Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Radical Idea to Limit National Discord: Restrict Trump's Voice on Mainstream Media

The pain, the anguish, their overwhelming sense of loss, was not an act. Grief, despair, even more than a tinge of desired revenge, could be discerned from the amalgam of parents who lost children at the hands of undocumented immigrants, witnesses Donald Trump presented last Friday as counter evidence to the trauma of family disruptions he created by ordering a zero-tolerance border security policy that wound up forcibly separating children from parents. 

Trump hoped to win a contest of optics. His congregation of aggrieved parents lamenting their permanent loss of a child versus pictures and audio in Spanish of crying children wailing for their mothers. 

During the run-up to his election Trump trotted out a similar group of parents to buttress his claim that illegal migrants are dangerous. That they are murderers and rapists. That they are the worst elements of Latino society. 

Statistics, however, do not support his argument, unless you are willing to accept, as he did Friday from a parent, an unsubstantiated claim that 60,000 Americans have been killed by “those people” since the beginning of the century.

On the contrary, statistics from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies show violent crimes are committed by illegal immigrants at a rate lower than the number perpetrated by native-born American citizens. Crime in major cities such as New York, where many illegals live, is at or near record lows. In Germany, where more than a million refugees have received sanctuary, crime is down. Yet Trump disseminates falsehoods by saying crime is up in Germany, part of his dissembling strategy to inject fear into the populace. 

The demonization, the dehumanization of the Latino community is a crucial part of Trump’s governing and election strategies. He must inflate bogeymen to fan fear and resentment among white Americans. It seems to be working. His approval rating among rank and file Republicans is at 90% (https://nyti.ms/2MS7Edj). I’d venture to say it is even higher among Republican politicians. 

Trump’s lies become ever more outrageous. As do those from the pols who would follow his footsteps. Technology is making their obfuscations easier and more infernal as Timothy Egan displayed in The New York Times (https://nyti.ms/2MQtCNM).

It is futile to try to match outrage with Trump. Sadly, his “true believers” cannot be swayed to abandon falsehoods for truth. Their allegiance, strangely enough, is reinforced by evidence of Trump’s lies (https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/trumps-cynical-immigration-strategy-might-work-for-himagain). 

So scrubbing their brains won’t work. What should be done? Sadly, again, it must be said that effort should not be wasted on the “lost.” Triage provides the example. Put effort behind those who may be educated and informed by facts and decency. 

In Trump-world the news cycle races from outrage to unbelievable seemingly in nano seconds, nano tweets. The media, at least the media that cares about our democracy, must not let his transgressions be forgotten or supplanted by trivial pursuit of a nonsensical tweet or action. They need to stay focused on what really matters. 

The story of the day, of the last week, is Trump’s treatment of children at the border, not his wife’s jacket or his press secretary’s ouster from a restaurant. As Michelle Goldberg opined in The Times, “We have a crisis of democracy, not manners” (https://nyti.ms/2MZPUx1). Politico’s Marc Caputo and Daniel Lippman provided added perspective: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/25/liberals-attack-bondi-sanders-trump-667934.

Trump repeats, retweets, lies until they are accepted as truth by his followers. In this dastardly endeavor Fox News is complicit. Not only does it broadcast misinformation and untruths that Trump regurgitates as fact but it also chides other media outlets for failing to preempt their regular programs to air Trump campaign rally speeches (https://apnews.com/7ea133bf32394cd6aaa1b0a6040a436d).

Responsible, fact-based media must repeat and repeat his faults. They cannot allow him to gain legitimacy beyond his delusional core. 

This is a war of optics. We know on whose side Fox News is. We know MSNBC and CNN are against him. CBS, NBC, and ABC must choose dedication to truth over a warped interpretation of balanced reporting that gives equal weight to Trump’s lies. Our democracy is at stake. 

It is a radical stance from a (retired) journalist but we are navigating choppy, unchartered political waters. Evidence of national discombobulation is everywhere, at restaurants movie theaters and public gatherings. Comity has evaporated. Moreover, at this time of national agitation we cannot expect any soothing thoughts or gestures from the provocateur-in-chief.  

Democrats are divided as to the most proper way to respond. Do they follow Michelle Obama’s encouragement to “go high” when Trump and his acolytes “go low,” or do they listen to Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ call for in their face confrontation whenever and wherever Trumpsters appear in public.

My take is trading insults and belligerence would not be effective. It wouldn’t change any of Trump’s committed voters and could turn undecideds and independents into abstainers in the upcoming midterm elections and in 2020 as they would not distinguish any difference between the parties. 

A more effective countermeasure requires the cooperation of the mainstream media. Fox News has all but changed its name to Trump News. Trump and Fox News have become a circle of reactionary misinformation, demagoguery and bigotry. 

But is it ethical for the mainstream media to limit, even censor, Trump? Here’s part of Bryan W. Van Norden’s reasoning (Van Norden is a professor of philosophy at Wuhan University, Yale-NUS College and Vassar College):

“Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as president, is such a significant news story that responsible journalists must report on him. But this does not mean that he should be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Research shows that repeatedly hearing assertions increases the likelihood of belief—even when the assertions are explicitly identified as false. Consequently, when journalists repeat Trump’s repeated lies, they are actually increasing the probability that people will believe them” (https://nyti.ms/2lyyr2c).

Trump will always have Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and extreme right wing news outlets to spout his venom. There is no need to inflict the populace at large with his mean-spirited, egotistical, abusive monologues. The mainstream media should concentrate on exposing the consequences of his actions on our citizenry, those who long to become part of the American fabric, and the rest of the world that depends for leadership on a stable, liberal, democratic United States.