I believe we need to be concerned about the anti-democratic behavior of Trump in the past week. He’s behaving like a fascist tyrant. Trump and most Republicans have shown us they don’t respect the election results. In fact, many have claimed widespread voter fraud.
All of this is propaganda. There hasn’t been a single case of voter fraud reporter by any state in the 2020 election. They’re suing without cause to create the illusion of impropriety.
We are in uncharted territory. The coming months will be critical to the survival of the republic. We must be vigilant and ready to act.
The historian from Yale, Timothy Snyder, wrote the following warning to Americans. Heed his words:
This election will determine the future of our republic. Here are some principles for the preservation of freedom that I wrote nearly four years ago, when all of this was beginning. I share them again now in admiration of Americans who protest for justice and work for truth.
Democracy is precious and exceptional.
Democracy is undone from within rather than from without.
The occasion to undo democracy is often an election.
The mechanism to undo democracy is usually a fake emergency, a claim that internal enemies have done something outrageous.
A tyrant cares about his person, not the Republic.
A tyrant fears prosecution and poverty after leaving office.
Donald Trump faces criminal investigations and owes a billion dollars to creditors.
Donald Trump has said all along that he would ignore the vote count.
What Donald Trump is attempting to do has a name: coup d’état. Poorly organized though it might seem, it is not bound to fail. It must be made to fail.
Coups are defeated quickly or not at all. While they take place we are meant to look away, as many of us are doing. When they are complete we are powerless.
American exceptionalism prevents us from seeing basic truths.
Biden voters are wrong to see a Biden administration as inevitable. Take responsibility, Democrats.
In an authoritarian situation, the election is only round one. You don’t win by winning round one.
Peaceful demonstrations after elections are necessary for transitions away from authoritarianism, as in Poland in 1989, Serbia in 1999, or Belarus right now.
It is up to civil society, organized citizens, to defend the vote and to peacefully defend democracy.
Dance after the wedding, not before. Take responsibility, Americans.
Republicans endorsing the claim of fraud endanger the Republic.
Calling an opponent’s victory fraudulent risks assassination, as in Poland in 1922.
Creating a myth of a “stab in the back” by internal enemies, as Republicans are helping Trump to do, justifies violence against other citizens, as in interwar Germany.
Persuading your voters that the other side cheated starts a downward spiral. Your voters will expect you to cheat next time. —-Take responsibility, Republicans.
This is my last Facebook post. I barely go on here as it is, but I’ve kept it around because —well, it’s Facebook: it’s like a public utility, everyone has it. However, I can no longer be part of a platform that sells my personal data to the highest bidder, regardless of their intentions. Anytime a product is free it means you’re the product, selling your data —your digital life— to who knows what companies and organizations. And I can no longer be a part of a platform that doesn’t acknowledge my personal values.
This place is rampant with misinformation and it’s leading to a population that’s becoming more and more misinformed. People who don’t have the capacity to fact check will see something on Facebook and accept it as the truth. Information is the foundation for a healthy and functional society, especially a democracy. If you don’t have reliable and credible information, you can’t make decisions that are in your own best interest.
Facebook has done nothing to deal with this problem that’s rotting our society. What may seem to be inaction is actually a calculated decision. They want controversy and conflict. Their research shows that it increases engagement —clicks, likes, shares, and comments— which means you’re more likely to spend more time on the platform. And the more time you spend, the more money they make. The platform, by design, is riddled with echo chambers. Regardless of your political affiliation, you’re more likely to only get information that reinforces your own worldview, whether it’s based in reality or not. This prevents people from having access to new ideas and different points of views.
And with everything going on in this country right now, whether it be the pandemic or racial injustice, misinformation is more dangerous than ever.
With civil unrest raging across the country, people in power are inciting division and threatening violence rather than listening to legitimate grievances and encouraging unity.
Civil Right leaders met with Mark Zuckerberg yesterday hoping to have some of the inflammatory posts removed or flagged since they were inciting violence against demonstrators. He refused to take any action, and worse, he didn’t even give credence to their complaints.
The civil rights leaders he spoke with were dismayed, saying “We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up. He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”
Twitter has at least acknowledged the problem and they’ve put measures in place to fact check misinformation coming from the top. Their opponents call it “censorship,” which is misinformation in and of itself: Twitter isn’t censoring anyone, they’re simply adding a link for users to get the facts on tweets that are misleading or blatant lies. Even when he sent out a Tweet threatening violence against demonstrators, they simply placed a warning label, stating that the content violates their policy against glorifying violence. They still allowed users to view the tweet with a simple click. Yet, Facebook has done nothing. They value their shareholders more than helping their users sort fact from fiction.
With Facebook being a morally bankrupt organization, I can no longer be associated with this platform. If you want to maintain a connection with me, you probably have my phone number. If not, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I bare no judgement on anyone who wants to be a Facebook user. This was something I’ve been intending to do after Facebook got caught selling our data to the highest bidder without any ethical checks on what they were using that data for. However, this past week has been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So, I’ll be deleting my Facebook account and won’t regret doing so. This isn’t about politics: we’re all affected by these practices in one way or another. It’s about a grossly irresponsible corporation that’s helping to destroy this country from the inside out.
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
The country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War. This division stems from Americans living in two separate realities. One lives in a reality informed by facts, reason, and science. The other lives in an alternative reality based on “alternative facts” (i.e. lies and fabrications) and conspiracy theories. This distortion of reality has an effect on every aspect of society. Conspiracy theories are usually subscribed to by fringe groups, such as people who literally believe the earth is flat. However, with a perfect storm of Trump, the internet, and Fox News and company, conspiracy theories have seeped into the mainstream.
There are now tens of millions of Americans who believe Bill Gates is working on a coronavirus vaccine so he can put a microchip into the population. There’s a movement of people who believe wearing masks is unnecessary –some even believe it’s dangerous to wear masks. Tens of millions of people have watched a documentary that claims the virus was not an act of nature but is instead a grand conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to make money off a vaccine. There are people who believe 5G cellular technology is the culprit. Some people believe China genetically engineered the virus to hurt America (and oddly themselves too). There’s a lot of people who believe the virus is no different than the flu –it’s simply the mainstream media hyping it up. And then there are others who believe there’s no virus at all.
Ordinarily, conspiracy theories are harmless: believing that we never landed on the moon isn’t going to hurt anyone. Yet, when it comes to public health, credible information is critical. The coronavirus spreads from person to person. You can spread the virus before symptoms emerge. You can be infected with the coronavirus and have no symptoms (i.e. asymptomatic) and still spread it. This is why it’s important that people take it seriously. There’s no vaccine and no reliable treatment for the virus. The only way to slow the spread of the virus is by social distancing and wearing face masks. If people don’t think there’s a threat, they’ll continue to live life as usual and potentially infect their family, friends, and neighbors.
It’s not surprising so many Americans are so poorly informed. Trump is the single greatest promoter of misinformation in the country and he’s the president. Most Americans know he’s a compulsive liar, but there’s a sizeable portion of the country (45%, give or take) who still support him, most of whom believe everything and anything that comes out of his mouth or Twitter account. He has Fox News –an entire “news” organization– that echoes, amplifies, and reinforces his lies. If he says something that’s too hard to twist and spin, they simply don’t talk about it.
If people don’t know the facts, they can’t make informed decisions. In order to have a functioning democracy, people need access to credible information. Trump creates and promotes misinformation to maintain power over his followers. He depends on them to maintain his own power. If the press reports on something that’s unfavorable to him, he simply calls it “fake news.” If he says something crazy that was recorded on video, which he can’t take back, he’ll lie to cover up a lie. For example, when he talked about injecting “disinfectant” as a treatment for the coronavirus, he simply said he was being sarcastic. It was obvious he wasn’t being sarcastic, yet even if he was, what kind of leader uses sarcasm during a public briefing for a public health crisis? It’s beyond irresponsible, it’s dangerous. And sure enough, poison control centers across the country received an uptick in calls following his remarks.
Twitter, which is his primary way of dispensing his misinformation, made an unprecedented decision to fact check his tweets containing misinformation. Trump is against mail-in voting. When people have more options to vote, they’re more likely to vote. Since Trump only has the support of a minority of the country, he views mail-in voting as a political threat. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and people need to socially distance, so governors in some states have made mail-in voting more accessible. He spread misinformation through his Twitter account and Twitter added a link for people to get the facts about mail-in voting. Trump was furious. He said Twitter was censoring him and therefore violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The irony is, his response, in and of itself, is misinformation. He wasn’t being censored. Twitter didn’t remove his tweet –they simply added a link to it so people could get the facts on mail-in voting. Trump responded by issuing an executive order that would seek to enforce oversight over social media companies.
Twitter hasn’t backed down, despite Trump issuing the executive order. They intend on continuing to post links to his tweets if they contain misinformation or if they egregiously violate their terms of service. This week a riot broke out in Minneapolis in response to the murder of George Floyd. Trump responded by threatening violence against American citizens who were part of the riot. He called the rioters “THUGS” and threatened to activate the military. He even used a quote that has been associated with the infamous white supremacist governor, George Wallace: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter decided they had a moral obligation to obscure the tweet since it was promoting violence. The tweet was still available to view with a simple click. Again, Twitter didn’t remove the tweet. They basically put a warning label over it, as they should have.
While Twitter has taken action, other social media platforms such as Facebook have decided inaction is the best policy: let people see the content and make their own judgements. This would make moral sense if the content were based on facts. After all, that’s how news should be consumed: give people the facts and let them form their own opinions. However, when people are being lied to and don’t have the capacity to fact check on their own, they have no way of knowing they’ve been conned into believing something that’s false.
Trump can only maintain control over his followers if they continue to believe whatever he says. The irony is his most die-hard followers are just pawns to him. He doesn’t care about them; he just wants them to believe he cares. He’s a terrible leader but a master manipulator. If there’s something he can’t con his way out of, he just changes the conversation by saying something controversial or outlandish. He knows it will force the media to move on to the next crazy topic. And while everyone is paying attention to the crazy puppet, the puppet master controls the strings for his own personal benefit. The internet is like the wild west. If people aren’t doing their due diligence to ensure the information their getting is accurate, they will continue to act and vote against their own best interest.
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
The coronavirus has devastated the United States, as well most of the world. The first confirmed coronavirus case in the US just passed its 3-month mark. And it’s been about 7 weeks since we surpassed 100 cases. Since then, we’ve been experiencing an exponential growth of confirmed cases. Since our testing is still so inadequate, we’re likely only seeing a fraction of how bad the coronavirus has hit the country.
While we’re enduring this ongoing nightmare with the rest of the world, that’s about as far as our common, global experience goes. The era of American exceptionalism is over, and it’s never been more apparent. Since Trump took office, our standing on the world stage has fallen. All it took was one grossly incompetent president and a political party willing to not only look the other way but serve to actively enable and empower him.
The Republican Party is essentially the MAGA Party. This mutation started way before Trump. It began with right-wing talk radio and later with the rise of Fox News. To call it a news organization is like calling the WWE a professional sports organization. It’s politically-driven entertainment, produced and served by hosts who are not there to inform but to misinform. To be fair, Fox does have real journalists –they’re just sequestered to daytime slots. The primetime slots go to the opinion hosts –not journalists— who spend their time promoting and defending Trump, while attacking anyone they deem as a threat to Trump. When historians look back and analyze how the era of American exceptionalism ended, Fox News will be considered one of the driving factors.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and his allies at Fox had a relatively easy time creating an alternative reality for their viewers. Whether it be children locked up in cages at the border or Trump asking Ukraine for a quid pro quo, they could always manage to still raise doubt amongst their viewers by omitting facts and spinning the facts they couldn’t omit in their favor. Trump is infamous for his habitual lying. Most Trump supporters only get their information from Fox, other right-wing media sources, or from directly from Trump’s mouth. This cycle of misinformation is the foundation of Trump’s rise to power.
For the average American, their daily lives weren’t directly impacted by Trump and the right-wing propaganda machine. That all changed, however, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which first broke out in Wuhan, China. So, for the first time in his presidency, Trump was faced with a once-in-a-century public health crisis that he couldn’t talk his way out of. However, that hasn’t stopped him from trying.
As we’ve now learned, he was repeatedly warned about a public health crisis that could only be compared to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic with socioeconomic consequences only comparable to the Great Depression. He was warned not only by US intelligence agencies and public health officials, but by his own trusted advisors and his own Health and Human Services secretary. The only partially preventative action he took was banning Chinese nationals from entering the US in late January, but the order wasn’t executed until February 2, 2020. The first confirmed case in the US was recorded on January 22, 2020. The coronavirus was already in the country, being spread person to person with no federally sanctioned containment efforts.
Trump spent the month of February actively misinforming the American people. He downplayed the virus: calling it nothing more than the flu, saying the 15 cases we had in late January would miraculously drop to 0, and even called the virus a “hoax” created by alarmist Democrats and a “fake news” media. While the country continued moving toward disaster, Trump not only did nothing to prepare us but acted only to hurt any potential preparations by lying and downplaying, as if he truly believed his own delusional rhetoric.
Other than his inability to grasp the big picture, which effects long-term planning, Trump pushed his misinformation to not spook the stock market, as if they weren’t going to find out about it. It’s part nefarious, part delusional. He was “furious” with the CDC when they gave updates on the virus because the warnings “spooked” the markets. With Ukraine, he put his personal political interest ahead of our national security. With the coronavirus pandemic, he put the economy ahead of an unprecedented public health threat for his own personal political interest. And his priority has been on the economy ever since.
While the majority of Americans were growing alarmed by the facts from the actual news, Fox News and other right-wing media sources were echoing Trump’s misinformation. They were not only irresponsible in playing games with a serious novel virus, they were putting their viewers at risk.
In March, the coronavirus was simply becoming too big to deny, so he pivoted and said it was completely under control. He spent the month of March doing a lot of talking and making a lot of promises, but there was no real action taken. The White House taskforce, led by Mike Pence, continuously made weekly promises on coronavirus testing –a critical tool for identifying cases, clusters, and gauging the overall size of the outbreak– but never got it done.
Yet still, the right-wing propaganda machine minimized the threat every single morning on Fox and Friends and every night during primetime. They had morally compromised celebrity doctors, such as Dr. Drew comparing the coronavirus to the flu. “The entire problem we’re having is due to panic, not the [corona]virus,” Drew claimed on the Laura Ingraham show. He continued to a grinning Ingraham, “The flu virus in this country is vastly more consequential and nobody is talking about it. Again, once the coronavirus became too big to deny, Drew walked back his comments.
By this point, most states realized there was no one steering the ship that was headed straight toward an iceberg. Just like the Titanic disaster, the Titanic’s captain was forewarned about the icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean but chose to discard the warning. Since there was no action by Trump, governors took control of the situation as best they could. They essentially lowered their respective life rafts and did what they could to mitigate the spread of the virus and prepare for the worst. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made a bold and unprecedented decision to put his entire state on a stay-at-home order. While this was a new move in the US, it’s what other countries were already doing: quarantining the public to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
The coronavirus has no cure, no vaccine, and the public has no natural immunity since it’s a novel virus. Since the possibility of containing the virus came and went in the first two months of the year, the only option left was mitigation: reducing social contact to reduce the contagion and therefore give state health systems the ability to handle the surge of hospitalizations.
New York City, the most densely populated city in the US, rapidly became the epicenter of the coronavirus not just for the US, but for the world. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo (D), quickly began issuing executive orders to steadily ramp down the workforce, systematically reducing the non-essential workforce until March 22, 2020, when the entire state was put on a stay-at-home order. Cuomo, like Trump, held daily press briefings, but didn’t mince words or downplay the seriousness of the virus. He clearly communicated his plan, briefed the public on the reality of the situation based on current projections, and displayed compassion. For most of the country desperate for strong leadership, Cuomo quickly became a household name.
On the radio waves, the misinformation campaign was led by Rush Limbaugh, who just a few months earlier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump during the State of the Union. He told his millions of listeners “this virus is the common cold” and “all this panic is unwarranted.” He attacked Cuomo for his initial quarantine of the city of New Rochelle, NY, where the first major outbreak occurred in the state: “Do you think Andrew Cuomo knows what’s best for you? He put this little quarantine around New Rochelle. I mean, it’s just, this is just — too much of this, to me, appears to be made-to-order for objectives that have long been held by the American left, the Democrat Party, the media, what have you.”
By March 30, 2020, there were 30 states that issued stay at home orders. On April 1, 2020, statistical modelers working with the White House taskforce, estimated that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would likely die from the coronavirus, even with mitigation efforts (e.g. social distancing). Today, April 25, 2020, there are 42 states with stay at home orders. With most of the country essentially shut down, the White House taskforce altered their death projection to approximately 60,000 Americans –a number we’re rapidly approaching.
Modeling is dependent on data. The more data a modeler has, the more accurate the prediction. It’s like when a hurricane emerges in the tropics and there are dozens of different models predicting its path. The more time that passes, the more data that’s accumulated, and the more accurate the models become. However, a significant difference between a hurricane and contagion is we have the ability to mitigate the impact of an outbreak with social distancing (e.g. stay at home orders). It’s a simple concept: a virus that’s spread person to person will spread less when people are separated and therefore less people will become infected.
We should have been better prepared to deal with this pandemic. Some of the reasons we weren’t can be traced directly back to Trump. When every warning alarm was sounded, it fell to deaf ears. The Obama Administration, having dealt with their own pandemics, created a “pandemic playbook,” which created a step-by-step guide on how the federal government should proactively respond to an emerging pandemic. The playbook was never opened by the Trump administration. Trump ignored the warnings like a tooth ache –what could have been resolved by a filling soon required a root canal, and what could have been resolved by a root canal resulted in the loss of the tooth.
We’re now at a dangerous crossroads when it comes to the coronavirus. Since a majority of the country has been shut down, the projections improved. And since the projections improved, some people, aided by misinformation, make the false assumption that the coronavirus really isn’t as bad as we thought. The transmission of the coronavirus didn’t just magically dissipate. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of why the projections improved: they improved because most of the states decided to shut down.
However, having states shut down has consequently led to unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. There are millions of Americans out of work, which has led to Congress passing the CARES Act, which among other things, added an additional $600 a week in income to people on unemployment (on top of whatever they collect from state unemployment benefits). The problem is many Americans have been unable to collect their unemployment benefits due to systems that were designed to deal with a fraction of the claims.
There’s also been a vocal minority of Trump supporters protesting against stay at home orders in states across the country. The protests can partly be traced back to Fox News and right-wing media rhetoric about the decision to shut down states in the first place. Back in late March, as coronavirus cases were rapidly climbing, Fox News host Brit Hume literally told his viewers that it was “entirely reasonable” that the elderly –those most at risk of dying from the coronavirus—would be willing to die to save the economy. This kind of inhumane rhetoric has bounced around right-wing media circles since then.
The protests truly started to rev up once Trump began sending out tweets in rapid succession on April 17, 2020: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE VIRIGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” The President of the United States told American citizens to “liberate” their states. Just let that sink in for a moment. All of these tweets were directed at states with Democratic governors. This brought out all kinds of different fringe groups, most of them Trump supporters, who can easily be identified with the MAGA hats, MAGA and Trump flags, and even some Confederate and Nazi flags.
These are the self-declared “patriots” who claim they’re being ruled by tyrant state governors. In the middle of a pandemic, Trump incited mass protests when people are supposed to be social distancing. This will more than likely cause infections to rise in those states in the coming week. Most people were not wearing masks and most people weren’t socially distancing. It was a collection of every right-wing fringe group in America, from anti-vaxxers to neo-Nazis to your average brainwashed Fox News viewer. They held signs saying things like “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Don’t tread on me” –phrases from the Revolutionary War, and most recently the Tea Party movement, which has folded into the MAGA Party.
You would think these states shut down for no reason. And if they’re unable to think rationally, why wouldn’t they think that? They have blind loyalty to Trump and will believe whatever he says, no matter how crazy or absurd he gets. Then Trump’s rhetoric is echoed by a right-wing propaganda machine that misinforms them. Some of them still believe the coronavirus is a hoax, as if the entire medical community is part of a grand conspiracy to take away their rights.
Who’s really living under a repressive system: the Trump supporter who act against their own best interest? These are the same people who call non-Trump supporters “sheep,” yet when their dear leader told them to liberate, they left the safety of their home and put themselves at risk in support of an idiotic protest. Trump thinks a strong economy will get him re-elected, which is why he’s instigating protests to reopen. He doesn’t care about the public health; he only cares about himself. He put his own supporters in danger to put pressure on governors to reopen their states for his own self interest. They are the sheep, being led by their false shepherd to the slaughterhouse.
These aren’t patriots, they’re ignorant and selfish idiots. They walk around with their assault rifles and their tactical gear, as if they’re going into battle. The people going into battle and confronting death are the healthcare workers, not these selfish cowards.
Most Americans are in support of a careful and measured response to the coronavirus. You don’t see counter protests because the rational Americans understand the coronavirus is serious and they’re staying at home. That’s what it means to be a responsible American. The rational majority knows that not listening to scientists and experts will make the situation worse. They understand that they may not die from the coronavirus, but they can pass it onto other Americans who can get sick and die. They respect and appreciate the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save their fellow Americans, regardless of their politics. There were a few counter protestors: nurses in scrubs and their masks, standing their ground against the Trump supporters because they know better than anyone how serious the coronavirus is. They know as long as this pandemic is a threat to our society, they’re the ones who will have to put themselves at risk because of irrational behavior.
The protests have continued popping up across the country. Trump has done nothing to stop them. He’s the one who incited the civil unrest. When asked about it during his daily briefings, he said the protestors “seem very responsible to me,” as we can all see the video evidence of mass congregations of ignorant, brainwashed Americans who are not social distancing and the majority are not wearing masks.
The great irony of the Trump supporters protesting is Trump, as the head of the federal government, is responsible for how bad this pandemic hit the US. Trump never listened to the warnings, never followed the advice of the experts, and when it was too late to contain it, he never took a leadership role in mitigating the disaster. He pawned off all responsibility onto the governors because, like all of his failed businesses, he’s incapable of managing anything. He also pawned off the responsibility for governors to decide to shut their states down because he thinks he doesn’t have to take any blame for the pandemic. If things go well, he’ll take credit. If things go bad, he’ll blame the governors as he’s already done.
Trump can blame whoever he wants. At the end of the day, the majority of Americans have witnessed enough to understand we’ve gone through, and are still going through, a crisis without a leader. They know this is the United States of America. That’s why he have a federal government: to unite the states for the people’s collective interests.
To put it into context, the US makes up about 4% of the world population. However, the US has approximately 33% of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases: the US (902,072) currently has over four times as many cases as the second hardest-hit country, Spain (219,764). And the US has 24% of the world’s coronavirus deaths: the US (46,243) currently has more than twice the number of deaths than the second-hardest hit country in coronavirus deaths, Italy (25,969).
This is what losing looks like. This is what happens when an unqualified, narcissistic idiot becomes the president. The presidency is not a reality TV show, it’s reality. This is what happens when you don’t listen to experts and scientists because they make your fragile ego feel inferior. This is what happens when you don’t value the facts and the truth.
The irony of the slogans “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great” is lost on the loud-mouth minority of this country who are still Trump supporters, but it’s not lost on the rational majority.
Any American who still supports Trump after his complete abdication of constitutional duties is no patriot. You’re either ignorant, a fascist, or likely both. You can wave your American flags all you want, it doesn’t make you a patriot. During his last press briefing he talked about injecting disinfectant inside the body and lungs to kill the virus. A child knows Lysol doesn’t go inside your body. If you support an idiot, you are an idiot. You can be forgiven for making the mistake of voting for him, but there’s no forgiveness for continuing to support him.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
On July 24, 2019, Robert Mueller gave his long-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. It’s been nearly two months since Mueller resigned from his position as Special Counsel from the Department of Justice. During Mueller’s resignation statement, he said if he were called before congress, he would only testify to the content in the Mueller Report. Mueller wasn’t being fictitious –that’s exactly what he did.
While some in the media were hyping up his testimony, others were more measured in their forecast. Mueller is not –and has never been– one for theatrics or hyperbole. He built his reputation on professionalism, integrity, and objectivity.
As some media analysts foretold, there were no new bombshells that erupted from the congressional hearings. Mueller generally didn’t testify to anything that wasn’t already documented in the Mueller Report. Mueller didn’t stray from the confines he had set for himself. His answers were carefully worded and concise, and his demeanor was unassuming and measured.
As a result of Mueller’s by-the-book and short-winded answers, many members of the media were quick to characterize the hearings as “devastating,” a “disaster,” and some even described his demeanor as “weary.” It’s irresponsible for the media to spin such an important event in this way. This is something to be expected from most right-wing media outlets. Frankly, they were going to attack his testimony, as they’ve attacked his report, one way or the other. However, a fair share of the irresponsible framing of the testimony came from some pundits and analysts from the left-to-center mainstream media.
We’re living in a unique time in American history. Before becoming President of the United States, most Americans knew Donald Trump from watching him on reality TV. Unfortunately, the manufactured drama and sensationalism of Trump’s reality-TV persona has never gone away. The only thing that changed was the set location: the White House. This kind of hyper-drama has become part of the media’s coverage of this administration. With Trump being loud and bombastic, it’s as if Mueller was expected to put on an act reflective of Trump’s reality TV-esque performances. If Mueller’s testimony is being judged mostly on his performance instead of its substance, then the public is not being adequately informed.
This was never going to be something out of an episode of a courtroom drama or a scene from A Few Good Men. This is real life and this is serious. The implications of the Mueller Report and Mueller’s testimony –which essentially reiterated and emphasized facts from the report– couldn’t be more serious for our national security, as well as the future of our system of government.
The United States was, and still is being, attacked by the Russian Federation. The Russians are still actively engaged in acts of cyber-warfare against the United States. This is 21st-century warfare: instead of using traditional weapons of war to cause damage, the Russians are attacking us with hackers and sophisticated cyber weapons and assets. These cyber weapons of war are being used to create public discord by amplifying an already polarized political climate. They want Americans to not only distrust the electoral process and democratic institutions, but want to make Americans distrust one another by infecting the hearts and minds of millions of Americans by infiltrating our social media environments.
This is a national security threat that’s being ignored by the Trump administration, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. The Republican-controlled Senate has continuously dismissed legislation aimed to safeguard us from future cyber attacks.
During his testimony on Russian interference in our elections, Mueller said “[Russia is] doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.” When he was asked about the Trump campaign accepting support from the Russains and the fact that contacts from a foreign adversary in a political campaign went unreported, he said: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”
There was only a single Republican congressman who even bothered to ask about Russian interference. A foreign adversary interfering in our elections and stoking division amongst Americans shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue. The fact that it is demonstrates that Republicans are putting their own self-interest over the country’s.
Mueller also reiterated the evidence he uncovered on the part of his report that focused on obstruction of justice (Volume II) committed by Trump. In his report, Mueller found ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Trump and his political supporters have spun the narrative that Mueller exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing. Trump has said repeatedly that he was “totally exonerated” by Mueller. While Mueller never had the power to hold Trump criminally accountable for the crime of obstructing justice, he did emphasize that he was unwilling to clear him of any wrongdoing. Mueller said, “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.” Mueller was also asked if Trump could be prosecuted for crimes when he leaves office, in which he replied “True.”
Mueller did answer a question that wasn’t in the report, such as Trump’s characterization of the Mueller investigation being a “witch hunt.” Trump has been calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” from the beginning. He’s used the “witch hunt” phrase well over a hundred times, all in an attempt to corrupt the integrity of the investigation. When asked about this by a member of the House, Mueller said: “It is not a witch hunt.”
When the day’s long testimony concluded, Trump claimed a false victory. He lied and directly contradicted Mueller’s testimony. He said Mueller totally exonerated him, then later contradicting himself, said Mueller didn’t have the right to exonerate him. Trump was asked by a reporter about Mueller’s testimony pertaining to the fact Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice when he leaves office, Trump lied and said Mueller corrected himself “…later on in the afternoon.” Trump then snapped at the reporter, saying “…you’re fake news. And you’re one of the most.” Trump’s political allies also engaged in this form of gaslighting. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “Didn’t take long for Mueller to once again vindicate President [Trump]. No collusion. No obstruction. And now Mueller all but admits it was all along a total witch hunt.”
This is where we are as a country. The Mueller investigation concluded Russia did in fact interfere in our election, found at least 140 contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and uncovered ten criminal acts of obstruction of justice by Trump. And Mueller reiterated and emphasized the details of his findings during his testimony. It was unfairly framed as a failure because some members of the media expected Mueller to turn into Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. However, if you take a step back and really reflect on the substance of Mueller’s testimony, there were numerous bombshells worthy of a dystopian blockbuster movie.
Russia is a national security threat to the United States. In fact, investigators are finding that their interference in the 2016 presidential election was even worse than previously suspected. In a Senate Intelligence Committee report released just yesterday, investigators determined that Russia targeted election systems in every state in America. This includes hacking into voter registration systems, as well as state voting databases.
Nonetheless, we have a president who refuses to even accept or acknowledge that the Russians interfered in the lifeblood of our democracy: the electoral process. He has taken the word of Vladimir Putin, a brutal dictator, over our own democratic institutions (intelligence agencies, Department of Justice, congressional investigators, etc). And the Republican Party continues to shamelessly support Trump’s position on Russian interference. They know it helped get him elected, and if the Russian’s want Trump in office, they also want Republicans in congress to support him. They’re allowing a foreign adversary to destroy us from within so they can preserve their own power. If an entire political party is unwilling to address, or even acknowledge, Russia’s interference and continued interference, then the party is rotten at the core.
The House Democrats should be initiating impeachment proceedings. While it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate will ever even hold a trial if the House passes Articles of Impeachment, that’s not an excuse for not holding Trump accountable for his criminality and accepting the assistance of a foreign adversary. Mueller provided an abundance of evidence –the House needs to put his words into action. There has to come a point where political maneuvering takes a back seat to carrying out their sacred oath of office: to protect and defend the constitution.
The word “socialism” has increasingly been used as a way to discredit and vilify the Democratic Party. Trump has been using it as a way of inducing fear in the minds of his misinformed supporters. This misinformation campaign is being deployed on all fronts: Trump, the GOP, as well as the right-wing media. As a result, it’s important that people know what socialism actually is and why, in the context of America, it’s not the diabolical social theory that they make it out to be.
What is socialism?
Socialism, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”
Socialism, in its ideal form, is about fairness. The ideology was developed as a reaction to the lack of opportunity and resources in societies that had class systems, which made the prospect of improving one’s station in life virtually impossible.
While the definition provides a solid description of the underlying idea behind socialism, the trouble is socialism takes on many forms; such as, economic and political socialism. As with most socioeconomic ideologies and systems, socialism doesn’t have to exist in an absolute –all or nothing– form. It exists on a spectrum. There are varying degrees of socialism in every developed country in the modern world.
Socialism’s most extreme form is communism. Dictionary.com defines it as, “a system of social organization in which all economic, political, and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.” This is an absolute form of socialism, which is applied to every aspect of a country. The government has complete control over the policies and legislation in a communist state. These states, in theory, have people working assigned jobs, which contribute to the society as a whole. The production of these jobs isn’t controlled by private companies or individuals, it’s controlled by the state. The distribution of artificial or natural resources are distributed equally amongst the people.
It can be argued, however, that there has never been a true communist state. For example, in Soviet Russia, there was most certainly a class system. A small portion of the population benefited greatly, usually based on their political station, while the rest were subjected to harsh labor conditions with limited resources being distributed.
Democracy, capitalism, and socialism in America
The United States isn’t a socialist state: it was founded as a democratic republic. When referring to our government, we rarely use the term “democratic republic,” it’s almost always referred to as a “democracy.” However, that term can be misleading, especially if taken literally. For example, a pure democracy is a system of government in which every political decision is made at the voting booth. This form of government isn’t practical, which is why the founders didn’t model our system of government on it.
There are, however, aspects of a pure democracy in America at the state and local level. More than half of the states in the union have voting initiatives or veto referendums. This gives citizens in these states the power to vote for or against legislative propositions. There’s also the non-binding “popular vote” used in national elections. As we’ve seen, especially in modern-day America, winning the popular vote doesn’t result in an electoral win. It’s the Electoral College that’s binding.
America’s system of economics is capitalism. The government doesn’t control the means of production, corporations and private businesses do. America became the greatest superpower the world has ever seen due in large part to capitalism. In a capitalist system, companies are competing against one another. This naturally drives innovation: creating a better product or service than a competitor, which will in turn attract more business and thus gain more profit, which is the motivating force behind any business.
Though, just as we don’t live in a pure democracy, we don’t have a pure capitalist system of economics. A pure democracy is impractical and a pure capitalist system leads to various problems, which has a negative effect on the people. For example, if a company becomes too powerful and eliminates all other competitors you get a monopoly. If the consumers don’t have a choice, their only option is to do business with the monopolistic company. If there are no competitors, there’s no incentive to innovate and no need to keep their prices competitive. And it’s for this reason that we have federal regulations, which is essentially applying socialist principles to a capitalist system.
There are countless examples in American history of unregulated industries causing harm to their employees, consumers, the environment, as well as the entire economy as a whole. While there were numerous causes for the Great Depression, the breaking point was due to banks making risky stock investments with the money deposited by their customers. Their deposits weren’t guaranteed, so when the stock market crashed in 1929 it caused widespread panic, leading people to rush to the bank to withdraw their money. This set off a chain of reactions, which led to years of economic depression for the entire country. So, having federal regulations in place are a safeguard for not only the individual, but for the economy, as well.
America has numerous social programs designed to provide a social safety net, as well as opportunities for people who need them. Here’s some of the social programs hundreds of millions of Americans benefit from at one time or another in their life: Social Security Income (for “old-age” Americans, as well as the disabled), Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment benefits, numerous housing programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Family Medical Leave, the GI Bill, Veterans Affairs, financial aid for higher education, small business loans backed by federally-guaranteed loans, etc. On a non-federal level, there’s public schools, fire departments, police departments, among many other community services.
All of these programs are paid for by American tax dollars. Americans pay their share of taxes and are eligible to benefit from these programs if or when they need them. They’re so ingrained into society that most of them are rarely thought of as being a form of socialism. America is still a capitalist system, but has regulations and supplemental social programs to ensure that citizens are protected.
Why they want to brand Democrats as socialists
Throughout American history, the word “socialist” has had a negative connotation. When people hear “socialism” they think of communism. America has had a long, cold, and bloody history with communism. There was a significant fear about communism. Proxy wars between America and the Soviet Union unfolded for decades. The world was on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which at its core, was based on the conflicting political ideologies of America and the Soviet Union.
When other people hear “socialist,” they think of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (i.e. the Nazi Party). Nazi Germany wasn’t a socialist nation, it was a totalitarian dictatorship. They used “socialist” and “worker” in the name of their party as propaganda.
In modern-day America, there’s rampant economic inequality. This is an economic indicator that’s never discussed by the Trump Administration. When the stock market has a good day, he promotes it. When a positive jobs report is published, he promotes it. Trump, however, never mentions the 10,000-pound elephant in the room: economic inequality. It’s the economic indicator that has the greatest effect on most Americans and reflects how the country is doing as a whole.
This is a country where the richest 1% percent of American households own 40% of the country’s wealth, and the richest 20% of American households own 90% of the country’s wealth. Therefore, the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. It needs to be repeated: the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. (Household Wealth Trends in the United States)
Whether his supporters are aware of it or not, it’s the economic inequality in this country that’s significantly oppressing the economic prosperity of most Americans. The American Dream is an antiquated concept. It’s based on social mobility, which the United States is near the bottom of the list for developed countries.
So, as Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential Candidates talk about solutions to put an end to economic inequality and seek to form better social programs (e.g. more affordable healthcare), they are smeared as socialists.
The only people in this country who have anything to lose from such programs are the ultra-wealthy. By attacking these policy initiatives, the vast majority of Trump supporters are acting against their own self-interest without even realizing it. This is a phenomenon known as “false consciousness,” which is defined as “a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social or economic situation” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
This false consciousness is being drilled into the minds of people who watch Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. Fox propaganda hosts are millionaires paid by billionaires to misinform, rile up, and instill manufactured fear into the minds of their viewers. They use distraction, deflection, and divisiveness as tools of their trade. If their viewers are misinformed and sidetracked, they’re incapable of making informed decisions. And those decisions not only affect their lives, but the lives of all Americans.
Socialism in America has become a new dog whistle used by the Trump-GOP-Fox propaganda machine with the goal of making Americans vote against their best interests. The swamp isn’t being drained, it’s overflowing and slowly drowning all of us.
Donald Trump has a long, documented history of being a racist. His racism, prejudice, and discrimination against minorities started long before his presidency, his 2016 presidential campaign, and before he was a household name.
The following instances are based on documented examples of Trump’s vile regard toward minorities. He’s used his power in real estate, his power of notoriety, and the power of the presidency to disenfranchise, vilify, and scapegoat minorities.
This article, however, will focus on Trump’s racist transgressions prior to his 2016 presidential campaign.
Racially-motivated housing discrimination
In 1973, the federal government sued Trump for racial discrimination against black New Yorkers who were seeking residence in his New York properties. Community groups were the first to raise flags on the discriminatory practices of the Trump Management Corporation. The federal investigation found evidence of a culture of discrimination at the corporation.
The feds discovered that black applicants had a “C” written on their applications, indicating they were a person of color. This was used as an internal indicator to turn down the applicant. However, most of the time, there wasn’t even an opportunity to fill out an application. Trump’s company would lie to black New Yorkers inquiring about properties, telling them their were units were unavailable.
Trump received a slap on the wrist for his amoral business practices. He was told to no longer discriminate against minorities seeking housing at his properties. He was also never required to admit to his discrimination.
Trump and his notorious lawyer Roy Cohn –infamous for working with Senator Joseph McCarthy during his communist inquisition and representing mobsters– turned around and sued the federal government for $100M, claiming he was unjustly being investigated. Trump’s attempt at a countersuit failed. He eventually settled for not having to accept people who were on welfare as tenants.
However, while on a break from one of the countersuit depositions, Trump in private unabashedly told one of the federal lawyers, Elyse Goldweber, “You know, you don’t want to live with them either.”
Trump’s treatment of black casino employees
When Trump was involved in the casino business, he made racist comments about, and even segregate, black casino employees.
Based on reporting from The Guardian, John O’Donnell, a former president of Trump’s Plaza Casino, shed some light on Trump’s views of black people. Trump told O’Donnell, “Black people counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys who wear yamakas every day.”
We also have the word of Kip Brown, a black man who worked at one of Trump’s casinos. Brown told a journalist from The New Yorker, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Brown and the other black employees were confined to “the back” when Trump visited.
The Central Park Five
In April 1989, five teenagers –four black and one latino– were accused and charged with raping a white female jogger in Central Park. This ignited a social firestorm in New York City. Trump threw gasoline on the fire by publicly attacking the teenagers. He took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, with the heading “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE.” The teenagers hadn’t even stood trial at the time the ad was published, but Trump used the incident to promote his public profile at the expense of the accused. By taking out such an ad, he was promoting the public execution of the teenagers before they even stood trial.
As depicted in Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five, the young teenagers were coerced into submitting false confessions. There was no physical evidence, no DNA linking any of them to the crime, and they repeatedly maintained their innocence after the initial false confessions.
Years later in 2001, the actual attacker, a serial rapist, confessed to the crime. His DNA matched the DNA found at the scene and confirmed he acted alone.
In 2002, the New York Supreme Court ruled to have their convictions vacated. As a result of their false imprisonment and the injustice they endured, they were awarded a record settlement of $41M.
To this day, Trump refuses to apologize for his public attacks against the then teenagers and the ad he took out calling for their execution. With the June 2019 release of the Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries about the case, Trump was asked as recently as June 18, 2019, about whether he regrets going after the teenagers. Trump said, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt.”
This from the same man whose publicly supported convicted felons from his 2016 presidential campaign, such as Paul Manafort, who essentially engaged in treason against the United States. Manafort refused to cooperate in the Mueller investigation, so Trump floated the possibility of pardoning Manafort of his federal crimes. When Manafort was going to be moved to Rikers Island –the same abominable jail one of the Central Park Five teenagers was sent to– Trump’s Department of Justice, in an unprecedented act, intervened to ensure Manafort wasn’t sent to one of the country’s most notorious jails.
After President Barack Obama was elected to office in 2008, a racist conspiracy theory started to surface from the deplorable underbelly of American society. It purported that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and therefore had a false claim to the presidency [Article II, Section III of the United States Constitution states only a “natural born Citizen” is eligible for the presidency].
Trump was the most vocal supporter of birtherism. He’d constantly call for Obama to submit his birth certificate. He also spread misinformation on Twitter, claiming he had an “extremely credible source” telling him Obama wasn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen. He made the rounds on right-wing media programs, reinforcing the racially-motivated conspiracy theory. He even called on hackers to check his “place of birth.”
The truth is Obama released his short-form birth certificate in 2008, but it didn’t stop Trump from relentlessly pursuing Obama’s origin of birth. Before Obama, no other president was ever accused of being born in a foreign country. The only thing that separates Obama from the previous 43 presidents is the color of his skin.
There’s no doubt that birtherism was born out of racism, and Trump was the public figure leading the movement. Birtherism was the seed that grew into Trump’s campaign for the 2016 presidential election.
The hypocrisy of Trump calling for Obama to release his [already released] birth certificate surfaced during his 2016 presidential campaign. While there’s no tradition for president’s releasing their birth certificate, there is a long-standing tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump refused to release his tax returns –something presidential candidates have been doing since Richard Nixon. Trump claimed he was under an IRS audit and therefore was unable to release them. However, there’s no way of knowing if he was actually under audit at the time. Moreover, there’s no law stating a presidential candidate cannot release their tax returns while under audit.
To this day, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. In April 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee formally asked the Treasury Department to turn over the last decade’s worth of Trump’s tax returns. Congress, by law, has the right to request the tax returns of any U.S. taxpayer. However, after stalling for a month, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, refused to turn them over, saying it “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” which is one of a myriad of examples of the Trump administration actively obstructing justice by defying Congress.
These are just a few documented examples of Trump’s pre-2016 history of racism toward minorities. While there are those who try to underplay Trump’s race-baiting behavior as him simply blowing the proverbial dog whistle to American bigots, it’s simply not true. Trump doesn’t just appeal to the racist sensibilities of bigots, he is and has been a bigot all along.
There’s a reason why Dictonary.com named “misinformation” last year’s Word of the Year. It’s because there’s been a dramatic influx of misinformation. Misinformation is defined as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” (Dictionary.com).
The internet is riddled with misinformation. Whether it be a lone individual, Russian shills or bots, political operatives, or politicians themselves: misinformation is everywhere. And with social media, a fake story –pushing the right buttons with the right audience– can quickly go viral.
The 2016 presidential election brought the term “fake news,” a form of misinformation, into the public’s consciousness. Donald Trump began calling any critical story about his campaign or himself, “fake news.” The audacity and irresponsibility of Trump dropping “fake news” into the American lexicon has served no one but himself. It distracts and misdirects the public’s understanding since he labels any critical story as “fake news,” which in and of itself, is fake news.
Strategies for spotting and avoiding fake news
Here are some simple strategies for detecting and avoiding misinformation:
Always get your news from trusted sources
There are many well-established news organizations that serve the public by providing fact-based information. The following news organizations are examples of trusted sources: The Associated Press (AP), PBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, Reuters, USA Today, among others.
Get your news from more than one source
The best way to consume a news story is to read the story from more than one source. See how different news organizations are framing a story. Using multiple sources is the best way to feel confident that the story you are reading has been effectively investigated, analyzed, and vetted.
Understand the difference between news and opinion
In the news media world, there’s news and there’s opinion. The news is objective and based solely on the facts. Opinion pieces are subjective, but base their opinions on the facts.
Use fact-checking websites to discern fact from fiction
These sites are dedicated to taking a story and vetting it for factual information. If Donald Trump makes some kind of radical or ridiculous claim, you’re more than likely to find a fact-based analysis of the claim on these sites. They give you a full breakdown of the validity of the claim. They’ll provide you with an analysis of the statement, usually with a truth-scoring system (e.g. true, mostly true, mixed, mostly false, false). Some examples of fact-checking sites are: PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, and FactCheck.org.
Be very wary of information on social media
This truth is under assault on social media more than any other place on the internet. You may see a news story on social media with a lot of likes or shares, which may lead some to assume the story is safe. This isn’t always the case. In fact, more often than not, people only read the headlines and like and/or share the story based on how it makes them feel. So, they’re sharing a story without ever reading it for themselves.
Twitter is generally a safer place to consume news since news organizations have their own verified accounts and promote their articles on the platform. Facebook, however, is a much darker place for getting solid information. This is why Facebook was a ripe target for Russia’s cyber attack during the 2016 presidential election, which was uncovered by journalists, American intelligence agencies, and the Mueller Report.
If you see a meme or inforgraph from an unknown source, it’s best to disregard it.
Social media is flooded with memes and infographs based on shaky facts if not outright lies. These “picture stories” are usually created in hybrid form of a meme and infograph. Unfortunately, it’s how a lot of social media users become misinformed on these platforms. The problem is compounded by the sharing feature: someone sees a provocative or sensational picture story, then shares it to all of their friends or followers, turning the victim of misinformation into a disseminator of misinformation.
Pay attention to the details
If you’re accessing a story from somewhere other than a news organization’s website (e.g. social media, text message, email, etc.), always check the URL. Make sure it’s not a cloned version of a website. If the URL says “.co” instead of “.com”, assume it’s suspect. If something feels off about the website, don’t take the risk. You could always verify the story is coming from a legitimate source by going to the organization’s website on your own.
Fake news is not a trend. It’s something we’ll all be dealing with for the rest of our lives. The genie is out of the bottle and it cannot be put back in. It’s possible to suppress fake news, but it’ll never be eradicated.
The United States House introduced legislation to deploy strategies for combating fake news (e.g. House Resolution 284), but the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t cooperated with the resolution’s authors and it’s unlikely to introduce it to the Senate.
Without any regulation, we’re on our own. It’s therefore the responsibility of the news consumer to be aware of fake news on the internet. If there’s anything worse than ignorance, it’s misinformation. Not knowing a thing is better than being misled. Since fake news is the new normal, citizens must do their due diligence when consuming information. We all must be our own gatekeepers of information.
Last week’s article, Weapons of Propaganda, laid out the differences between disinformation and misinformation and its negative consequences on our democratic society. This week, Donald Trump has put the ideas and words of last week’s article into action. This isn’t something new; Trump engages in propaganda on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. However, it’s important to take note of these deceptions as they’re happening.
The Winds of Impeachment
The winds of impeachment have been picking up in the Democratic Party, specifically in the House since it’s the House that must initiate the impeachment process. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has been wary of starting the impeachment process. She hasn’t ruled it out, but has been reluctant to move too quickly. It’s not that she thinks Trump shouldn’t be subjected to the impeachment process, it’s the political calculus involved with an impeachment that she’s concerned about.
“If you come at the king, you best not miss,” is a quote from Omar Little, a character from David Simon’s masterpiece HBO series, The Wire. The substance of the quote is something that’s been at the forefront of Pelosi’s mind for awhile now. She’s aware that impeachment will be divisive for the country. She fears the possibility that impeachment hearings could garner public sympathy for Trump, as we’ve seen during the Bill Clinton impeachment process. This could have a negative effect on not only the 2020 presidential election, but also the 2020 congressional races.
However, the idea of Trump being viewed as a sympathetic figure by the American public has been disputed by many experts and analysts. Clinton’s Articles of Impeachment were founded on an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. Most of the public viewed the Clinton impeachment as a political overreach. The case for Trump’s impeachment is much different both in substance and scope.
With the release of the redacted Mueller Report, which laid out nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice committed by Trump, there’s been an increase in congressional investigations in the House. The House has been trying to perform their oversight responsibilities, yet the Trump administration has been in a state of open rebellion against the legislative branch. They ignored attempts by House congressional committees to have access to pertinent persons and documents, and when they were left to resort to issuing subpoenas, the administration defied them.
All of these acts of defiance have put enormous pressure on Pelosi. She’s been lobbied by her own Democratic colleagues to initiate impeachment proceedings. In response to the lobbying efforts, on the morning of May 22, 2019, she met with the House Democratic Caucus to discuss their strategy for moving forward. It was ultimately decided they wouldn’t start impeachment hearings yet. She was able to convince her colleagues to be patient and wait for more facts to emerge from the many ongoing investigations.
After the meeting, Pelosi was asked by the press how they planned to proceed. She stuck with her stance on waiting for the investigations to churn up more facts, but made a weighty statement in three points, saying:
“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts.”
“We believe that no one is above the law.”
“…and we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a coverup.”
The Democratic leadership from the House and Senate were scheduled to meet with the president later on that day. They’ve been engaged in back-channel discussions with Trump for the past few weeks in order to broker an infrastructure deal. The Democratic leaders said Trump implied he was open to working on the deal. He stipulated he wanted to see their infrastructure plan, so the Democrats prepared a document with a proposed strategy and budget.
When the Democratic leaders from the House and Senate arrived at the White House, it became clear they weren’t going to be discussing infrastructure. The curtains in the meeting room were drawn and there was no seat at the head of the table for the president, implying the meeting would be short and one-sided. When Trump entered the room he went off on a tirade, according to the Democrats who were present. Since he intentionally didn’t have a seat, he was in a literal position to speak down to the Democrats. The takeaway from the short meeting was Trump saying he would no longer be working with the Democrats while they were investigating him.
Meltdown in the Rose Garden
Directly after the meeting, Trump arranged for a press conference to be held in the Rose Garden. As the press waited for the president to walk out, it was clear to everyone there wasn’t going to be any announcement on an infrastructure deal. The pre-printed Mueller Report-related sign on the podium made his intentions clear: the sign, in part, read “No Collusion. No Obstruction.”
It’s obvious that the meeting with the Democratic leadership and the Rose Garden address that followed was never intended to be about infrastructure. Trump planned to go on the offensive all along (or on the defensive, depending on how you look at it). Why would there be a sign about the Mueller Report on the podium when the address was meant to be about infrastructure?
The Rose Garden address quickly turned into a tirade against all of Trump’s political opponents, both real and perceived. He went from one person and topic to the next, barely speaking a single sentence that wasn’t at least a partial lie.
Some Examples of the Disinformation Spread During the Rose Garden Address
“18 Angry Democrats,” as displayed on the the pre-printed podium sign. He made false claims about the Mueller team, saying they were all angry Democrats and were Hillary Clinton supporters. While it is true that a few members of the investigation had made financial contributions to the Clinton campaign, the claim that all members of the team were Democrats looking to take him down is disinformation. Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. The official who appointed Mueller as special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, another registered Republican. Moreover, the “No Obstruction” part of the sign on the podium is disinformation. Mueller uncovered nearly a dozen acts of possible obstruction of justice.
“I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of the country,” Trump claimed. Trump is the least transparent president in the modern era, if not in history. He broke the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns in order to be transparent with the public, showing where their money comes from and whom they owe money to. Trump also declined to be interviewed by the Mueller team. Instead, he submitted carefully-prepared answers to Mueller’s questions, which were carefully constructed and combed through by his legal team. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has reached a historic low when it comes to holding press conferences. Press briefings are the main apparatus for demonstrating transparency between the White House and the public. As of today, there hasn’t been a press briefing in 45 days. There’s literally dust covering the podium in the Press Briefing Room.
Trump claimed, “I respect the courts. I respect Congress…” Since we’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis that’s currently being sorted out in the courts, this is another lie. He even contradicted himself in the same address when he said he would no longer be working with Congress while he’s being investigated. Most presidents, to one degree or another, have been under investigation, and it’s never stopped them from governing. In modern history, both Nixon and Clinton still worked with Congress when they were being investigated and even when Articles of Impeachment were being drawn up.
“I don’t speak to Russia about campaigns… it’s a hoax,” Trump insisted. This is another blatant lie. When Trump was on the campaign trail, he called on Russia during a campaign speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Well, they were listening because on that same day, Russian operatives made their first attempt at hacking Clinton’s personal email server. Moreover, in the Mueller Report, it was uncovered that there were at least 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.
“I don’t do coverups. You people probably know that better than anybody.” One coverup most of the country is aware of is Trump’s efforts to buy the silence of the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, whom Trump had an affair with. When the Trump campaign received word that she intended to go public, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, brokered a deal on behalf of Trump to pay her $130,000 to keep quiet. Cohen is currently in federal prison, in part, since he violated campaign finance law by making the hush money payments on behalf of Trump. Cohen initially told investigators he paid Daniels off with his own money, which is partly true. However, it was arranged from the start that Trump would reimburse Cohen in installments of $35,000. During Cohen’s last public testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen produced copies of the $35,000 checks, signed by Trump, some of which when he was President of the United States.
Since the events of May 22, 2019, Trump has been publicly attacking Pelosi. He called her “Crazy Nancy,” but then said he didn’t want to share nicknames, since he calls Bernie Sanders, “Crazy Bernie.”
Trump tweeted out a doctored video of a segment of one of Pelosi’s addresses this week, which made Pelosi appear to sound intoxicated or unwell. Trump tweeted the video out to his millions of followers with the caption, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”
When fact checkers pulled up the original video from C-SPAN, it was obvious the video had been slowed down to make it appear as though there was something wrong with Pelosi. The video went viral, being sent out en masse amongst MAGA supporters and right-wing figures. Rudy Giuliani also tweeted out the video, but deleted it once it became apparent it was doctored. Trump, however, has not deleted his tweet.
The person who created the doctored video of Pelosi was engaging in disinformation. Trump engaged in misinformation by tweeting the video out. In this case, his intentions were nefarious either way since his intention was to discredit Pelosi. This fact was sealed when he chose not to delete it from his Twitter feed after learning the truth. Therefore, this is an act of propaganda against Pelosi. The President of the United States openly engaging in propaganda against the Speaker of the House, the second in the line of succession.
Using the word “propaganda” is not hyperbole. It’s literally a dictionary definition of the word, which Dictionary.com defines as, “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”
Trump uses a particular tactic in his dissemination of propaganda, using one-sided statements like “everybody knows,” “you people probably know better than anyone,” “you all agree.” He qualifies his lies with these false confirmations of consensus. In the example of the Rose Garden address, he’s largely speaking to members of the press –they don’t have the means to respond– it’s a one-way exchange of information, yet he creates the illusion that everyone is in agreement with him.
As the investigations continue and the possibility of impeachment hearings is becoming more and more likely, Trump will become more unhinged and more brazen. It’s critical that we don’t let these abuses of power to become normalized.
This week the courts have ruled to uphold both cases in which the congressional subpoenas were contested by the Trump administration. There are more subpoenas awaiting judicial review, as well as an appeal to one of the cases already ruled upon. This is how the system is supposed to work: checks and balances between the three branches of government. However, if the Trump administration defies the court rulings, then we’ll have entered uncharted territory. This constitutional crisis will turn into a constitutional calamity. Our form of government will no longer be a democratic republic; it’ll be a banana republic ruled by a tyrant.
For as long as our species has been exchanging information, propaganda has been a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the people in order to push a particular agenda. The advent of the internet has been both a blessing and a curse to those subjected to propaganda campaigns. The Information Age spawned out of the worldwide adoption of the internet has given ideal platforms to peddlers of propaganda, but on the flip side has also given people a means to distinguish fact from fiction –people have the ability to do their own fact-checking if they’re willing to take the extra step.
Disinformation and Misinformation
At its core, propaganda is founded on the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation. In common language, disinformation and misinformation are often used interchangeably, as if they’re synonyms. While they both stem from the spread of inaccurate or misleading information, the difference between the two lies in the intent of the person or entity spreading it.
The basis of a propaganda campaign is founded on disinformation. Dictionary.com defines disinformation as, “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”
Disinformation is intended to deceive the public in order to strengthen or weaken a person, institution, or issue. The intent is malignant and the objective is nefarious. Disinformation can be completely fictitious or a fabrication (e.g. mixing factual information with false information).
While disinformation and misinformation are two sides of the same coin, misinformation is different since it isn’t necessarily spread with malicious intent. Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2018 was granted to the word “misinformation,” which is a testament to the times we’re living in. They define it as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”
Misinformation could be something as innocent as a journalist making an honest mistake about something they reported in a story. They may have gotten a date or detail wrong, but since that information is inaccurate, it can still be considered misinformation. However, once the journalist or editor realizes the information isn’t accurate, reputable news organizations will immediately post a redaction or correction.
The act of spreading misinformation also comes to fruition on smaller scales. The average citizen may be explaining a subject to someone, but their explanation is inaccurate. The person spreading the misinformation doesn’t think it’s misinformation; they think it’s fact-based information. Their intent wasn’t to misinform, but the result of the exchange was misinformation, nonetheless. We’ve all been guilty of spreading misinformation in one way or another.
The Impact of Spreading Misinformation
There’s undoubtedly a dark side to misinformation: when a person is subjected to disinformation and they absorb it as factual information. When that person spreads the disinformation to others, they’ve unwittingly become a vehicle for disinformation. If their intent is sincere –they believe the information to be accurate– they’re spreading misinformation. However, they’re nonetheless carrying out the objective of the propagandist who peddled the disinformation for nefarious reasons.
It’s similar to the way contagious diseases are spread. A virus (i.e. disinformation) has infected a person, and then that person begins unwittingly spreading the virus to other people (i.e. misinformation). Therefore, a sneeze or a cough is akin to a tweet or a post on social media. This is how any kind of information is spread. It’s why we say a story or video has gone “viral” when it has reached a critical mass of shares or views, allowing it to quickly spread across the internet.
The Russian government waged a “sweeping and systematic” (as described in the Mueller Report) attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election. A part of that attack was posting fake news stories on social media platforms. They posted these stories from imposter accounts. They concealed their true identities by creating accounts that, on the surface, seemed like it was just another American sharing a news story. The profiles were carefully created to resemble the profile of an American citizen. Some of these accounts were controlled by actual Russian operatives (e.g. shills), others were autonomous (i.e. Russian bots).
Depending on the group they were infiltrating, they would modify the profile accordingly. For example, if they wanted to spread a fake story that once Hillary Clinton took office, she secretly planned to sign an executive action that would take firearms away from all Americans, the Russian propagandist’s profile would reflect the profile of the average NRA-affiliated American. If they took the story at face value, they would more than likely share the story with all of their friends or followers. So, in this case, the Russian propagandist was spreading disinformation; the unwitting American reader was then spreading misinformation.
The Russian propagandist planting a seed of disinformation in the right social media habitat could yield a massive harvest for the propagandist. Once the disinformation has been planted, it’s the unsuspecting Americans who share the information to their network of friends and followers –and so on, and so on.
In a research study commissioned by the Knight Foundation, an American non-profit organization, it was discovered that more Americans spread Russian disinformation than the Russians themselves. They found that Americans spread millions of tweets and posts containing misinformation, all of which originated from Russian disinformation campaigns.
Where We Are Now
The Russians succeeded in their disinformation campaigns. The Russian attack was insidious since it used American social media companies and American citizens to do most of the work for them. They understood the power of social media as a near-perfect vehicle to spread disinformation. Their objective was to sow the seeds of discord amongst Americans, amplifying an already polarized society. The Russians played a significant role in dividing us and therefore weakening our democracy.
The Russian’s other objective was to interfere in the political discourse in the country by using their disinformation tactics. Putin had contempt for Hillary Clinton and thought Trump would serve Russia’s interests better than Clinton. A significant portion of the disinformation spread by the Russians was to strengthen the Trump campaign while also weakening the Clinton campaign.
The term “fake news” entered the American lexicon with the rise of Donald Trump. Fake news is a real thing, however Trump re-coined the term for his own benefit. Instead of using its true meaning –news stories drenched in disinformation– he applied it to any news story that wasn’t favorable to his own self interests. In doing so, it discredited the free press in the minds of his supporters and has created confusion amongst the general population.
In calling the free press “the enemy of the people,” it has led his supporters to distrust reporting from some of the most well-established and most-respected news organizations in the country. This is dangerous because if Americans don’t have access to factual information, they’ve been robbed of the ability to make informed decisions.
Russia’s attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election wasn’t a singular event. Their disinformation campaigns have never stopped. They’re still engaged in spreading disinformation through social media. The Trump administration, however, has been silent on the issue, which leaves us vulnerable to continued efforts to crumble our democracy from the inside out.
The fate of our democracy, in respect to the disinformation flooding social media feeds, has essentially been left for the social media companies to figure out. Most of them have taken measures to prevent, as well as to identify and remove disinformation from their sites, but it’s not enough. The Russians, and other foreign adversaries, are simply adapting to their countermeasures. They need a central governing body to consult and assist them. There needs to be a combined public and private effort to subdue Russia’s cyber war against us.
The most unsettling facts concerning Russia’s attack on our democracy is the fact that Trump has refused to meaningfully acknowledge it’s even happened and is happening.
When Trump spoke privately with Putin during a summit in Helsinki in July 2018, Trump, responding to a question from the press on Russia meddling, said he “doesn’t see any reason” for Russia to have meddled in our election. He went on to say, “I have great confidence in my Intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
In early May 2019, Trump had an hour-long phone conversation with Putin. When he was asked by the press if he warned Putin about interfering in future elections, he said, “We didn’t discuss that.”
Disinformation and misinformation are toxic to any democracy. We all depend on reliable information to give us the facts we need to form our own opinions and make informed decisions that affect our lives. When the information being spread is false or misleading, it inevitably leads us to make decisions that aren’t in our best interest.
It’s a fact that Putin’s Russia engaged –and is still engaged– in a widespread social media campaign to sow discord and misinform Americans. Yet, the person sworn to protect and defend us from all enemies has treated Putin with adulation, and in his mind, has turned our adversary on the world stage into his personal ally.
This raises puzzling and concerning questions. Why is Trump so fond of Putin? Why hasn’t Trump initiated a strategic plan to protect us from the ongoing attacks from Russia? What does Trump have to gain or lose by siding with Putin against the interests of his own country? What’s his motive for remaining silent and refusing to take action?
There will come a time when we have a true understanding of Trump’s motivations. Until then, we’re left to fend off the rotten fruits of Putin’s nefarious labor on our own. We must be our own guardians against the Russian government.