Now is the time to counter lies with facts, repeatedly and unflaggingly, while also proclaiming the greatest truths: of our equal humanity, of decency, of compassion. Every precious ideal must be reiterated, every obvious argument must be made, because an ugly idea left unchallenged begins to turn the color of normal. It does not have to be like this. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Yorker, Dec. 2, 2016.The frustration, grief and horror that gnaw at me incessantly since the election is exacerbated by the sense that, as a Trump surrogate said, “there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” We are, indeed, traveling to another dimension, folks, one that, as Rod Serling would put it, is "a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind." But the media is failing to grasp that we are in a dangerous twilight zone between light and shadow. Alarmingly, it is normalizing what is not normal. It has quickly adapted to the new fact-free reality by reverting back to the failed dynamic that got us here in the first place -- both sides do it, compartmentalizing, and prizing compromise as a worthy end in itself.
This is captured perfectly in Anderson Cooper's recent interview of Elizabeth Warren, when he asked her if she was willing to work with the Trump administration. Warren replied that it would depend on the road the administration takes: "if they engage in Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of hatred, then I will not support that." Cooper responded, "Okay putting the hate stuff aside, you mean you won't do an infrastructure bill?"
"Putting the hate stuff aside"? That is like asking opponents of Mussolini, "putting the fascist stuff aside, you mean you won't support his efforts to get the trains to move on time?"
We should not be compartmentalizing Trump's erratic tweet storms, his assaults on the Bill of Rights, his nativist, anti-semitic, racist, anti-Islam enabling and rhetoric, his failure to provide his tax returns, his myriad conflicts of interest and self-dealing, his irresponsible lies, his failure to accept intelligence briefings and his casually dangerous interactions with foreign leaders. It is all of one piece -- the building blocks for the creation of a cult of personality that poses a grave threat to our democracy.
But, ok, let's put aside the hate stuff and talk about that infrastructure proposal. It is not an infrastructure bill in the traditional sense of government funding of projects that will create jobs and spur the economy. It is an attempt to privatize infrastructure building -- a tax giveaway to corporations with unfettered opportunities for corruption and profit. And since Trump still refuses to disclose his business entanglements and tax returns, it cannot be known whether he and his family will benefit from such a bill. None of this was revealed in a recent NPR interview with a leading Democrat. The interviewer instead posed a typical both sides do it proposition: since Republicans were successful in obstructing Obama's infrastructure bill, which paid off for them politically, would Democrats do the same or would they try to work with Trump. But the situations aren't remotely the same. Republicans opposed everything Obama for the good of the Republicans; i.e., even if -- or especially if -- Obama's policies would bolster the economy they should be opposed because they would redound to Democrats and hurt the GOP. Democrats now, however, are -- or fucking should be -- opposing Trump for the good of the country.
But according to what poses as common media wisdom, it would be irresponsible for Democrats to refuse to seek common cause with Trump and his fellow Republicans, and fail to move towards the ever-shifting center. The pathetic master at false equivalence, David Brooks, looks for what he describes as the space “between the alt-right and the alt-left, between Trumpian authoritarianism and Sanders socialism.” For Brooks, this space is inhabited by the likes of neo-con Bill Kristol. For him and other pundits and commentators, no matter how far to the right the Republicans go, Democrats need to meet them halfway. The mainstream, even after the last eight years of a moderate Democratic president and an obstructionist right wing opposition, stubbornly refuse to accept that one of the two major political parties in this country cares about governing and the other has been co-opted by a lunatic fringe -- a fringe that is about to control all three branches of government.
Rick Perlstein muses on a thought experiment:
Imagine you are a commentator in Weimar Germany. A dynamic new political party comes on the scene. They pursue their goals via means that are, shall we say, extra-parliamentary. Their leader’s book promises that he alone can fix the nation’s problems. And that the fault lies not in ourselves, but in our resident aliens. At what point, I wanted to ask, would you consider it your moral duty to break from the settled routines of “fairness” and “objectivity”—gotta hear both sides!—to inform your audience that what was going on was not normal?This might have seemed outlandish before the advent of Donald Trump but now the questions it raises are alarmingly relevant.
James Fallows provides critical guidance for how the media "should cope with a man who will literally have life and death power over much of humanity [who] seems not to understand or care about the difference between truth and lies." (1) Journalists need to call out lies as lies, not couch them as “controversies"; (2) they need to fight for reality itself by giving up on high-minded objectivity even if it will incur Trump's wrath and limit access to the Trump White House; (3) they need to understand that Trump's behavior is narcissistic and manipulative and learn how to effectively deal with such behaviors, which must include refusing to take what Trump says at face value.
Every time the media gives Trump a free pass, every time it acquiesces in spite of his untruths, every time it allows him to create and control a false narrative, he and his supporters get stronger and bolder and more dangerous. It is already happening every day, and he hasn't even been inaugurated yet.