By Presidential Climate Action Project / EcoCivilization
Trump’s Dangerous War with the Press
By William S. Becker* – Presidential Climate Action Project
Professional journalists are accustomed to doing their jobs under fire, whether it is bullets in a war zone or figurative fire from politicians trying to pull their watchdogs’ teeth.
It is entirely different when journalists are shot and killed in their own newsrooms, as happened to five staff members last week at the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.
Law enforcement officials said the shooting was motivated by a personal grudge. We may never know whether careless rhetoric from the Far Right and President Donald Trump created an atmosphere in which shooting journalists seemed an acceptable way to resolve a grievance.
Since the early days of his presidential campaign, Trump has fired up his conservative base by encouraging violence against protestors and the news media. He tries to muzzle his media watchdogs and blunt any criticism by repeatedly accusing them of “fake news” when the president himself is Washington’s foremost fountain of fakery. Most dangerous of all, he has declared war on the news media, calling it the “enemy of the American people”.
As it happened, Milo Yiannopoulos, a former editor at the Alt-Right Breitbart news, wrote a text to reporters in New York two days before the shooting. It read, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight”.
It is not a pleasant experience to be outed by the press for a wrongdoing. It is a public humiliation that cannot easily be erased. That is one reason that journalists have a codes of ethics that obligates them to get their facts right and to be fair in their reporting.
As irritating as it is for a public official to have watchdogs always nipping at his heels, it is one of the prices of being in office. The news media is called the Fourth Estate because it is as important to democracy as the three branches of government. The unfortunate reality is that political power breeds corruption. Unchecked, it also breeds despots. That is why the first act of despots and dictators is to take control of the media and to turn it from a source of news into a source of propaganda.
A democracy does not work without a well-informed citizenry with access to a free flow of information. Yet the United States ranks only 45th in the world in press freedom, according to this year’s evaluation by Reporters Without Borders (RWB). The 44 countries with better-informed citizens include not only Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, but also Estonia, Surinam, Ghana, Latvia, Cyprus Namibia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
Why does the United States rank so low?
“U.S. press freedom…has been under increasing attack over the past few years,” RWB explained, “and the first year of President Donald J. Trump’s presidency has fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report. He has declared the press an ‘enemy of the American people’ in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term ‘fake news’ in retaliation for critical reporting. He has even called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses. The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job.”
We might not think that with its cute little bird logo, Twitter could be weaponized, but Trump uses it to punish anyone who dares to critique, correct or contradict him. He also uses it to intimidate the members of Congress who are supposed to keep a president from abusing his office. One Republican congressman known to dislike Trump reportedly holds back his criticism because “one tweet could kill me”. Kurt Bardella, a former congressional aid and spokesman for Breitbart, told Slate magazine, “I wish more than anyone that there would be more courage demonstrated by Republican members of Congress in speaking out against what I think they know is wrong. But they lack the fortitude to do so.” A GOP strategist was blunter: “Donald Trump could murder a child on the White House lawn and eat him raw and those pussies in Congress will never do a thing.”
To be fair, Trump is not the first American president who considered the press an enemy, or the first to try to punish journalists. The adversarial relationship between a free press and public figures goes back all the way to Thomas Jefferson. Before he became president, Jefferson wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter…(E)very man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” Once he was in office and some of his decisions were criticized by the press, Jefferson changed his mind. “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” he said.
Richard Nixon tried to suppress the media during the Watergate scandal. He put several prominent reporters on the “enemies list”, which his staff compiled to “screw with our political enemies” using IRS audits, prosecution and other punishments.
One of the more enduring lines in White House history is Vice President Spiro Agnew’s description of the news media as the “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “the hopeless, hysterical, hypochondriacs of history”. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch believes those phrases still have an impact today because they planted the seeds of public mistrust of the media.
Indeed, eight months after Trump took office, public trust in the accuracy of the news media dropped to its lowest level in Gallup’s polling history. Among Republicans, confidence in news media fell to its lowest point in 20 years. Gallup speculated that “Republicans think less of the media as a result of Trump’s sharp criticism of the press.”
If Trump’s rhetoric does indeed create an atmosphere that encourages mentally unbalanced individuals to do bad things, the most generous explanation is that he does not fully appreciate the power of a president’s words. The least generous explanation is that he understands that power well and use it with intentional recklessness to fire up his base. Either way, members of Congress should put on their big boy and big girl pants and as difficult as it will be, do what’s necessary to tone the president down.
*Bill Becker began his career in journalism at age 19 as an Army combat correspondent in the Vietnam War. He went on to write for the Associated Press, and to publish his own newspaper in rural Wisconsin. Bill has been the executive secretary to the Wisconsin Attorney General, Counselor to the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a senior official at the U.S. Department of Energy, specializing in renewable energy. He serves on several boards and advisory groups, including Mikhail Gorbachev’s international Climate Change Task Force.
The End of Trumplandia
By Roy Morrison* – EcoCivilization
There are several classic, invidious and unfair characterizations of President Trump. He is neither Nero nor Caligula, let alone a Coriolanus. His favorite authoritarian role models Kim, Duarte, and Putin are free to exercise the kind of arbitrary power our President apparently whimsically aspires to. But Donald Trump, so far, has demonstrated his nature not as dictatorial tyrant, but as endlessly needy and self-praising bully and racist star of the Trump show. He has fascist inclinations, a Mussolini lite mien, but survival and avoiding impeachment is much more on his mind than planning to declare himself President for life.
Step back for a moment from the endless tweet driven distractions. Step back from the media circus. Trump has driven millions into the street in opposition, not in spontaneous mass rallies in his support.
The end of Trumplandia will, as expression of our better angels, result from Americans speaking to one another without regard to party and the rise of a progressive politics that offers real radical reform to all of us. This is politics that raises the minimum wage, ends homelessness and poverty, creates millions and millions of sustainable jobs in building the renewable energy infrastructure and the zero pollution zero waste productive infrastructure for an ecological civilization, that revitalizes agriculture, forestry and aquaculture along ecological norms, that becomes world leader in cooperation with China, India, the OECD in ecological global transformation to not only avoid climate catastrophe, but to end global poverty and transform an industrial civilization to an ecological civilization by making economic growth mean ecological improvement and the pursuit of social and ecological justice, and replace a global war system with a peace system. I can articulate this is one long sentence.
What can we expect from the score of would-be successors to Donald Trump? That is very much up to us. Otherwise, the end of Trumplandia will become a restoration of corporate liberal pieties and not the basis for social revolution.We should not waste the unparalleled opportunity to advance coherent paths toward a just and sustainable ecological future.
The Basis of Trumplandia
Donald Trump’s polling numbers are extraordinary within the Republican Party whose members apparently consider the ceaseless attacks and scorn cast upon Donald Trump as attacks against themselves. At first glance, this is a highly unlikely proposition.
He is the rich man’s son who left Queens to join the City Club in Manhattan to make it big in real estate, in the tabloids, who traded up in terms of trophy woman and trophy real estate taking maximum advantage of bankruptcy law and attorney fixers like Roy Cohen and now Michael Cohen. Donald Trump, a playboy bankruptcy man who makes millions by selling naming rights, finally cut off by NY bankers, and economically rescued by acting as conduit for whomever was willing to pay cash or provide loans, and to morph into a democrat reborn as reality TV star and reactionary politician playing the race card.
In other words, Donald Trump’s life on the surface exemplified almost everything his millions of dedicated right wing supporters despise. How could conservatives and evangelicals praise an adulterous, bankrupcy ridden, serial liar. It should be clear by now. Donald Trump and his adoring Republican base share the same resentments as the Donald against the Manhattan’s rich man’s club that offered him no respect and he responded to by pasting his name in gold letters on buildings and casinos.
A klansman’s son, he shares his supporters nativist hate of New York bankers, of immigrants, particularly black and brown skinned immigrants, and, above all, their common hate and outrage at the Black man in the White House. He rose to political power in a Republican Party that had no Bill Buckley to cast the wingnuts practicing Birtherism from the Temple, a Republican Party that since Dick Nixon had been playing cheap racial politics. Casual racism once again become the common coin of the realm. Last week, in a restaurant in Lee MA in the Berkshires, a woman at a nearby table exclaimed loudly in conversation that Obama came to power because of a lie—his phony birth certificate. This is the core of Trumplandia’s creed. The American socialism of fools. As Sartre noted in his Anti-Semite and Jew, bigotry gave the French anti-semite exclusive membership in an idealized French ethnic nation; Trumplandian racism and anti-immigrant nativism confers upon citizens of Trumplandia the solidarity of angry white men and women.
It matters little that Trump scoffs at traditional Republican beliefs in free trade, balanced budgets, small government, military service and sacrifice, and stern moralism. They, the scapegoated others, are responsible, the adoring Trump rally crowds understand, for their economic troubles, their unease, or their sometimes sad desperate lives. He has captured and unleashed on a grand stage the same kind of fervent nodding and cheering belief I saw in the face of a middle aged working class woman sitting beside me at a Pat Buchanan for President rally in Boston as she stared adoringly at a spell binding truth teller on the stage freeing her spirit, lifting her cheering to her feet.
This is why Trump improbably rose to power with the assistance of myriad of strange and marvelous portents combining the Clinton Campaign, Cable News, Anthony Weiner, James Comey, Facebook et.al.
Walking The Knife Edge
Trump’s political calculus has always depended upon his ability to appeal and energize the Republican core and suppress by any means necessary the majority opposition turn-out. That’s why, at bottom, it has been remarked, that the two most surprised people on election night in 2016 were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Even in the realm of degraded American politics it is unlikely that Trump will have an electoral future given his unrelenting assault against brown and black immigrants on the Mexican border and against African Americans, his trade war, and an energized Democratic opposition that a Republican strategists noted would crawl over broken glass to vote against Trump. The ability to appoint a new reactionary Supreme Court Justice to overturn Rove V Wade, if it happens, will likely be catastrophic for Republicans and for Donald Trump at the polls. It is great politics to campaign against Rowe. It will be another thing to deny a hundred million women reproductive rights.
Further, it is likely that the great cheap money driven global boom will end with a credit collapse of trillions in junk bonds, bad auto, housing, student loans, and myriad bogus instruments on the balance sheets of companies that cannot be refinanced or repaid once the global economy begins to contract. This is one logical consequence of the Obama led solution to the 2007-8 global financial collapse that bailed out the bankers and speculators and did not require them to write down debt to market and deleverage. Instead, it was homeowners dispossessed, small businesses shuttered while the banksters continue to enjoy bonuses. Don’t worry, says the Fed, all the major banks, except Trump lender of last resort, Deutsche Bank, have just passed the latest economic stress tests under Dodd-Frank.
And, of course, Trump’s tax cut giveaways to business has allowed the national debt to soar to unprecedented levels in time of economic expansion that makes it even more difficult to practice Keynesian fiscal stimulus in the face of sharpe economic contraction. A government mandated global deleveraging and write down of debt can be the necessary consequence of global credit collapse and deflationary spiral. It is highly likely that the terms of such haircuts to come will once again save the financial sector and corporations and will provide the same kind of tender mercy for Trump voters that the Trump administration has offered immigrant children separated from their families.
The multiple crises that are likely to afflict the world, the United States, and the Trump administration in the coming years provide both the opportunity and the necessity for radical progressive reform that aspires to do much more than a return to the not so good old days ante Trumplandia. Start working on programs and policies that reshape the economic, ecological and social spectrum to respond to the challenge of global ecological peril and social injustice, and ever increasingly concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich, and a real transformative social revolution may be at hand. That’s the good, amidst all the pain, that Donald J.Trump may do for America. (www.EcoCivilization.info)
*Roy Morrison is a writer and energy consultant with over 30 years of diverse experience. He has extensive experience in energy efficiency work, performing energy audits and technical assistance analysis for business, institutional, and government clients. He was the author of the first law in the nation for municipal aggregation for retail electric competition. Roy Morrison’s latest book is Sustainability Sutra (Select Books NY, 2017).