Can Trump’s false accusations against the press be deterred?

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Ever since Donald Trump set his sights on the presidency, he has regularly attacked the media by calling them the “enemy of the people” and accusing them of broadcasting “fake news.” But these claims are generally absent of any proof or independent verification. It is noteworthy that President Nixon, who resigned to avoid impeachment, also said “the press is the enemy” prior to his political demise.

This war that Trump is waging appears to have three objectives:

  1. Undermine public confidence in the media, thus controlling the national conversation to improve his standing in the polls

  2. Have an enemy to vilify in order to “prove” to his base that he’s a fighter, never mind that his opponent – the media – can’t effectively fight back

  3. Attempt to motivate the press and others to speak of him more favorably, never mind that this would compel the press to compromise its mission to the public.

The President of the United States has the bully pulpit and controls the most powerful megaphone in the world. Donald Trump abuses that privilege. According to the Washington Post, Trump has uttered over 9,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. How does he get away with this? 

The short answer is that no one is designated to rebut his claims, as should be the case when public statements are questionable. When his voice goes onto Twitter and is heard around the world, no single voice is ever right there to correct it when wrong. Many voices– often dissenting– lack the same effect as one contrarian voice would have, assertively spoken, on time, and as needed. So Trump wins by default every time.

Trump’s words, and those of conservative supporters, are the only words that many Americans hear on many key subjects. To some of his base, these words become the truth. But many of those words are not the truth, and the fact that they are not has caused deep divisions within our society like seldom seen in our history. When two groups of people cling to “truths” that differ, but each is seen as the one indisputable truth, conflict is inevitable.

Can anything be done to slow the roll of these assaults upon reality, which blur the line between fact and fiction? Kudos to the press for declining to respond in kind to unproven claims against them that are at times malicious. Absent a serious challenge to these allegations, must we continue to endure these never-ending assaults on the truth?

There likely exists a remedy to this inanity, one that is virtually absolute.

To seek a solution, one must first examine the problem: the adulation of a man whose words can trigger dark emotions and who fails to understand that words matter, especially coming from the Oval Office. But why is there so much devotion in the first place to a man who keeps proving himself unworthy of our trust? See the Washington Post.

It is the Trump brand, which has evolved over decades to represent the pinnacle of luxury, brilliance in business, and celebrity elitism. If the Trump name is on it, it is the best. If you’re in a Trump hotel, expect to be pampered and awed, often by little things. Trump is an author, TV star, and real estate mogul. Even the word “trump” is defined as “a decisive overriding factor,” and “an exemplary person” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. And for such a man to now be the President of the United States on top of all that, he is like a god to some! As commentator Chris Cillizza once said on CNN, poll results of Trump supporters (which seldom fluctuate) are “baked in,” i.e. Trump supporters are with him to the bitter end.

This portrayal as an elitist urban hero is a false image. In the time since Trump took office, the New York Times and Washington Post among other media sources have uncovered numerous fallacies about Trump’s rise to greatness. For starters, Trump’ first book The Art of the Deal was mostly written by Tony Schwartz, who took bits of information Trump fed to him and weaved them into a book. The objective was to make Trump look like a genius. Trump’s four bankruptcies, which must have caused unimaginable hardship to many,were not mentioned in the book. 

Self-made man? Another myth. According to a New York Times exposé, he was worth over $413 million when he got started, yet he still needed help from his family and filing all those bankruptciesto get to where he is today. Trump has done some things exceptionally well, but he is not the man he has claimed to be.

How does America deal with a problem wherein the man at the top is a reckless and irresponsible spinner of half-truths? If the problem were confined to what has been said here, no big deal. But Trump’s attacks on our most cherished institutions – including the free press, the FBI, our court system, our Constitution, the military, law enforcement, and science – do not serve the best interests of our nation. Add to that the damage from Trump’s belittling with cruel nicknames and baseless accusations for anyone who does not support him.

When Trump accused President Obama of not being a U.S. citizen on The View in 2011 and beyond, he presented it as if it were fact rather than the dangerous and racist rumor that it was.

It is not hard to imagine that one reason Robert Mueller "punted" the drawing of the Russia Probe conclusions to Attorney General Barr is because after being verbally assaulted by the President on national TV for nearly two years, he’d had enough. There is only so much abuse a person can take, and Mueller did not deserve it for doing his job. Horrified at the prospect of two to six more years of undeserved punishment for telling the truth, he bailed as soon as the fact-finding mission was complete. Really, what dedicated public servant could take relentless abuse from the Commander-in-Chief every night on the news? Trump’s use of the bully pulpit to drag through the mud one of the most distinguished members of the FBI, to undermine legal conclusions that might reflect poorly on him, is a national disgrace.

So what can be done to give the other side a megaphone that could possibly compete with the one that Trump possesses?

Somebody needs to step up and take charge of calling out each of Trump’s lies and misdeeds, very soon after they are tweeted out. Twitter should be used for these rebuttals in order to maintain a level playing field. The rebuttals should be fact-checked before publishing and made by someone who is well-respected. Whoever takes this on needs to gear up for a tough fight, have advisors to help them, and never stop imagining the day that Trump realizes animosity and unproven claims will no longer work for him. This war can be won, but it will take someone who can take bullets every day until the tide turns – like what Mueller had to endure. If the task is well-managed, that day will come. Perhaps even this year.

Imagine living in a world where the truth itself is no longer under endless assault.

Who can handle this task? It could be someone from the U.S. Congress, a government office, or the media. Someone who is trusted and respected. 

And why should this be done?

Because it must. Because that might be what it takes to save our democracy from a worst-case scenario that is too horrible to contemplate. If this sounds overly dramatic, we must never forget that Donald Trump is in the habit of siding with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un over U.S. intelligence, in pursuit of a lucrative business deal or the glimmer of a Nobel Peace Prize; not for our nation, but for himself.

In those circumstances, where our national security could take a back seat to greed, no danger to the country, including takeover by a hostile foreign power, can be absolutely ruled out.