I want to be open-minded about Donald Trump, and see positive signs emerging from his gilded Tower, but he is making this task onerous indeed with his unending barrage of tweeted falsehoods and willful ignorance. I wonder how long the mainstream media will be prepared to tolerate his customary response to any well-founded accusation – “It’s a lie” – and what they will end up doing about it. It is hard, and rather saddening to picture the New York Times running headlines like PRESIDENT LIES YET AGAIN, but, however an incident like that is recorded, the national paper of record must record it one way or another, and in the most objective, non-partisan tone possible. Similarly, the screen networks, stations and web-sites should attempt to shed the auras of bias that have, until now, both typified them and defined their audiences. This gimmick will no longer work in the Trump Era. It worked when the Donald and his supporters felt themselves to be a beleaguered minority – as most Republicans laughably believed they were too during the Obama years – but when the Underdog becomes the Overdog righteous indignation doesn’t play so well. Fox News can only thrive as Fox Opinions as long as the tautological assumption that the real news is too distasteful to report exists. With their hero in the White House, the hacks at Fox will have to report on what he actually does and says, rather than their opinions of what is done and said. This is going to involve some hard decisions, and a major overhaul of the modus operandi there, because it will surely be deeply embarrassing to report favorably but ignorantly on an event that is rightly and factually excoriated by other news outlets. The people who only watch Fox, or only read the more scurrilous tabloids, are not completely unaware of what is on the Internet and in the more respectable media, and they also probably know that their information-of-choice has always come from a somewhat tainted and biased source. Again, this is fine for the Underdog, when all there is to do is express hostility and complain, but it leaves the Overdogs and their Emperor rather naked. Opinions are fine and necessary, but they belong in editorials, columns and places like this. To be credible, any news organization must devote most of its time and space to the objective and unselective reporting of events, leaving perhaps five percent to the opinionated bias of interviewees and columnists – and even this portion should reflect a balance of glower. This is undeniably not easy, and hardly anyone pulls it off. Journalists and writers are only human – maybe — and humans have their specific opinions and beliefs, none of which are wrong unless they clash with truth.
It is too simplistic to say that the flagrantly outrageous bias of right-wing media has goaded the left-wing into reacting in kind – it’s the chicken-or-egg scenario – but I think it is safe to say that they have both encouraged excesses in each other. The response from the right to Trump’s pathological tweeting will perhaps settle the issue once and for all, because, as we have just seen, this is going to become a very serious problem, and one that cannot be overlooked, since the Internet provides everyone with access to all global media, at least one outfit of which will not overlook a presidential catastrophe even if every source in America does.
As I said, I want to give Trump a chance and believe that his more unacceptable outbursts were just campaign tactics, but this recent tirade against Meryl Streep’s remarks at the Golden Globes endorses the views of those who have long claimed that the President-Elect cannot tolerate any criticism and reacts to it with blind rage. Back in the old money-grubbing days of bricks-‘n-mortar scams, he could probably say anything at all to that handful of people trapped in some business venture with him and get away with it. Prior to The Apprentice, and certainly prior to his most recent show, The Candidate, Twitter, and indeed most of Big Social Media did not of course exist – but if they had, how many followers and FB-Friends would the Donald have had? Ten? Endlessly amusing as the stereotypical Bad Capitalist for as long as I can remember, he is infinitely unamusing as Leader of the Free World. Does he not realize the nature of that medium he uses with such a frothing frenzy of childish intemperance and glee? Admittedly, it is questionable whether or not Streep should have used the podium and massive audience of an awards show to express her heartfelt dismay over Trump’s vile mimicking of a disabled person – but she did, and she too has a right to her opinion. Except it wasn’t an opinion. Maybe Trump watches too much Fox, but he obviously cannot easily tell the difference between stark fact and self-serving fiction. Immediately – he must always be glued to a TV screen – he tweeted that Streep was lying, that he had never done such a foul thing; and then, predictably, he threw in some puerile slights about the actress. These might have resonated with some and would have probably stung the recipient badly had she been some bimbo starlet. But to call one of the finest screen actors in America “overrated” is just pathetic and hi-lights his churlishness and the helplessly infantile nature of his reactions to adverse criticism. It also indicates that he is mindlessly dumb at times. For the media response was to run a clip of him mimicking the unfortunate disabled person a hundred times an hour. We should also not forget Trump’s Hollywood addiction, which no doubt explains why he was wasting time on an awards show he dearly wishes he could be a winner on instead of defining his foreign policy or ways to make America meek again. Some time ago, he was outraged not to receive a Grammy for his fine TV series, and griped that the awards were “rigged”, just as the election was going to be until he won it. It has long been observed that some German art gallery should have given Hitler a successful one-man show in the 1920s, to spare the world a decade of misery; so, similarly, the Academy in LA ought to give the Donald an Oscar to keep his dopamine flowing and the rest of us alive. Best impression of Homer Simpson as a financial Titan, perhaps?
At this point, I am not sure how he has responded to such an extremely adverse critique, or rather the irrefutable revelation that he was lying – which in fact has always been his reaction when confronted with an inconvenient truth. He may not have noticed, but opinions cannot be refuted – and they are cheap for a network to put on air – but now it is increasingly easy to confirm or deny facts. No one has any right to an opinion based on lies or distorted facts – for free speech must have some limits (there are concrete ones too: you cannot falsely yell “fire” in a crowded public space, for instance, and you cannot publically deny the Shoah or Nazi Holocaust. Both of these prohibitions concern the tranquility of society, which is disturbed by panic or hate. We might ask ourselves how far anyone should be allowed to go in actions clearly disturbing the peace. At what point does freedom of speech become an enslavement?).
I was keen for a fresh wind to blow into fetid Washington, but I am decidedly less enthusiastic about a hurricane with a disgusting miasma in its wake to escalate the existing stench. It might have been simple to bamboozle a few eager businessmen with cooked books and skewed statistics, but the dealmaker as politician faces a very different prospect – one videoed on an immensely large and exposed stage – a performance in which there is no opportunity for, or possibility of retakes.
The episode I envisioned – Apprentice Meets the Czar – is already in preproduction, it seems, and thus needs some preparatory program notes to clarify its storyline. Faced with the disagreeable news from his sixteen security services that the Russians had undoubtedly hacked into US computer networks in order to influence the recent election, and, moreover, that this venture was authorized by Vladimir Putin, Trump’s response was, “I don’t believe it – you can’t prove that!” Again, this reveals his confused attitude towards truth – because they could and did prove it. Of course, Putin’s objective in the scheme was to discredit Democrats and assist Trump’s campaign, so it is understandable that he, the Donald, wouldn’t want to believe it publically – and he cannot possibly be angry about it – but, as President, he is going to be obliged to feel slightly concerned about the Kremlin Hackers and what they might be tampering with next.
Revealed by the Panama Papers as someone with billions stashed offshore, Putin has handled his personal hacking scandal adroitly – what scandal? – but the temporary embarrassment must have given him food for thought. No doubt he views with derision the relative freedom of western media. The reason few Russians are aware of his large-scale and undeniable corruption is because he has a foolproof method for guaranteeing media reliability: he orders journalists and publishers threatened with ruin or simply murdered. Pravda, long the Russian newspaper of record, has enjoyed nearly a century of reporting the Truth, as its name suggests, but this truth has generally been officially sanctioned, or, you might say, cooked up near Red Square. Russian media function much like the medieval Church, with the Pope in his Kremlin determining dogma, any objective free-thinkers excommunicated, and all heretics burned at the stake, or else left to rot in the bleak dungeons of Lubianka Prison. Even those intrepid souls who escape the secret police end up poisoned or otherwise terminated, even in the apparent safety of Reformist European Media capitals. It’s a grim situation, and one that ought to give us pause – for Russian media are not a bow-shot from where the likes of Trump, and the plutocrats behind Fox et al, would like to drag US media. To assist the pushback against this nefarious trend, let us clarify the classic Russian position on interfering with western elections with a few hard facts – whether or not Mr. Trump believes them.
In 1968, Soviet Russian agents offered then presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey a considerable sum of money in return for several kinds of favorable treatment during his term of office. Humphrey refused the offer and reported the incident to authorities – which probably had nothing to do with him losing the election.
In 1976, Senator Henry Jackson, a rabid anti-communist, was for some time a hot Republican candidate for the presidency, and Moscow feared for its safety if he was elected. Again, Soviet Russian agents went to work with a campaign of lies about Jackson – allegations of homosexuality etc. – that seem to have found it ridiculously easy to gain an eager audience in the US media. They may well have scuttled the Senator’s hopes of a win, since, after a fiery start, he dropped out before the ballot.
In 2007, the new Russia was revealed to be interfering in Estonia’s electoral process, using the old tried and trusted methods. By then, of course, Putin was at the helm, and satellites of the old Empire seemed most to interest him. And ‘interest’ is the key word in these forays. If Moscow’s interests are in some way involved, it would seem, then any kind of underhand adventure is sanctioned, as the two best-documented US cases show. Just as Kremlin interests in, say, the Ukraine, the Baltic States and Crimea are easy to understand, so should the advent of Trump be. I doubt if Mr. Putin ever imagined an American presidential candidate would one day sing his praises, but one did, and he was clearly not slow to jump at the opportunity, lavishly rewarding that noble American friend with all the considerable resources at his disposal. It remains to be seen how grateful and loyal Trump will prove to be, but the Czar has played a deft hand of late. His cards may never be particularly good, but he always plays them with consummate skill.
As usual, however, US outrage at Russian malfeasance in tampering with democracy is a Himalayan summit of hypocrisy. It is not as if Washington is itself innocent of trashing democratic governments and movements all around the globe, is it? They may well also do it by computer these days – although the Iraqis will dispute this – but America’s history of violence against democracies has been unremittingly bloody and hands-on for over sixty years. It probably began officially in Iran, where the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh was overthrown in 1953 and replaced with a brutal military dictatorship run by the US puppet, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a.k.a the Shah. This may help explain half a century of very strained relationships between Teheran and Washington. Main reason: Oil. After such a glorious early triumph, there seems to have been no holding back the CIA, which conducted dozens of assassinations, staged coups, backed rebels, or just called in the troops to trash democratic governments in South-East Asia, West Asia, the South Pacific, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and God only knows where else. I doubt if anyone has a correct number, but it is well over fifty countries, with a body-count approaching forty million. Reasons: ideology, oil, military bases, and a good ol’ land-grab. Number of US bases worldwide: approaching 1,000. Cost of wars plus bases: over a quadrillion dollars. In every case, the American public was lied to or fed propaganda to justify the expense of wars lacking rhyme, reason and any tangible benefit. Even their ideological benefit was surprisingly meagre, since few US allies – always ingrates – could perceive any real threat to their well-being since Hitler went down in flames. The unnecessary nuking of two Japanese cities – over 200,000 civilians dead in one day [ Reason: to test an atomic weapon and rub Stalin’s nose in it] – appalled some European leaders, because Japan was then trying to surrender, but it set the stage for hideous things to come, as well as revealing a characteristic disregard for international law that has burgeoned over the last twenty years into a frightening psychopathology. I advise anyone seriously interested in learning why the United States is currently the most barbaric nation on earth, and the greatest threat to world peace there has ever been, to watch Oliver Stone’s 14-hour documentary, The Untold History of the United States, which is currently available on Netflicks. I’d be eager to hear from anyone who can find a factual error in this monumental series, which every America ought to see in order to understand how deeply flawed and dangerous their governmental system really is, as well as how many good men and women have been denied political office, persecuted, or murdered by the very dark forces that gained a stranglehold over the country around a century ago. This is very far from a conspiracy theory, for Stone names names and cites solid sources for every contention. His documentary – clearly a labor of love – is a sad and sobering experience, but a necessary one for all of us entering the greatest era of uncertainty yet in a highly uncertain world. I guarantee that anyone watching it will dismiss Putin’s little hackathon as poor stuff, not even worth a response when compared with the global ravishment of a dozen occupants of the Oval Office. Never say never, but Trump can hardly do worse than his predecessors – except, alas, he can. I really don’t want to hear Armageddon announced by a tweet…
Paul William Roberts