“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
— George Orwell in 1984
Our current president has always had a problem with the facts. Past presidents have often had an adversarial relationship with the press. We now reach new levels of concern as both trends continue to grow under one man. This week they reached very troubling levels.
In case you missed it, the president has been busy on Twitter again. Not content to fume and attempt to merely belittle the press, he now actively undermines it. Today Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reached the same troubling level as did Presidential Adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous declaration that “we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”
Hardly anyone, whether paying attention or not, can be unaware of the president’s constant attack on the news media — except Fox and Friends of course. Constant. Fake news. Liars. On and on. You’ve heard it. It is far beyond normal criticism. Many of his tweets I take to be based either on his ego, or his perverted sense of humor, or some mostly spontaneous spasm of mind that causes him to blast the world with another tweet. I think his attacks on the media fall into a different category. The attacks have been relentless and continuous from well before his election. They have escalated in the time since he took office. I think the attacks are considered, premeditated, and part of a larger plan to make it difficult to separate truth from fiction and thus cover up his shenanigans and wrong doings in and out of government. It reached a new peak this week.
This past weekend he tweeted out (in this and all other tweets quoted the capitalization is all his):
“Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
Another mindless attack? I think not. Especially I think not because the international reaction was swift. Those that support a free press were quick to condemn the tweet and those that would prefer to hide the truth from their populations — and the BBC and CNN International are the main reliable sources of information for many around the world as those of us that travel frequently know — can now point to the president of the United States as saying it is all fake and no one should believe it. Reckless behavior on the part of our president. This sure does help us promote democratic ideals. By the way, this week President Putin, the only person in the entire world our president refuses to criticize, required all U.S. reporters to register in Russia as “foreign agents”– reinforcing the idea that all news is propaganda and not real.
And it keeps getting worse.
Two days ago he tweeted:
“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!”
Of note is the fact that a merger between AT&T and Time-Warner is blocked by the Justice Department. Time-Warner owns CNN. Whether or not you think the merger is a good idea for us as consumers we might be concerned that at one point the suggestion was made that if Time-Warner sold off CNN the merger would be approved. The issue is now heading to court and one can be sure that the lawyers on the side of the corporations will certainly bring up the many, many, many attacks on CNN from the president. In the military this is called “command influence.” The person in charge by deed or dialogue influencing, directly or indirectly, the outcome of what is supposed to be an impartial hearing.
It has now been widely reported that according to private conversations the president had with some friends and advisers, he now doubts the “authenticity” of the Access Hollywood tapes where he admits assaulting women. Additionally, to many of those same people he continues to espouse his belief that President Obama was born in Kenya. One wonders if he is Orwellian or just losing his grip.
And it keeps getting worse.
Today the president re-tweeted three inflammatory videos from “Britain First”, a white nationalist organization in the United Kingdom. All three were anti-Muslim. They have proven to be false and/or out of context. They were distributed by a hate group intent on enraging non-Muslims, perhaps to violence. British Prime Minister Theresa May felt compelled to put out a statement condemning our president for tweeting these videos, saying that it was “wrong.” The statement said in part:
“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudice of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance, and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”
Way to go Mr. President! And that’s from our closest ally.
Besides wondering why he would re-tweet something from that group in the first place, one might wonder what he is doing on a white nationalist web site anyway. Why? Why would the president patrol hate group web sites? Doesn’t he have other things to worry about such as, oh I don’t know, maybe that the North Koreans tested an ICBM that can reach all of the United States? Or maybe he has a staffer that patrols such web sites for him. Not really much better. Where are the filters? Oh, yea, I forgot. His is not a “conventional presidency.” Conventional or not I would think that there are certain conventions of human decency that should also apply to the President of the United States.
And it keeps getting worse.
After the realization set in of what the president had done, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders — the voice of the president to us as citizens and to the world as the voice of our nation — about it and she said that it didn’t matter if the videos are real or not. “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.” Mrs. Sanders, welcome to the Kellyanne Conway Club.
All of this in the span of a few days.
And it will keep getting worse.
Our president, and apparently those that work for him, have no respect for the First Amendment. We should be very concerned. His antipathy for anything even remotely critical of him is more than troublesome. He is creating an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted by anyone unless he says it is true. This is the first, most basic move of any autocrat.
Also recall that the president only allowed Russian media into his office when he met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador. (Where he famously — perhaps eventually infamously — bragged he fired FBI Director Comey and said “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”)
Recall that the president agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the press should not be allowed to ask questions during his visit to China earlier this month. The first time in memory that the President of the United States acquiesced to a dictator to keep the American press silenced.
Recall that during that same trip the president laughed when autocratic Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to press questions by telling them no questions were allowed as they are “spies.” The same President Duterte that is on record saying “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”
These are but a few recent examples.
We might discuss whether the current administration is merely incompetent or malicious. Hard for me to say except as it pertains to freedom of the press. Regardless, the result is the same — a threat to our freedoms. I think the constant attacks against the press are part of a larger plan. They are not accidental or merely reflective of his natural tendency to lash out at criticism.
By nature I am not an alarmist. This pattern alarms me. He is doing great harm to our nation and to our friends and allies around the world. It is becoming “normal.” That worries me the most.
I think a tweet from General Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA says it best for me. In response to the president’s tweet about CNN (above) he wrote:
“If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”