By Jack Hervela
President Donald Trump delivered an ominous Oct. 29 tweet, referring to journalism as an “enemy of the people,” signaling out American news media at large for promoting “inaccurate, and even fraudulent” news.
While nothing new, Trump’s pejorative tone draws unsettling parallels to other countries guilty of free speech and press suppression, most recently Saudi Arabia’s soiree with journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Turkey consulate.
As Trump’s fake news wave recedes from shore, a hostile view towards news media from Trump’s America is beginning to show.
A CBS News poll published in July 2018 reported 91 percent of strong Trump supporters trusted the president for their news, while only 11 percent of those supporters trusted news media.
This 91 percent includes some of America’s most recent domestic terrorists including Florida native Cesar Sayoc. The 56-year-old converted conservative and owner of a van covered in Trump’s face is facing charges for mailing bombs to top Democrats just before the midterms.
While Sayoc sits in prison, no evidence should be needed to prove a man with Trump’s birthdate emblazoned across his back window was influenced to violent action under the powerful guise of truth spread by disinformation.
In spite of America’s natural disasters, alarming suicide rate, opioid epidemic, divide of wealth, pollution and any other preventable quarrel, we must sit and listen to our leaders argue proven facts and senseless smear campaigns only meant to drum up emotional reactions.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary,” said iconic American journalist H.L. Mencken, a quote perfectly parlayed into instances such as the migrant caravan, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) families, Middle Eastern countries or the unraked leaves on California forest floors which Trump credits with starting wildfires.
None of these groups or autonomous natural features pose any threat to our country, yet we have spent weeks to months debating or talking about it on account of who said it.
Retired West Michigan journalist of 42 years Jim Harger sees these “polarizing” topics gain traction through fairly simple emotional cues.
“It’s pandering and fear mongering,” Harger said. “Trump and Fox [News] trying to make people afraid because there is a caravan of pedestrians walking through Mexico, which (were) weeks away from reaching the border, then somehow creating a climate of fear about them. It’s all fear mongering and we have nothing to fear from this group of pedestrians walking across Mexico. We’re sending troops? It’s nonsense.”
This fear mongering is especially useful to grow support for Trump’s deepest fears, not the nations.
As for those drawn in by these scathing narratives and who post outlandish stories online, Harger thinks it is more calculated than such enormities would have you believe.
These stories echo the unconscious drive of avoiding death, a selling point for many of Trump’s claims.
“It draws an audience,” Harger said. “That’s why you have constant weather reports, that’s why the weather is such a big deal on TV, ‘cause it draws an audience, not because it poses a real threat. If you can sell your broadcast as, ‘we will protect you from this mortal threat,’ then you have an effective way of building an audience.”
So, sure, Trump riles up crowds by misinforming the masses of “mortal threats” which really are threats to his political practices, but what about who spreads his disinformation?
You may hate to hear it, but it’s us.
Everytime we talk about Trump, respond to a nasty troll or argue about what the “new face of white nationalism looks like,” we’re merely leveraging their narrative.
Any press is good press and frankly, Trump, Alex Jones and Richard Spencer do not care what you say about them as long as you keep saying their name.
It’s all about repetition. As long as we keep talking about the negatives and over analyzing each claim we know to be false by buying into cheap conspiracy theories, the disinformation tornado gains more ground.
Scary enough, once we all talk about it enough, focus enough energy on dissecting the bad, then this is all we will know.
In a YouTube video on conformity though politics, Academy of Ideas presents the idea that, “Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed,” which quite simply means once each side hates each other so intensely, all we will know is hate.
Charlottesville. Pulse nightclub. Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue. Ferguson. These are not national tragedies merely because of lives lost, but because a narrative of hate seeped into one mind, blinding it and every person in the wake to communication.
It is confusing, it is scary and disinformation will continue to lead America and news media into a dark area if not reversed.
“Be informed,” said Grand Rapids Business Journal reporter Justin Dawes. “We have the keyboard at the tip of our fingers and anyone can have a thought and instantly put it on the internet, without any thought or research. It’s up to the regular consumer to pay attention to what they’re posting and think about what they’re posting and to be well informed.”
Fact check, never be afraid to question your government and search for answers from timely sources based on truth.
Staying informed in 2018 may be more powerful than any weapon we have advanced in the fight against our enemies, especially when our enemies begin to resemble our allies.
Journalists are not enemies of the people. People and organizations who set out to misinform the public by spreading untruths are enemies of the people, a state-run news network is an enemy of the people. Trust journalists to do their job and respect their courage to deliver the truth.
Above all, remember the quote from historic philosopher Seneca:
“There are more things… likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”