A striking scene in the demise of our experiment with democracy took place Thursday in the White House Press Briefing Room: a president declared the media to be “enemies of the American People” and a corps of seasoned journalists dutifully scribed his words. Their crime? Reporting fake news. And by recording his falsehoods they were guilty as charged.
George Orwell couldn’t have captured the insanity better.
On the surface this attack on the Press appears to be Mr. Trump bullying yet another group. But his choice of words here says, “They are a threat to our existence and must be stopped.” His followers are schooled to hear his subtext and some will respond. In short, Trump has crossed over to inciting violence against the people he is sworn to protect.
Their crime? Reporting fake news. And by recording his falsehoods they were guilty as charged. George Orwell couldn’t have captured the insanity better.
After the first wave of beatings and (I pray not) killings, he will say that he was speaking metaphorically, that some passionate Americans took him out of context. But it won’t matter to those injured or murdered journalists and many among the rest will already be self-censuring the way they do in other totalitarian regimes. The news will have had its wings clipped.
Preposterous, you say. But recall that during the campaign, how he said reporters were “dishonest, disgusting and corrupt.” He said he’d open libel laws to make the media easier to sue. He encouraged his fans to rough up protesters and said he’d pay their legal expenses. Over the months, he induced them ever closer to outrageous behavior. Then on January 23rd, 2016, he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” And his followers cheered. The campaign was testing them and they came through for him.
This unsavory period calls to mind the way a pimp grooms someone into the sex trade. He scouts and befriends an unstable girl, confuses her with a blinding mix of charm, gifts, aloofness, fatherly advice and solidarity with things she naturally resents. He isolates her, honors her natural sexuality, hurts her a little, blames someone else and saves her. Then he asks that she do just one little thing for him in return. Then another, and another, only this time for money with a friend of his. Later, it is with a stranger. Soon she is not aware that she performs acts she would not normally do.
Then on January 23rd, 2016, he said, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters." And his followers cheered. The campaign was testing them and they came through for him.
Like the pimp, Trump can speak to people hurting from society’s inequities. He promises to save them, jokes with them, says he understands them like no one else ever can. He isolates them from opposing points of view. Over time he sours them on simple moral reflection and critical thinking. Now he needs his people to do things they have never considered.
And I submit his ploy to incite violence will be without consequence to himself because, just as sexuality is indigenous to a young woman, so is aggression at the heart of our patriotism. Our culture is steeped in it.
Consider that our history books extol in glowing terms the theft of a settled continent through genocide and slavery. We are fed phrases like Manifest Destiny, bravery, liberation and bringing the word of God to savages. Our long-worked disconnect between violence and Exceptionalism obscures our little escapades such as invading other countries to “protect our values” when the real reasons are political and economic. We were conceived in violence and its echoes linger just under the surface of our motives. It is a foundational element of our cultural schizophrenia.
Enter Trump, with his viper’s sense of how to stir unrest with his every utterance.
Conservative administrations from Nixon to G W Bush have encouraged us to normalize hate. They brought us the Southern Strategy, Welfare Queens, Willie Horton, the Contract with America’s attack on immigrants, the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the 49 percent and now the conflation of ISIS and Muslims.
Enter Trump, with his viper’s sense of how to stir unrest with his every utterance. His strategy of calling out an enemy in our midst seems designed to turn this violence on our system of checks and balances in the name of Patriotism. And when the violence comes he will say the press deserved it, while his true agenda is to remove the threat it poses to his river of lies. We are at a turning point. Every aspect of free press that we lose inches us closer to tyranny. Will our near future be forged by emasculated reporters taking notes from Trump on what to say?