By GENE H. McINTYRE
Number 16, Abraham Lincoln, wisely pontificated more than 150 years ago that one cannot fool all the people all the time. However, we’ve got number 45 president now who’s doing quite well at fooling something between 30 and 40 percent of them. His tactic is the use of “fake news” to have his way with these folks. So does the fake news syndrome bother you, the reader here, or you don’t mind if truth and accuracy become quaint and irrelevant?
A whole lot of the fake news controversy started with Donald Trump’s adversarial relationship with the press. His diehard supporters heartily devour the “fake news” claims he makes every day now but these same folks claim also that they never trusted any news in the first place. Yet, there are those who think the president is doing lasting damage by way of his dumbed-down tweets by condescending to his followers, making enemies of the press and vilifying the system of checks and balances the press provides, important enough back when to be number one in our Constitution’s First Amendment.
Meanwhile, mainstream media, and the public’s opinion of it, has been at a low point for years and continues to be. A Gallup poll in September 2016 found that American’s trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to its lowest level in polling history with only one in three of Americans polled saying they have even a fair amount of trust in the media. And that level was down even from the previous year.
During Trump’s candidacy he was given inordinate attention by the media, receiving what some assessed as blanket coverage for most weeks of his candidacy. Initially, journalists embraced him and his ratings were a bonanza for cable news. Then came his inauguration and thereafter, with Trump receiving more negative coverage than his predecessor, Barack Obama, his time in office has been marked by far more missteps, often self-inflicted, actually than any presidency in memory.
But it’s Trump’s use of Twitter, his bypassing the press and communicating directly with the public, that’s viewed as unprecedented: twittering used by him like a bull-horn of inaccurate White House propaganda. His crude take-downs, threats and his lies have proven not only outrageous and never-ending, but idiotic, too. The bottom line though is that he’s a cagey fellow who feeds his core supporters: in a divided nation where voters live in alternative political universes, it remains to be seen what happens to a 230-year old democracy after his off-the-cuff, gut-spawned, and supporter-bamboozling becomes the end for truth.
Trump is manipulating media in disruptive maneuvers and one of his victims is trust in the media. What Trump is doing may have been what other presidents wanted to do, but, it’s surmised, didn’t think they could get away with it such as Trump has generally succeeded to date. Thomas Jefferson wrote during his presidency, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” The translation: Jefferson as president had strong disagreements with the press but recognized the importance and value of the media. Trump, it’s argued, does not respect this view and, if not talking to himself, takes advice from destructive forces the likes of Steve Bannon and others like him who want to nuke our Constitution, institutions, values and way of life.
When a large part of society starts to believe that real truths cannot be found, they tend to grow cynical about everything and instead, as history discloses in multiple examples, put their trust in one person such as is true of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Putin, who it’s believed Trump admires and seeks to emulate, does not have to convince Russians he’s telling the truth; no, he must only force-feed his people into accepting that everyone else is a liar. Object to Putin and certain death follows. Truth died in Russia under Joseph Stalin’s U.S.S.R. while it’s an established fact that Putin was one of his most loyal followers, a higher up in the K.G.B.
The view this writer holds dear is that our nation, and its serious efforts at developing a working republic through democratic principles and practices, depends upon an informed citizenry where its sources of information are trusted as factual because its people are confident in how information is collected and processed. When the public does not have trust in the media to keep them informed, truth in absentia, on which daily life and public interactions are foundational, presents a clear and present danger. When a huge and growing segment of a nation’s population surrenders itself to a leader who seeks absolute, authoritarian rule, as examples abound form the 20th century, then there’s soon a violent end to freedoms and civil rights.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)