Wednesday, July 24, 2019

stop playing 'hail to the Troll-in-Chief'

One thing reporters seem unwilling to understand about Donald Trump is that he is a troll.

No, not one of those so-ugly-they’re-cute cave-dwellers with unruly orange hair that kids put on the ends of their pencils. Trump is the more insidious modern kind of troll – an internet troll.

He started his most recent meddling in national politics by trolling President Obama with birtherism – pushing the lie that Obama wasn’t born in the USA and was actually a Kenyan Muslim. He trolled all his competitors in the GOP primary (‘Low Energy Jeb,’ ‘Lyin’ Ted’) and then trolled his way to the White House (‘Crooked Hillary,’ ‘Lock Her Up.’) As President, he trolls foreign leaders ('Little Rocket Man'), trolls the justice system (Obama judges), trolls the press (the enemy of the people), trolls anyone he disagrees with (calling Justin Amash one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress and a total loser!) He trolls even when he doesn’t know that he’s trolling (as an example: saying he had been asked by India to mediate its dispute with Pakistan regarding Kashmir).

So it’s no surprise that he’s been trolling the Democratic Party by trolling four freshman members of Congress, all progressive women of color, saying they should “go back” to the countries they came from. (In the troll’s universe, it doesn’t matter that three of them were born here and the life of the fourth, who arrived here at age ten after spending four years in a refugee camp and was so inspired by the American system that she went into public service, is an inspiring American success story. Trolling works best when untethered from the truth.)

Trump's trolling is catnip for reporters. Each reprehensible statement, each comic piece of gobbledygook (covfefe, anyone?), each lie: it all makes for great copy.

But let's be honest: in reporting things this way, the press has avidly colluded in Trump’s trolling. Consider the press's response to the troll's taunts about the four Congresswomen.

After covering the troll’s initial comments, the press reported on the rally in North Carolina where Trump supporters gleefully chanted “Send Her Back,” about Rep. Ilhan Omar while the troll stood astride the stage in silent appreciation. At the same time, a number of reporters wrote anxious articles trying to assess whether the president was racist (nota bene: if someone has spent years trolling people with racist stuff, you don’t need to ask: he has already told you, straight up.) The following day, the press gave many column-inches to the troll when he said what was clearly a lie: that he disapproved of the chant. A day later, they covered the troll’s statement that the people at his rally were “incredible patriots.” And a day on from that, they offered additional ‘think pieces’: The New York Times analyzed how the troll has long employed what the paper called the “old tactic” of “using race for gain” while The Washington Post gave readers a breathless “account of Trump’s tweets and their aftermath … based on interviews with 26 White House aides, advisers, lawmakers and others involved in the response.”

A week’s worth of headlines. A welter of front page stories. A steaming heap of of cable and internet bloviating. All with the troll at its center.

For sure, it’s impossible for the press to ignore the parade of shade the troll throws and the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more’ attitude he employs. This is the President of the United States, fingers and lips flapping, offering a catalog of racist, misogynist, bullying, xenophobic stuff. It is dreadful and dangerous.

But the problem here is the same problem involved in all trolling. To report the troll’s statements is to give the troll a megaphone. To argue with the troll is to keep the troll front and center, thus feeding his ego and sustaining his performance. To ignore the troll is to cede him the world’s stage. To yell at the troll is to turn into trolls ourselves. No matter what we do, we keep the focus on the troll and his beliefs. With our non-stop explanations and analysis, even with our denunciations, we give the troll respect and legitimize the way he pushes evil bombast and then backs away from it a hair, and, for this tiny change, make him seem presidential.

Here’s the bottom line: In 2016, the troll broke the traditional model of reporting. The press parroted his lies and insults as if they were news without appearing to realize that when you restate a lie on the front page, you make it a truth, and when you echo a bully you are agreeing with him.

And the press is not doing anything differently now.

The troll's gonna keep trolling.

But we don't have to follow. Sure, we need to concentrate on and cover the racism, sexism, bullying, and corruption emanating from the White House and elsewhere in the country. But we can’t let the troll drive that agenda, we can’t let him set the terms of the debate – because that normalizes and even legitimizes his trolling. 

Our job as reporters -- and as citizens -- is to not get caught up in the echo chamber, and to reclaim the agenda from the Troll-in-Chief.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Born on the Fourth of July: the Declaration of Independence as an indictment

Every 4th of July, my father, a World War II veteran, recites the Declaration of Independence at a gathering in the senior facility where he lives.

And every year, as a dutiful son, I have ignored his one-man show of principle. Till now.

This year, I finally heeded my old man’s call and read the Declaration in full. There was much in it I knew, from the soaring statement “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” to the famous prescription “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

But I had forgotten that the rest of the document signed by John Hancock and 55 other brave souls is essentially a list of grievances against King George III, who ruled England and the thirteen colonies at the time.

As I read through the accusations laid out in the Declaration, I realized that, 243 years on, the great founding document of the United States of America could serve as an indictment of President Trump and the entire Republican Party. Consider the charges:
  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
Think of President Trump’s continuing attempts to destroy Obamacare. Think of his decision to hold the so-called Dreamers – kids who were brought to the U.S. as infants and know no other home and who have come forward voluntarily to get a path toward citizenship – hostage to his desire to build a wall on our nation’s southern border.
  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance.
This could apply to Trump’s efforts, together with Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership in the Senate, to stymie almost all bi-partisan efforts to legislate.
  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature.
This seems a clear reference to Republican efforts to gerrymander local districts and to create voter ID laws that block African-Americans and others who tend to vote Democratic from exercising their legal rights.
  • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.
Think immigration, the Muslim ban, the family separation policy, the appalling camps – whatever label you want to put on them – at the border.
  • He has made judges dependent on his will alone
Think of the President’s tweets targeting judges who issue decisions he doesn't like.
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures
A clear reference to the nation’s 20,000 border patrol agents and 20,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees whose powers have become increasingly broad and whose actions have become increasingly harsh and punitive
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments
Think of how Trump, acting through executive orders and administrative rule changes, has been gutting the nation’s environmental laws, and cutting the powers of other federal regulatory agencies. Think also of how he pulled the country out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris agreement on climate change. And how the President is now trying to find a way around the court decision regarding putting a citizenship question in the census.
  • He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his Protection, and waging War against us.
An unmistakable reference to the administration’s vow to target Sanctuary Cities – most of which are in regions that did not support the President in the last election, and also to his accusation that those who report critically about his maneuvers are enemies of the people.

On and on, through the Declaration, the parallels are clear. Here’s the bottom line:
  • A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Congress doesn’t need to impeach the President -- because the Declaration of Independence already has. All the House of Representatives has to do is vote to reaffirm our oldest and most revered political document and it will have handed up the most effective indictment possible against the current president and the party that has embraced him.