may have been glad to smirk and sneer at CNN for what they perceived as their comeuppance for biased reporting and an overall snobby elitist attitude. But this confrontation foreshadowed the all-out assault Trump has levied upon the mainstream media, and it has ominous implications for the future of news media given Trump’s authoritarian streak and the proliferation of genuine fake news—if that makes any sense.
In other words, if individual members of the press don’t stand in solidarity when freedom of the press/freedom of speech is challenged, it stands to become that much easier to pick them off in the future. Wolf, in laughingly referring to print news as an “endangered species,” punctuated her joke by saying, “Buy more newspapers.” Much as she might disagree with their model, and to stress James Poniewozik’s insights, Michelle Wolf, a comedian with no agenda and not trying to get anything accomplished, recognizes the importance of investigative journalism. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and such explains why FOX News personalities came to CNN’s defense when their rival was besieged by Trump early in 2017. Over a year later, though, it already feels like members of the media/press are less inclined to cross Trump, or in the case of FOX News, are unabashedly biased in his favor. Gulp.
It’s anyone’s guess what Wolf’s performance will mean for the future of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, if anything. Chances are good that the furor over her routine will die down by the time next year rolls around and we’ll be reacting with the usual outrage again, having all but forgotten that dinner’s predecessor. For the media outlets implicated in her speech, meanwhile, it might behoove them to look at themselves in the mirror before putting this episode in the rear view. Given the public’s flagging confidence in the news media, an institution that won’t confront its own accountability may just end up hastening its own decline.
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For better or worse, I seldom give updates to specific stories I reference in my posts. Usually, I’m more concerned with the overarching theme as opposed to the nuts and bolts of these events; if you want the news, Lord knows there are any number of services that can give you up-to-the-minute headlines and analysis. Besides this, I tend to be more forward-oriented in my thinking. Again, this may be for better or for worse; while this gives me direction, I may lack for a more historical perspective, a notion aided by my relative inexperience in these matters. In this instance, however, I’ll make an exception, because it’s relevant. Remember when last we left Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, who managed to defeat upstart Democratic challenger Ron Quist despite, you know, body-slamming a reporter on the eve of the special election? Gianforte was arrested and charged based on his conduct—alas, insincere apologies don’t suffice in the court of law—but after pleading guilty to the assault, Gianforte was sentenced only to 40 hours of community service, a $385 fine, and some anger management classes. A figurative slap on the wrist after grabbing Ben Jacobs, reporter for the Guardian, by the neck with both hands, slamming him to the ground, and proceeding to punch him. Oh, and after a civil settlement with Jacobs and an admission of fabricating his account that the reporter was the aggressor. That Greg Gianforte—what a standup guy after assaulting someone and blaming him for it first. I’m sure he’ll make a great representative for the people of Montana.
Ben Jacobs, to his credit, says he hopes to one day interview Gianforte and also expects him to be a “strong advocate for a free press and for the First Amendment.” Not sure if he’s trolling Greg Gianforte by saying as much, but dude just got assaulted, so let him have his moment, OK? Still, it’s not all puppy dogs and sunshine in the aftermath. For one, Jacobs correctly pointed to the idea that Gianforte initially lied about the affair in a “defamatory public statement.” In some respects, this may even be considered worse than the physical abuse, and certainly, a case of adding insult to injury. But Jacobs also saw his incident as one in a series of disturbing encounters between political candidates and the press, and used a platform he never sought to address this unnerving trend. From Jacobs’ statement to the court:
If this incident were simply between myself and the Congressman-elect, that would be one thing. But it’s had national ramifications on our politics and our culture. While I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common. In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop.
There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society. However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I just hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system.
“This needs to stop.” Hmm, quite a different tone conveyed by the likes of Ben Jacobs as opposed to, say, the putative leader of the free world. If people like Jacobs are aiming to be the angel on the shoulder of political discourse in the United States of America and abroad, then Donald Trump is the unrepentant orange-faced devil on the other shoulder, stoking the fires of discontentment among his supporters and his detractors alike, and setting his crosshairs on the mere concept of the free press. In just a short time as President, Trump has exhibited a pathological willingness to not only throw people close to him under the metaphorical bus, but to get behind the wheel and grind them into the pavement for good measure. The media, derisively referred to by the catch-all “fake news,” is a special project for Pres. Trump, particularly because an unbiased and inquisitive press is his worst nightmare. His dealings with Russia, his defrauding of investors, his umpteen ethical conflicts, his unwillingness to release his tax returns, his past degrading comments about women, his lies upon lies upon lies—I could devote an entire post to the topic of Trump and his administration’s malfeasances, but that strikes me as not only relentlessly aggravating, but boring as shit, too—these are details that eat away at his credibility, his vague air of mystique as the consummate deal-maker, his cult of personality. So, what does Donald Trump do because he must? Undermine the institution that possesses the greatest threat to this identity, an identity built on exaggeration, fabrication, falsehood, and misdirection. Thus, the mainstream media becomes “fake news.” The “enemy of the American people.” Hell, Greg Gianforte wasn’t committing a crime and lying about it to try to save face—he was doing us a valuable service! That man is a goddamn hero!
To my knowledge, Donald Trump hasn’t physically battered a member of the press. (For those Trump resisters among us, no, even this probably wouldn’t get him impeached at the rate we’re going.) Then again, he has all but undressed a representative of the news media during a press conference—recall his shouting at CNN’s Jim Acosta, referring to his employer as “fake news,” and refusing to answer his question. Even if we’re relegating the discussion to instances of bodily injury, though, while Trump may not be the one pulling the trigger, as many would assert, he has repeatedly loaded the gun, cocked the hammer, put it in the hands of someone with the intent to do harm, and pointed him or her in the direction of the target.
See, Ben Jacobs isn’t the only one who sees a danger in the making in the tone set by #45 vis-à-vis the press. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, details, press advocates view Donald Trump’s rhetoric and incidents like the Gianforte-Jacobs encounter as interrelated, and as you might expect, there are plenty of instances of aggression against journalists to go around. Farhi recounts four of these recent examples of confrontations between politicians and reporters: 1) Nathaniel Herz, reporter for the Alaska Dispatch News, was slapped by state Sen. David Wilson as he was trying to question him in the state capitol; 2) CQ Roll Call‘s John Donnelly was pinned against a wall by security guards when trying to question FCC chair Ajit Pai and commissioner Michael O’Rielly; 3) Dan Heyman of Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested trying to get a response from Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway; and 4) the Greg Gianforte episode.
These all occurred within the span of a month, no less, and this quartet doesn’t even include events like Corey Lewandowski, then-campaign-manager for Donald Trump, grabbing and bruising the arm of former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields when she tried to ask the Republican presidential nominee a question, or Michael Grimm, state representative from New York, threatening to throw NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony and break him in half “like a boy.” These are the sorts of happenings that were rarer once upon a time and should be rarer across the American political landscape—and yet they are shockingly and unsettlingly common in our present recollection. This is what happens when you say that members of the news media are among the most dishonest people on Earth and publicly call on them to be jailed. Lock her up! Lock them up! Never mind that our jails are overcrowded! Nothing says “democracy” and “freedom” like putting folks behind bars!
Arguing and providing “alternative facts” against the clear visual evidence the size of his inauguration crowd paled in comparison to Barack Obama’s. Barring journalists from events at his various resorts. Discussing effectively evicting the press corps from the White House. Insulting various news outlets on Twitter and to their face. Suggesting The New York Times and other purveyors of the news have been inciting protests against him. Traveling without reporters on trips outside the White House in violation of protocol. This is the state of journalism under President Donald J. Trump, and that there is neither a greater sense of solidarity among members of the press to stand up for their beaten and berated comrades, nor that much of a sense of disgust or outrage from the American public when these scenarios do play out, is—ahem—some scary shit. Granted, media outlets are jockeying for ratings and subscriptions and clicks, and overall, there has been an erosion of confidence within the public concerning various institutions. Even so, the war on the media and on exercise of free speech without fear of rebuke or threat of violence perpetrated by #45 is particularly frightening because it is not what we would consider a hallmark of an ideal democracy, let alone America’s brand of democracy.
With this in mind, while not merely to overstate the case of Trump and Co. murdering the First Amendment, and while, relatively speaking, the state of reporting in the United States of America is still superior to that of any number of countries, it still may be instructive to take a gander at the situations in some of those more restrictive nations and begin to comprehend what Trump’s actions and rhetoric, if left unchecked, could do the freedom of the press in the U.S. At the very least, this should help convey the sense of importance of upholding the journalistic latitude members of the news media are currently afforded. Back in January, Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, analyzed Pres. Trump’s leadership style both in terms of historical analogs and other present-day paradigms marked by a restrictiveness, if not a downright hostility, toward members of the press. On the historical front, Khazan referenced a study conducted by political science professor Kirk Hawkins at BYU of over 100 current and former world leaders across more than 70 countries. Within the study, which looked at leaders defined as “populists”—”charismatic leaders who portrayed the world as a clash between a downtrodden ‘people’ and a conspiring elite”—and spanned the period from 2000 to the present, Hawkins found that the longer these types of figures are in power, the more freedom of the press tends to decline. Thus, for the moment, someone like Trump calling the news the enemy of the American people/the “opposition” and specific media outlets “garbage” is still uncommon, and for some, even patently laughable. Over the long haul, however? Trump’s fixation on the media’s desire to engage in a “witch hunt” against him (a bit of the, ahem, pot calling the kettle black, but you know—that’s our Donald), to his most ardent supporters, may be a rallying cry to defend his honor. Hey, he’s already got Republican figures such as Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich in his corner. Who’s to say others won’t join in the fray, incensed by how the President is being treated so “unfairly?”
As for current challenges faced by journalists in countries known for suppression of the free flow of information, Olga Khazan relies on anecdotes from reporters who have met with adversity in such foreign lands, and who perhaps were not afforded the same courtesy and protections traditionally enjoyed by members of the news media in America. Ways in which members of the press have been intimidated and outright threatened include being arrested and jailed, held at gunpoint by gangs sympathetic to the populist government, or simply fired, in the case of state-controlled media. When the specter of violence is not the modus operandi, stall tactics may suffice; in China and Russia, for instance, reporters often only have access to officials via a fax—and that is liable to go unanswered, to boot. Through their struggles to access information, Khazan notes, these reporters have, through necessity, come up with some pretty ingenuous ways of gaining access to begin with. I’ll spare you the details, but the point is this: American journalists might learn a thing or two about trying to do their jobs in the age of President Trump. As is abundantly clear, the availability and candor of politicians at every level of government is far from a guarantee. For that matter, the same applies for these reporters’ safety.
The notion of a press under attack by politicians both here and abroad takes on added significance in light of recent events, specifically that of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, while practicing for a congressional baseball game. At this writing, Scalise was yet in critical condition, but improving. A lot of commentary has been made on talk shows, on social media, and otherwise concerning the idea that Rep. Scalise and others were assaulted by James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer. A lot of it, unfortunately, has not been good. Outlets like The New York Times and CNN wasted little time making the connection between Sanders and this act of violence. You saw those leftists threaten to burn the building down at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention in the primary season! They’re a bunch of loose cannons! If they all had guns, who knows what havoc they might try to wreak in the name of socialism! Just as all Muslims are not terrorists, not all Sanders supporters have a latent bloodlust lurking deep down in their psyches. Also, as usual, you had the familiar talking points about gun control. He was deranged and should’ve never had a gun. Maybe if everyone had a gun there at the field, this could have been avoided. Really, we need to address the issue of mental health before we talk about gun control. Stop. This is not a forum for the merits and demerits of gun law reform, though this is an important subject, nor is it a discussion of mental health, though this is also an important subject. Hodgkinson supported Bernie and had a gun. He could’ve been a Hillary supporter. He could have been wielding a knife or throwing rocks.
The who and how, I would argue, don’t matter nearly as much as the why or even the what. “What,” as in, “What the hell is going on here?” This violence levied against elected officials is to be condemned regardless of political affiliation, but I see the attacks on the media and the attack on Steve Scalise as two sides of the same bloody coin. When anger, hate, and mistrust pervade our political discourse, fueling the fire of discord, it is only natural that this blaze continues to consume everything in its path. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. Mistrust begets mistrust. And yes, violence begets violence—I firmly believe that. Sure, it would be irrational to say an event like the assault on Ben Jacobs caused the shooting of Scalise. These are isolated events. And yet, they seem to come from the same place, spiritually speaking. In the Trump era, unless you believe what the President is selling—and this requires more and more ideological/moral gymnastics as we go along—I feel as if there is no true happiness. There is anger, there is despair, there is embarrassment, there is fear, there is sadness—and only temporary relief when something like the travel ban is struck down. As one of my friends from a separate chapter of Our Revolution put the feeling, it’s like being in a nightmare every bleeping day without being able to wake up from it. Donald Trump is President of the United States of America. There is nothing we can do about it. May God have mercy on all our souls.
On this sobering note, if nothing we do matters concerning Donald Trump’s impeachment—and if you ask me, that’s not even all that great a prize considering Mike Pence would succeed him—does this mean we should abandon all hope and do nothing? Of course not. There are any number of causes in which to invest oneself as part of the Resistance, replete with lawmakers to petition and marches to attend. Fighting for the sanctity of the First Amendment, and materially supporting journalists and the publications they represent, too, are such an issue around which to rally. Support your local newspaper, especially if you’re like me and take issue with the accountability of the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post (and they are probably the best of the bunch!). Champion the value of good investigative journalism, and share informative pieces with people you know. Especially, um, that aunt or uncle who’s a registered Republican and feels the need to argue with you on whether or not climate change exists. You know the one.
Simply put, information is power, and to fail support a free press, a key cog in a truly democratic society, is an abdication of your responsibility to participate as an American. Moreover, it’s exactly what the knuckleheads in government want, in particular, Trump: for you to become disengaged from what is going on so that they can less visibly advance their agenda which favors donors and other special interests before authentically representing you. The Post has more recently adopted the slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” It may seem melodramatic to some, but I, for one, agree wholeheartedly. There is a dark cloud hanging over the state of journalism and political coverage today, one that has led to hostility and violence. If we do not stand with the news media as they continue to come under attack, that cloud stands to blot out the sun completely.
Acclaimed actress Meryl Streep recently made a speech at the Golden Globes. You, um, may have heard about it.
As should be no great surprise given how much the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has showered Streep with love over her career—and deservedly so, let me be clear—she was called to the podium during the ceremony to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award, an honorary award given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” As actors and other entertainers often do, Streep took the opportunity to preach a little to those in attendance and those listening at home, and her remarks had a definite political lean to them. This passage, in particular, had people’s ears perked up:
Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.
There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
You don’t need someone like me to point out who is referenced within these comments without being named. Which I know because He-Who-Was-Not-Named, as dumb as he is, put two and two together and understood Meryl Streep was talking about him. That would be none other than our beloved leader Donald J. Trump, who, in his usual way of reacting to news, responded tactfully after much deliberation and reflection. Taking to the medium of choice for tactful deliberation and reflection—obviously, I am referring to Twitter—DJT had this to say about Streep’s allusion to his person:
Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked me last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (I would never do that) but simply showed him “groveling” when he totally changed a 16-year-old story that he had written to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!
If you’ve been exposed to Trump’s Tweets, you probably noted they look awfully neat as quoted here. I edited them. You’re welcome. In just a few lines of text, Donald Trump seemingly always manages to give us so much to analyze and discuss. Usually, it’s analysis and discussion trying to figure out what the hell he’s actually talking about, but we do the best with what we are given. Some thoughts of mine:
“Overrated?” Perhaps. The woman has received an absurd number of award nominations over the years. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better actress over the past few decades than Ms. Streep. Go ahead—name one. I’ll wait. This charge really makes one wonder who, pray tell, Trump actually thinks isn’t overrated. Stacey Dash? Does Sarah Palin count? Help me—I’m legitimately having trouble thinking of famous conservative actresses.
She doesn’t “know” you? I don’t know, Mr. Trump—I think we’ve seen enough of you over the years to have a pretty good idea of who you are. Unfortunately.
“She is a Hillary flunky who lost big.” Wait, did she lose big, or did Hillary lose big? Or did she lose big because Hillary lost big? I’m confused. Especially since saying Meryl Streep lost big seems a bit redundant, as I believe we all lost big because you won, Mr. Trump.
“You never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter?” Yes, you did. There are animated GIFs to prove it. Even if you weren’t mocking him because of his disability per se, you were still mocking him like a schoolyard bully.
“Just more very dishonest media!” EXCLAMATION POINTS STRENGTHEN YOUR ARGUMENT!!!!
These five points, as I see them, are indefensible on Donald Trump’s part, with a possible sixth going to a scratching of the head regarding the use of quotation marks on “groveling.” (i.e. Why are they there? Are we simply being pretentious and putting things in quotation marks? Or are you quoting someone? Heck, are you quoting yourself? Are you that narcissistic? Wait—don’t answer that.) As wrong as Trump is here to clap back at Meryl Streep, however, this does not necessarily preclude her from being wrong in her own right. As Streep herself insists, an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and this, I believe, is what gets those who skew more to the right’s dander up. That is, it’s not necessarily a problem that she feels the way she does about multiculturalism or the press or what-have-you, but that she’s using her acceptance speech to get atop her soapbox and talk down to the pro-Trump crowd watching at home. Well, at least that’s how it comes across to these types of viewers anyway. These “limousine liberals” think they’re better than us with their mansions and their jet-setting. Why don’t they just stay in their lane and make movies, and leave the politics for the politicians?
On some level, though, this is a strange attitude to be taking given legacy of the United States of America as a sovereign nation. Streep, in her defense of safe spaces within the media and of the press in general, expressed herself with an air of defiance against Donald Trump and others who would employ an autocratic leadership style. In doing so, she hearkened back to the very rebellious spirit which informed the American Revolution and the formation of this country. See, questioning authority when we believe it merits questioning is in our DNA. Even those of us with a cursory knowledge of U.S. history are probably familiar with one or more reasons for our rejection of colonial rule at the hands of the British. “No taxation without representation,” and whatnot. Of course, one is free to debate whether or not the Revolution itself was justified, especially in light of the colonists’ initial pledge to the crown as the foundation of their relationship, as well as the notion British subjects on the mainland were bearing as steep a price in taxes if not more so. It’s at least worth a discussion. You know, after this post. Right now, we’re talking Trump’s tyranny, not imperial taxes and tariffs.
Meryl Streep’s declaration of independence notwithstanding, is it wrong for celebrities to use award show acceptance speeches as their own personal pulpits? I mean, there’s a time and a place for this kind of proselytism, isn’t there? Here’s the thing, though: for all those who insist there is a time and a place for such discourse, there seem to be few suggestions as to where and when it should occur beyond nowhere and never. Moreover, when a dialog actually is opened up, the prevailing tendency seems to be one of flagging civility on the part of both parties, especially when social media gets involved and the barrier of physical proximity (which, presumably, stunts candor) is removed. With apologies, back to Twitter we go, and a war of words involving two participants who may as well have been chosen using a Random Celebrity Fight Generator. Comedian-actor Billy Eichner—who, if you’ve watched pretty much any episode of his show Billy on the Street, you know Streep is his favorite actress—reacted to her speech in exultation. Or, as he so colorfully put it:
MERYL. F**KING. STREEP. That’s all.
Which is when Meghan McCain, FOX News personality and daughter of Sen. John McCain, saw fit to involve herself. Like this:
This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how, you will help him get re-elected.
I’ve got more to say on this topic in a bit, so I’ll put this thought of McCain’s aside for now. Let’s stay with the theme of interpersonal drama as a subset of personal politics. Eichner’s laudatory Tweet could have gone unnoticed by Ms. McCain, and certainly, she could’ve let it slide without a reply. Indeed, however, her “lib-tard” radar was a-spinning, and she just had to add in her two cents. Once again, though, Billy Eichner had some colorful words for the senator’s daughter:
Um, she asked him not to make fun of disabled people, and advocated for the freedom of the press and the arts, you f**king moron.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly.” Yea, verily, in terms of conflict resolution, Eichner did just about the exact opposite of what you are advised to do in these situations. It’s not terribly surprising, given his personality, but still. So, while I agree with his politics, he could have chosen his words, ahem, more delicately. Meghan McCain wasn’t done yet, however, and expectedly so. I mean, when some calls you a “f**king moron,” you tend to desire a follow-up. She replied:
Calling Republicans like me “f**king morons” is a great way for Hollywood to bridge the cultural divide. Enjoy your bubble.
Sick burn, Meghan! As you might anticipate, I’ve got more to say on this in a bit, too, so regrettably, I will put this on hold as well. Getting back to the drama, McCain essentially answered Eichner’s insult by telling him he’s being divisive. Even though, you know, she basically started this whole confrontation, but you know. In any event, leave it to Billy Eichner to knock down the entire house of cards:
I’d rather live in a bubble than live with people who don’t feel the need to respect the disabled, freedom of speech, and the arts! Oh, and another message from my bubble: can you ask Dad to give back the MILLIONS he’s received from the NRA? Love being told I live in a bubble by the daughter of a millionaire politician who sometimes guest co-hosts Hoda and Kathie Lee. And I have no desire to “bridge the cultural divide” with ignorant cultures with ignorant voters who don’t respect other cultures! MERYL F**KING STREEP!
Meryl f**king Streep, indeed, Billy. Meryl f**king Streep, indeed. With Eichner’s tirade, we jumped from “Let’s not be so divisive” to “Divisive? DIVISIVE? I’ll show you divisive! I’ll stay in my bubble as long as I g-d well please, thank you very much!” This attitude, I believe, present on both sides of the political aisle, speaks to the current state of the United States political landscape and of individuals’ two-headed (or, as some would charge, hypocritical) outlook on this sphere of American life. On one hand, so many of us are quick to point out to “the other”—be they Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, even religious and atheistic—as being the “dividers” in our nation. Lord knows (sorry, atheists) this was a fervent criticism from the right of our outgoing president throughout his tenure.
On the other hand, while condemning the other side as divisive, we seemingly implicitly want to be divided. (In Billy Eichner’s case, of course, it is explicit. And it involves a lot of use of the word “f**king.”) For example, we love America, but say, as long as those who live in the North stay in the North and those from the South do the same. Concerning the kinds of “bubbles” Billy Eichner and Meghan McCain referenced, there is no doubt this effect, fueled by the proliferation of social media, is real, and you likely have suspected it already based on your own anecdotal observations. A June 2016 study conducted by Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein found empirical evidence that Facebook users promote their favored narratives and tend to form polarized groups, in doing so mostly assimilating that information which confirms what they know or think they know, and ignoring that which stands to refute what they believe. In other words, the “bubbles” in which we find ourselves are of the sort that we actively create—and to dare to burst someone else’s bubble could end up getting one drenched in a torrent of partisan antipathy the likes of which no umbrella could protect you from.
Heretofore, we’ve talked mainly about divisive rhetoric in political discourse. Unfortunately, accusations of divisiveness go only so far when assessments of the originators of conflict are in the eye of the beholder. Donald Trump is a divider to many because he arouses sentiments of fear, hate and jingoistic pride, encouraging people to classify those who reside in this country as “true Americans” or “not true Americans.” Democratic leaders like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, are seen by others as dividers and out-of-touch elitists who are too concerned with political correctness and preserving the status quo to put Americans first and bring about the kind of change this country needs.
To an extent, both sides may be right, but perhaps a more instructive focus is on a different set of “-ives”—that of inclinations toward the exclusive and the inclusive. These are sweeping generalizations, to be sure, but broadly speaking, on the left side of the political spectrum, and concerning matters of economic and social policy, the emphasis is on inclusivity, whereas on the right, exclusivity is a point of order. With the exclusivity of the right and the far-right, it is not difficult to see how this acts to divide. School choice, as liberal critics would have it, separates communities along socioeconomic lines, and as is often the case, racial lines along with it. Privatization of health care and slashing funding for entitlement programs separates people into groups of, well, those who can afford healthcare, and those who can’t, quite frankly. Shit, people want to see a wall constructed at the Mexican border which would literally separate folks. If there’s a way to dissect the American population on the basis of demographics, conservative Republicans have probably thought of it.
It may be a little trickier to see how the left can be found in the wrong for promoting inclusion, especially if you fancy yourself a liberal/progressive and find yourself a victim of the same echo-chamber-bubble phenomenon detailed earlier. Nonetheless, if you think about it long enough, you can probably come up with some answers, if nothing else, within a devil’s advocate context. For instance, greater inclusion in terms of immigration and acceptance of refugees, per its detractors, invites unnecessary risk and a negative element depending on which groups are attempting to assimilate into the fold. Economically speaking, meanwhile, the push for equality can be seen as a delusion, for not all people are created equal, and is at least the belief, the cream will rise to the top and will earn what they deserve. If children can’t afford to go to school or have significant debt, they need to get a better job or choose a less expensive college or university. About the only time critics of the left uniformly agree that all lives matter is when they are actually saying “All lives matter,” and even then, this phrase obscures the notion that all lives do not matter quite so evenly. Again, however, perhaps that is truly how individuals who see themselves as opponents of the left believe things should work.
Even with these arguments in place—the likes of which I don’t actually believe, mind you—it’s admittedly still a little strange to think of calls for greater inclusion and showing more empathy as divisive. On a related note, two recent criticisms by Hollywood elites I found a bit strange or surprising. No, not Scott Baio or Antonio Sabato, Jr. or that guy from “Duck Dynasty”—actual A-list celebrities. Zoe Saldana, in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse, expressed her belief that she and others in Hollywood were culpable in “bullying” Donald Trump and making him into a sympathetic figure among his supporters. Saldana said the following:
We got cocky and became arrogant and we also became bullies. We were trying to single out a man for all these things he was doing wrong—and that created empathy in a big group of people in America that felt bad for him and that are believing in his promises.
I say this thinking is strange, apart from it revealing that Hollywood is far from a unified front, in that Zoe Saldana is making the case Trump, a noted bully, is himself being bullied. I suppose it’s possible for a bully to be bullied, but this sort of goes back to the origins of the discussion between Billy Eichner and Meghan McCain. McCain defended Trump against the “bullying,” or as some see it, the “fascism” of the left, whereas Eichner rather saucily insisted this was not bullying, but rather standing up for Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter referenced by Meryl Streep in her acceptance speech. On this dimension, I tend to agree with Eichner, if not his methods.
The other criticism, if you will, came from Nicole Kidman. Now, I know what you’re thinking: why is an Australian telling Americans how to feel about U.S. politics? Just hold on there, Uncle Sam or Aunt Sally (shut up—I’m trying to be gender-neutral here, OK?). Kidman happens to have dual citizenship, so her opinion is as valid as any of ours. That said, here is her commentary, as told to the BBC, on supporting our new President:
[Trump]’s now elected, and we as a country need to support whoever is president because that’s what the country’s based on. However that happened, he’s there, and let’s go.
I don’t mean to sound unpatriotic, Ms. Kidman, but shouldn’t the President support us if we’re going to support him? That is, if Donald Trump makes his support of us contingent on our support of him—and from what we’ve seen so far in his individual business deals with corporations in supposedly saving jobs from going to Mexico (Trump vastly overestimates his ability in this regard), as well as his political appointees (and what a bunch of winners they are!), that’s exactly what he expects—then we should similarly approach our relationship with President Trump in terms of a transaction. You want me to back you? Show me something first. Jeez, listening to Zoe Saldana and Nicole Kidman talk, people who because of their fame, privilege or wealth stand to be less adversely affected by the damage Trump’s presidency can and probably will do, it’s hard not to feel a little resentful at celebrities. Where’s that Brad Pitt at? I’ve got an angry fist I’d like to shake in his direction!
In all seriousness, rather than focusing on who is making a political statement, I feel more attention should be paid to what is being said and how it is being said. With this in mind, I would argue the way our everyday conversations unfold about politics need to change if we’re truly going to make progress on “bridging the divide,” as so many politicians talk about doing but rarely seem to actually be able to do. Some things which I believe would need to change before we’re ready to have a genuine and productive conversation about improving our country:
Concede that others who support a different political party don’t want to see the country go to shit.
Even when viewing things from across the political aisle, if we stop and think about matters—which would be a deviation from the blathering, blustering political figures shouting at one another to whom and which we are exposed seemingly daily in periodic soundbites and YouTube clips—we stand a better chance of realizing that those individuals across the way most likely want the United States of America to succeed as much as we do. You know, even if we think they’re misguided. Of course, there are those who would insist too many of us liberals aren’t that committed to this nation because we already have one foot in a car or on a plane to Canada or Europe. To that, I would say that we do love America as much as you do. We just might not feel as strong an urge to show it, or wave a flag, or, say, shoot off guns in celebration of our home. But we do. Still, though, despite the notion we probably won’t leave the country, um, don’t push us. After all, this could easily become Canadian Provinces of Joe. Just saying.
When reading others’ comments and posts on websites and social media, consider not saying anything at all.
Especially if you can’t say anything nice. Not every uninformed opinion rendered merits a response. Besides there not being enough time in the day or even the year to address all the garbage people put out in electronic form, too many users are seemingly itching for a war of words, and won’t hesitate to get nasty and/or reduce you to a stereotype. Trolls lurk everywhere in today’s public forums, and feeding them with your own salvo of rhetoric and demeaning epithets only encourages more of the same. This doesn’t mean you can’t read or observe what is being discussed, mind you, but do not engage. I repeat: do not engage.
If you do say something, consider not calling the other person a “f**king moron.”
Even if it might be true. Sorry, Billy Eichner. I like the sentiment, just not the execution. Similarly, you might also want to refrain from the kind of verbiage employed by director Joss Whedon in a recent Tweet, in which he professed his desire to have a rhino “f**k [Paul Ryan] to death with its horn.” Again, I like the sentiment, Joss, just not the execution. Plus, I don’t really need the mental image either, thank you very much. In general, you should refrain from attacks of a personal nature and wishing death or harm on the other person. Say your piece and move on. If the other person won’t, report them. If that doesn’t work, I’m not sure what to tell you, quite frankly. I’m of the belief sites/apps like Facebook and Twitter aren’t doing enough to police their content, most likely because even hate speech generates traffic and therefore revenue, and accordingly, I think these outlets need to be pressured to better safeguard against online abuse. The best I can say is be careful out there, and if push comes to shove, just steer clear of certain media altogether. I mean, if enough people stop using a platform, the company in charge will get the message, right? Of course, that would mean you’d have to stop logging in. You’re on Facebook right now, aren’t you? On that note, I hastily admit defeat.
I don’t know when exactly the relative merits of political arguments became unimportant, and instead coverage of notable events became a competition between news outlets to produce the most sensational and slanted coverage possible, but especially within the realm of fringe publications and conspiratorially-minded blogs, there is seemingly less accountability these days for sites regarding content, and more emphasis on loaded words that betray a distorting bias. Conservative publications commenting on the confrontation between Donald Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta during Trump’s press conference seized on this moment and framed it as the former “laying the hammer down” on the latter or “crushing” him or “eviscerating” him or in someway inflicting serious physical or emotional harm on his questioner, at least metaphorically speaking. Making such an assessment, however, necessitates a viewpoint that supposes Trump was correct in his handling of the situation, and to more objective observers, he was not. This kind of language also depicts the situation in such a way that would have you believe Acosta was left shaking in the fetal position, his pants soaked from urination after having being cowed into not responding. More accurately, Donald Trump made an unfounded charge of Jim Acosta and CNN, and refused to call on the reporter. What supporters of Trump liken to a drubbing was simply a case of our new President being a jerk. I know—shocking, right?
This focus on winning and losing above all else, if nothing else, is just one more aspect of present-day political discourse which acts to separate rather than to bridge the cultural divide. Besides, where there are winners, there are losers, and the winners are OK with their fellow Americans finding misfortune in some way. As is often the case, those losing make up a disproportionately large segment of the total population, and here specifically, the unlucky ones are those who actually try to follow and listen to find meaning through all the bullshit.
Make a better attempt at citing actual news.
Bearing in mind that this is a blog created by an amateur political analyst on WordPress, if we’re going to cite sources in rendering opinions, we should at least point to credible avenues of information. I myself try to link to reputable informational articles and give credit where it is due, even making attributions where images contained on this site are concerned. Granted, you may have your issues with sources that you feel are not trustworthy, notably if you see the mainstream media as biased, if not outright liars. Nevertheless, finding a report on hiddentruths.blogspot.info that suggests Hillary Clinton had a sex change operation in the 1970s or that Joe Biden fathered a secret love child with Madeline Albright isn’t going about the pursuit of content the right way either. Lest I make it seem as though citing sources is something which is easily known and knowable, or that it’s necessarily easy to separate fact from fake news, neither is true, let’s be clear. This aside, the effort should be made to move beyond our individual bubbles, no matter how uncomfortable this may be for us. And even if we have Wi-Fi in said bubbles. Sweet, sweet Wi-Fi.
These suggestions seem to be fairly common-sense in nature, and yet how many of us are guilty of failing to follow one or more? In my personal experience, I’ve been accused of not stepping outside my political comfort zone online by my brother, and have had my aunt tell one of my Facebook friends and former colleagues that maybe we should test out the effectiveness of waterboarding by using it on her, the friend. (Not cool, Aunt Cathy. Not cool.) These matters get emotional for so many of us, myself included. What’s more, we settle into a habit of bickering amongst one another when systemic economic and political dysfunction merits a dialog between individuals of various political affiliations and a unified approach to addressing power disparities. At the hour of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, our nation seems as divided as one can remember in modern times, and yet more fractured than it was when Barack Obama took office. And with that, let me say: sure—we can vilify Trump and Meryl Streep as we may. We can fire angry Tweets at each other. We can even imagine Elizabeth Warren giving Betsy DeVos Indian Burns on her wrists if it makes us happy. Once the fleeting satisfaction is gone, though, the abyss that is the political divide still looms, and we can only wonder how long those on each side can point across at the “other” and embrace division while the chasm widens, threatening to swallow the lot of us whole.
On Monday, January 9, the underdog Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide in a thrilling upset and game overall. Of course, if you were a fan of the pure spectacle and sport of the proceedings, including the notion Clemson overcame a 14-point deficit to score the winning touchdown with a second left on the game clock, you, in all likelihood, enjoyed the experience. (If you are an Alabama fan or had money riding on the game, um, you, in all likelihood, did not.) As noted, the Tigers were an underdog—by as much as six or six-and-a-half points prior to the game—which is not insignificant by football odds standards. The Crimson Tide, after all, were the consensus #1 team in the country, topping both the Associated Press and Coaches’ polls as well as the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision rankings. Undaunted, the Clemson Tigers proved victorious.
From my standpoint, I was glad to see Clemson win, even if it aligned with my brother’s amateur prognostications of the Tigers’ victory and thereby fed the notion of his self-professed expertise, for it, if only temporarily, put aside notions of an Alabama dynasty in college football. For better or for worse, though, what I’ll remember most from the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship was not an instance from the game itself, but a moment from the hoopla afterwards. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney—great name, by the by—during the post-game press conference referenced a comment made in November by Colin Cowherd, former ESPN personality and current Fox Sports radio and television host. Back then, Cowherd had this to say about Clemson’s relative talent level:
“Clemson’s a fraud. Clemson is going to get their ears boxed by whoever they play. They should have three losses, maybe four. I don’t buy into Clemson. They’re the New York Giants of college football. I don’t care what their record is. I don’t buy into them. And I had Clemson in the final four, so I should be rooting for them. I got no dog in the fight here. I think USC is the second-best team in the country and Vegas agrees.”
Strong words. After all, Colin could’ve merely said they were overrated or lucky or what-have-you, but calling someone a fraud seems a bit personal, as if to go for the jugular. This is perhaps why Swinney didn’t take the criticism lightly, and fired back thusly during the post-game presser:
At the end of the day, we left no doubt tonight. We wanted to play Alabama because now y’all got to change your stories. You got to change the narrative. Y’all got to mix it up. The guy that called us a fraud? Ask Alabama if we’re a fraud. Was the name Colin Cowherd? I don’t know him, never met him. Ask Alabama if we’re a fraud. Ask Ohio State if we’re a fraud. Ask Oklahoma if we’re a fraud. The only fraud is that guy, because he didn’t do his homework. I hope y’all print that.
As the kids would say, “Oh, snap!” In faith, I don’t think either of these men are “frauds.” Retrospectively speaking, I’m not sure whether or not Clemson benefited from a particularly weak schedule, but regardless, they proved their mettle and that they weren’t the, ahem, paper tiger Colin Cowherd made them out to be. Cowherd himself is a radio show host who is paid to give his opinions, and I begrudgingly acknowledge he was right about the Giants. To call someone a “fraud,” literally speaking, is to find him or her intentionally doing something wrong with a design to deceive. Barring any evidence of malfeasance on Clemson’s coaching staff’s part or some financial misappropriation perpetrated by Cowherd, neither is the dictionary definition of a fraud.
Why do I include this anecdote about Clemson, Colin Cowherd, Dabo Swinney, and the indiscriminate hurling around of the word “fraud”? Perhaps it is indicative of the current zeitgeist in which the public’s trust in institutions like news media and voting is being challenged, if not eroded, and allegations of electoral fraud and unsubstantiated reports are seemingly rampant. Leading up to the presidential election, President-Elect Trump was quick to suggest that if he didn’t win enough electoral votes, it was due to some sort of collusion or electoral fraud. Then, he won the electoral vote, but he lost the popular vote, and stuck with the whole fraud angle—despite any actual evidence of this. Accordingly, it made for an intriguing bit of theater when Trump challenged the integrity of CNN reporter Jim Acosta and his organization during his Wednesday press conference for all to see and hear.
First, let’s back up a bit and discuss the press conference at large, which, as you might imagine, was in it of itself quite the intriguing spectacle. Feel free to watch the video and read the New York Times transcript for yourself to get the full effect, but here are some “highlights,” if you want to call them that:
1. First, before we get to the aforementioned first, let’s discuss what already had Donald Trump, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and other Trump Train riders all in a tizzy. CNN reported on Tuesday that U.S. government officials had made Trump aware of an intelligence report indicating that Russian agents had claimed to possess compromising information about him. BuzzFeed, meanwhile, published its own report claiming to offer the contents of the larger 35-page memo on which this alleged intelligence report was based, but the claims for this material were unverified, explaining why CNN worked the following day to distance itself from the BuzzFeed report. Which was a prudent thing to do, even though a lot of Americans deep down wanted it to be true. I mean, lurid tales of Donald Trump paying prostitutes to perform “golden showers”? No wonder #GoldenShowers was trending on Twitter! It was worth it for all the piss jokes!
2. Trump, after a lead-in from Spicer which more or less harangued CNN and BuzzFeed as partners in crime—even though the content of their reports were very different—and a short introduction by Mike Pence, which also lashed out at the media and its “bias,” began by further attacking the two media outlets and praising the rest of the providers/publications present, essentially for just not being either BuzzFeed or CNN. Then, he launched into his usual rambling, semi-coherent, self-congratulatory blather. Trump’s mish-mosh began with more praise, in this case, for Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors for saying they would be keeping jobs in the United States. This is the same Fiat Chrysler which later on in the week would be accused by the EPA as utilizing software to bypass emissions standards much in the way Volkswagen did, and which already is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegations of securities fraud based on inflated sales numbers, but that’s another story.
3. President-Elect Trump (still hurts to say) next spoke about the need to orchestrate deals to win back the pharmaceutical industry and the military aircraft industry. I believe the emphasis here is on saving American jobs. Well, I mean, it should be. After all, if you’re asking us to feel bad for the industries themselves, it would seem misplaced, as they don’t seem to be hurting with the kind of revenues they’ve generated in recent years.
4. Donald Trump then talked about—huge surprise!—the fact that he won the election. In doing so, he took potshots at the pollsters who incorrectly predicted he would lose. He also seemed to intimate that those states which helped him win would benefit in terms of jobs and security, once again conforming to his habit of playing favorites with those who brown-nose and curry his favor. Not that I would’ve encouraged New Jerseyans to kowtow to Trump for this reason, but it appears we are SOL for voting blue in 2016. Oh, well.
5. Following a reiteration of his pick-and-choose mentality—i.e. let’s “make America great again,” but only those portions of the country which don’t piss me off—Trump casually dropped the day’s appointment: David Shulkin as head secretary of the Veterans Administration. You know, a non-veteran. Makes total sense. Why is blood dripping from my nose? That’s right—this is Trump’s America now. Thinking too hard only encourages pain.
6. Then, we got to the meat of the press conference: the actual “press” portion. The floor was opened up to the gates of Hell, and President-Elect Trump revealed his true demonic form. Kidding! It was simply opened to questions from the reporters and writers in attendance. Here are some of the queries and responses realized in this segment:
When asked about the two-page summary of the allegations that Russia had dirt on him, as well as the theoretical consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that Vladimir Putin ordered the DNC hack and the attempted hack of the RNC, Trump first deferred and went on a diatribe about the unsubstantiated “crap” that people had reported. Once that was dispensed with, Trump then said he thinks it was Russia who hacked us—but come on!—who hasn’t tried to hack us? Oh, by the way, the Democratic National Committee, for allowing themselves to get hacked, were idiots. Not like the Republican National Committee. What an organization! Also, aren’t Hillary Clinton and John Podesta just awful? Next!
The press, apparently still not done asking questions about the Russian hacks—you know, only because it’s a HUGE F**KING DEAL—then queried Donald Trump about whether he accepts the notion Putin orchestrated these hacks to help him win the election, and whether he would touch the sanctions President Obama authorized based on the findings of U.S. intelligence. On the first count, Trump said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Hey! So Putin likes me! Big whoop! Isn’t it good that he likes me? We can have slumber parties together, making popcorn, watching movies, and discussing how to dismantle ISIS.” On the second count, Trump, um, didn’t really answer, but basically symbolically whipped his junk out and asked, “Does this look like I wouldn’t be tougher on Putin than Hillary would?” (Side note: if Donald Trump actually did this, I think people would be interested to see, if only to verify: 1) whether his member is as orange as the rest of him would suggest, and 2) if visible, whether or not his pubic hair looks as ridiculous as the hair on top of his head does.)
Trump was asked again about those unsubstantiated BuzzFeed memos and whether or not he could be a target of blackmail by the Russians. His response? Bizarre, man. First, he insisted he is, like, the careful-est when he travels abroad and in the public purview. Second, he touted the Miss Universe contest in Moscow—you know, the competition which judges women on their physical features and only occasionally on their brains. Lastly, he said he was a bit of a germophobe, presumably making a funny about the whole “golden showers” bit. Golden showers, golden showers, golden showers. There—I think I’ve gotten it out of my system.
Here was, if not the most stupefying portion of the program, a close second. President-Elect Trump was asked if he thought the Russian hacking—boy, these reporters are persistent buggers, aren’t they?—was justified, how he planned to untangle his business entanglements, and whether he would do us the courtesy of releasing his tax returns to prove he had no conflict of interests. Here’s where it gets stupid: when Trump answered. According to Donald J. Trump:
He has no deals or debt with Russia, and “as a real estate developer, he has very little debt.” As if by mere virtue of working in real estate, the idea of debt is mutually exclusive. This is, in case you haven’t guessed, balderdash, hogwash, and pure poppycock. Trump had estimated his debt at $315 million (so little), but more conservative (read: more accurate) estimates place the figure closer to $1 billion. That’s a shit-ton of debt for someone who professes he’ll do wonders for the U.S. economy and help us reduce our own mounting obligations.
He has a no conflict of interest provision as President. Um, not a thing. Not even close to being a thing. Being President of the United States does not magically permit you to run the country and your business at the same time. In fact, it should compel you to divest yourself of all your business entanglements. There’s no way you could be more wrong in what you just said, Mr. Trump.
He can’t release his tax returns because he’s under audit. Also not a thing. The IRS themselves debunked this notion months ago, and so I wonder if his stubborn adherence to this explanation means he thinks we all believe it, or that he really doesn’t give two shits what we believe. Speaking of not giving two shits what we believe, Trump made the bold claim only reporters care about what’s on his tax returns (which, according to him, don’t tell you all that much anyway), and that we, the people, don’t. Hey, President-Elect Trump, thanks for personally not asking me what I care about, but as it turns out, I do care about what’s on your tax returns. A lot of us do. Release them.
Finally, he says he will be ceding control of his company to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric. No conflict of interest here. They certainly won’t be talking business with their pops, right? Not at all. These men are “professionals,” after all.
7. Donald Trump then turned over control of the press conference to Sheri Dillon, tax lawyer for the firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, to explain how his turning over of his business to his sons was OK. Because he sure as shit didn’t make the case. Dillon’s speech within the speech was pretty lengthy and detailed, and included a lot of tax and legal mumbo-jumbo, apparently about how what the Trump family is doing is totes kewl. Sec. 18 USC 202 doesn’t apply to POTUS, OK? Anyhoo, since Donald Trump is too legit to quit, first of all, he’s putting his ish in a trust. Believe that. Also, his sons and a guy named Allen Weisselberg are running the Trump Organization now, with no interference from the main man himself, y’heard? Also Part Two, we’ve got an ethics adviser on board. Ethics, son! Have some! Plus, Ivanka’s got nothing to do with this whole enterprise. That just happened! Still not satisfied? Peep these deets: only liquid assets in the trust, no new foreign deals, he will only received consolidated profit-and-loss statements, and we’re going to have a chief compliance counsel. He didn’t even have to do that last one, but he did—FOR ALL OF YOU. Dude’s like Jesus up in this piece. Now, before a lot of you bustas start mouthing off, I know what you’re thinking—what about a blind trust? First of all, what about your blind trust? Dude’s President, and he loves America. Loves it. Second of all, eff that blind trust business. I mean, Mr. Trump just can’t unknow his businesses, can he? That would just be some dumb shit right there. Speaking of dumb, what trustee would know better than his sons how to run his interests? No trustee—that’s who. Or some of you might be saying, “What about the Emoluments Clause?” What about the Emoluments Clause? What is an emolument anyway? Do you know? No, you don’t. No one does. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Last but not least, all foreign government payments to his new hotel are going straight to the United States Treasury. You’re welcome. I would drop the mic, but this press conference is still happening! Dillon out!
Sounds all good and fancy and convoluted, right? Too bad, according to Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Per Shaub’s remarks on Wednesday at the Brookings Institute:
We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit. That’s why I was glad in November when the President-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, “in no way have a conflict of interest” with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal. It’s easy to see that the current plan does not achieve anything like the clean break Rex Tillerson is making from Exxon. Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. The Presidency is a full-time job and he would’ve had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust—it’s not even close. I think Politico called this a “half-blind” trust, but it’s not even halfway blind. The only thing this has in common with a blind trust is the label, “trust.” His sons are still running the businesses, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can’t “un-know” that he owns Trump Tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all.
Here too, his attorney said something important today. She said he’ll know about a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees in on TV. That wouldn’t happen with a blind trust. In addition, the notion that there won’t be new deals doesn’t solve the problem of all the existing deals and businesses. The enormous stack of documents on the stage when he spoke shows just how many deals and businesses there are. I was especially troubled by the statement that the incoming administration is going to demand that OGE approve a diversified portfolio of assets. No one has ever talked to us about that idea, and there’s no legal mechanism to do that. Instead, Congress set up OGE’s blind trust program under the Ethics in Government Act. Under that law anyone who wants a blind trust has to work with OGE from the start, but OGE has been left out of this process. We would have told them that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory requirements.
The President-elect’s attorney justified the decision not to use a blind trust by saying that you can’t put operating businesses in a blind trust. She’s right about that. That’s why the decision to set up this strange new kind of trust is so perplexing. The attorney also said she feared the public might question the legitimacy of the sale price if he divested his assets. I wish she had spoken with those of us in the government who do this for a living. We would have reassured her that Presidential nominees in every administration agree to sell illiquid assets all the time. Unlike the President, they have to run the gauntlet of a rigorous Senate confirmation process where the legitimacy of their divestiture plans can be closely scrutinized. These individuals get through the nomination process by carefully ensuring that the valuation of their companies is done according to accepted industry standards. There’s nothing unusual about that. For these reasons, the plan does not comport with the tradition of our Presidents over the past 40 years. This isn’t the way the Presidency has worked since Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978 in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Since then, Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all either established blind trusts or limited their investments to non-conflicting assets like diversified mutual funds, which are exempt under the conflict of interest law.
Now, before anyone is too critical of the plan the President-elect announced, let’s all remember there’s still time to build on that plan and come up with something that will resolve his conflicts of interest. In developing the current plan, the President-elect did not have the benefit of OGE’s guidance. So, to be clear, OGE’s primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting financial interests. Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts.
While it lacks of the panache of my urbanized version of Sheri Dillon’s defense of the Trump’s position, Shaub’s explanation makes up for it with being vastly more correct than the statement which preceded it. So much for all that ethics junk.
8. Back to the Q & A. Donald Trump was asked about having a Cabinet and administration full of conflicts of interest, including but not limited to his own. Trump then proceeded to take out a pistol slowly from his jacket coat, and fired several times, killing the correspondent dead on the spot. OK, so that didn’t happen, but you know he totally would if he thought he could get away with it. I could tell you what he actually said, but it started with Rex Tillerson and disintegrated into some gibberish about bad trade deals. Next!
9. Finally, a question about ObamaCare! You know, the thing the Republicans are trying to dismantle without anything to replace it. Mr. Trump was asked what the GOP would do in place of the “disaster” that is the Affordable Care Act. More gibberish. No substantive answer. There, I saved you the trouble.
10. The question was about whether Donald Trump planned to involve himself in all these individual deals with companies (e.g. Carrier) and when we would see the program on capital repatriation and corporate tax cuts. Simplified answer from Trump-speech: those companies who want to leave for Mexico are going to pay a hefty border tax. Unless, you know, they work out a highly-visible sweetheart deal with the U.S. government and I get to talk about how many jobs I save—even though those numbers probably don’t tell the whole story.
11. The next question was a three-part question with three very different parts, so bear with me. On (1) the status of the Mexican border wall, uh, still evidently happening. There appears to be some sort of reimbursement aspect now involved with it, though to be fair, he could’ve just made that up on the spot. On (2) the status of his Supreme Court pick, that’s evidently coming in the fortnight after Inauguration. And on (3)that bizarre Tweet about us living in Nazi Germany, more griping about the unsubstantiated BuzzFeed reports. Because that’s what happened in Nazi Germany. And, um, just the attempted extermination of the Jews. Other than that, though, exactly like it.
12. Trump was asked if President Obama went too far with his sanctions on Russia, and what he thought of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s plan to send him a bill for tougher sanctions. Succinctly, he said no, Obama didn’t go too far, and then proceeded to belittle Graham’s presidential aspirations. Classy, Mr. Trump. Classy.
14. President-Elect Trump was asked once again about all this “false news” business and what reforms he might suggest for the news industry, pray tell. This is literally what he said: “Well, I don’t recommend reforms. I recommend people that are—that have some moral compass.” Spoken by the pussy-grabber himself.
15. The rest of the press conference was devoted to more about Russia, hacking, and Russian hacking, so let’s breeze through this, shall we? Yes, Donald Trump trusts his intelligence community, but only the people he’s appointed and they’ve got a great hacking defense strategy coming—just you wait and see. Wait, does Trump believe Russia was behind the hacks? Probably, but maybe not. (Writer’s Note: Ugh.) What is his message to Vladimir Putin, if, indeed, he was behind the hacks? Mr. Putin, you will respect America. Same goes for you, China. Japan, Mexico, everyone else, you too. And Don and Eric, you better do a good job, or I’ll say, “You’re fired!” No, seriously, he said his catch phrase. At the end of a presidential press conference. Hmm, it appears that that bleeding coming from my nose has intensified. Could someone grab a box of tissues, please? I think my brain may be in the process of complete liquefaction. Remember me as I was prior to Donald Trump being sworn in, I beg of you.
You may have noticed a number was missing from the ordered list comprising my extensive breakdown of Trump’s Wednesday press conference. Hey, it’s called triskaidekaphobia, and I’m sensitive about it! Seriously, though, I’ve had enough of bullshit explanations from the man himself, so let’s get to it. At a point in the press conference, Donald Trump, in his usual delicate style, referred to BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage,” and went on to say that CNN “went out of their way to build it up,” as if to suggest that CNN piled on to the pile of garbage that BuzzFeed had created. In reality, though, CNN’s report preceded BuzzFeed’s, and was appreciably different, with the latter’s being of a salacious and irresponsible manner, prompting a rebuke from Chuck Todd of MSNBC for willingly publishing “fake news.”
Naturally, when impugned by name, you may wish to defend yourself, or at least have a chance to speak, which is what CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to do, asking, “Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question, Mr. President-elect?” Simple, respectful, no? This was Trump’s response: “Your organization is terrible.” He then proceeded to move onto another questioner, and when Acosta pressed him for a chance to defend his organization, Trump fired back by telling him “don’t be rude” and eventually admonishing him by saying “you are fake news.” And he refused to grant Jim Acosta a question. Just like that. Acosta’s question would actually be asked and answered in the waning minutes of the press conference, but the damage was already done, and furthermore, according to Acosta’s account, he was approached by Sean Spicer and told that if he were to “do that again,” he was going to be thrown out of the press conference. So much for freedom of the press.
Predictably, self-appointed enemies of the left and the “liberal media” loved this result, with numerous conservative “news” sites cheering Donald Trump’s “beatdown” of Jim Acosta. Spicer himself insisted Acosta was behaving inappropriately and rudely, and both he and Newt Gingrich called on him to apologize to Trump. Not the other way around. What’s most striking to me and numerous others, I’m sure, though, is how pretty much everyone else in the press just sat or stood by and let Trump efface Acosta from the press conference, metaphorically stepping over his carcass to get a place at the dinner table. Matt Gertz of Media Matters for America has an even starker comparison for it: “Trump Just Shot Jim Acosta in the Middle of Fifth Avenue and the Press Didn’t Blink.” Referencing a boast from the campaign trail of Trump’s that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and he wouldn’t lose voters, Gertz pointed out a trend of Donald Trump lashing out at criticism of him and his campaign, banning members of the press and whole news organizations, and the rest of the press corps not doing shit about it:
This is a pattern. Members of the press have repeatedly refused to stand together as Trump has lashed out at their colleagues. Trump banned The Des Moines Register from covering his campaign after it printed a critical editorial. There was no collective response from the press. So he banned more outlets when he didn’t like their coverage. His campaign threw a New York Times reporter out of an event. No response from the press. He confined the reporters to press pens where he could mock them by name to the glee of his supporters, putting them in physical danger. And into the pens they went, day after day. His campaign manager allegedly manhandled a reporter. CNN hired the campaign manager! Trump treats reporters like conquered foes who he can manhandle at will. If they can’t figure out a way to stand up together and for one another, he will pick them off one by one and grind the free press into the dirt.
Even if people in the news community came to Jim Acosta’s and CNN’s defense after the fact, that they were content to remain silent during Trump’s finger-wagging illustrates the point: the news media generally isn’t willing to stand up for one of its own when that isolated target gets attacked. Case in point FOX News, which, prior to the rise of Trump, Breitbart, the alt-right, and fake news sites which specifically target audiences on social media feeds, more or less had the market covered on fake and misleading coverage. On one hand, correspondent Shepard Smith came to CNN’s defense with journalistic principles in mind, saying as much Wednesday following the press conference:
CNN’s exclusive reporting on the Russian matter was separate and different from the document dump executed by an online news property. Though we at FOX News cannot confirm CNN’s report, it is our observation that its correspondents followed journalistic standards, and that neither they nor any other journalist should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States.
FOX News, whose personalities—notably Megyn Kelly while still in the network’s employ—are no stranger to Donald Trump’s wrath, and so it at least makes sense that someone like Shepard Smith would support CNN and Jim Acosta in this way. On the other hand, Neil Cavuto, fellow FOX News talking head, couldn’t help but put a smirk on his face and stick it to the network’s cable news rival a day later. On Your World with Neil Cavuto—at least, I think it was Your World with Neil Cavuto; I don’t really give a shit about any of the programs he hosts—the program’s namesake had this to say about Trump’s rough handling of CNN in this instance:
How does it feel to be dismissed, or worse, ignored? How does it feel when your feelings are hurt, when your reporters are singled out, and you’re treated unfairly and unkindly, even rudely?
Later on in the segment, Cavuto closed with this mean-spirited jab at CNN:
Isn’t it obnoxious and unfair how some celebrate your plight? Kind of feels like the way you celebrated ours, doesn’t it? They say payback’s a bitch. If only you would take a moment to rewind the tape and see the shoe was on the other foot. Or am I confusing it with the one now kicking you in the ass?
My, my, Neil, aren’t you the tough guy? In Neil Cavuto’s defense, President Obama’s relationship with the press corps was far from sterling, as numerous outlets criticized the lack of transparency with which his administration dealt with the press as a subset of his administration’s larger failings in this regard. Moreover, Cavuto is mostly right that other members of the mainstream media didn’t come to FOX News’ defense when Obama singled them out, though interestingly enough, Jake Tapper of, ahem, CNN, has. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right, and if Cavuto is expecting an apology because FOX News has become popular by pandering to liberal-bashers and Obama-haters and because Donald Trump won the election, he’s got a long wait on his hands. Besides, today it’s CNN, but what’s to prevent FOX News from being next on Trump’s hit list or on it at some point in the future? Will Neil Cavuto be quite so smug then? What if CNN comes (again) to his network’s defense?
For any number of reasons, Donald Trump’s press conference in advance of his inauguration is frightening stuff. His persistent refusal to blame Russia for anything, his failure to provide substantive answers to anything related to policy decisions, his and his administration’s questionable ethical standards and conflicts—you name it. But Trump’s refusal to field a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta with the justification that his organization is “terrible” and “fake news” should concern all Americans and members of the press, and not just those on the left. Barack Obama wasn’t exactly a saint, but Trump has displayed signs of being a tyrannical leader well before formally being sworn in. In an age in which fake news is threatening our knowledge of the facts, and political leaders are trying to make us believe truth is not as relevant as opinion and how much we feel something should be true, the failure to hear real news is even worse than the fake article.