Posts Tagged ‘Trump lies’

The Leaker-in-chief condemns leakers

May 21, 2018

The uncanny pattern continues: every insult, accusation or smear Trump flings at others applies more to him than to them.

Now he’s fuming against leaks and leakers, calling them “traitors.” Remember how he himself leaked sensitive classified intelligence information to the Russians? Right in the oval office?! I guess he doesn’t. He also has a documented history of telephoning journalists, pretending to be someone else, bragging about him(self) and disseminating lies, to puff up his (self) image. Not only does he leak, but he leaks lies.

And lies about leaking. Calling other people leakers is a favorite Trump sleaze ploy. (He’s used it on Comey and McCabe.) Recently he called it disgraceful that a list of potential interview questions from the Mueller investigation was leaked. Turns out there’s strong evidence the leaker was Donald J. Trump.

The latest Trump leaker fit concerns White House aide Kelly Sadler’s remark about John McCain, apparently leaked by an insider who heard it. (The story’s truth is (perhaps strangely) not denied. But White House policy is no apologies, about anything, ever.)

Now let’s be clear. Of course Trump’s own leak to the Russians was treasonish. But the leak about Sadler? No. It may have betrayed Trump and his odious administration, but it did not betray America or the public. To the contrary, leaks like that serve the public good. Remember, the government, and everyone in it, works for the public. The public has a right to know what they do and say. Governments — especially this one — are often secretive, not wanting the public to know about their dirty laundry. But particularly where there is dirty laundry, it’s important for citizens to know, so government can be held to account.

When someone like Sadler, working at the highest level of government, is so stupid and depraved as to say what she said, the public has a right to know it. Whoever leaked it, allowing the public to know, deserves praise.

But the issue concerns more important matters than mere offensive remarks. Major misfeasance, and even policy blunders, which government has sought to cover up, have been the subject of leaks. Such whistle-blowers, who act at great personal risk, are heroes.*

Meantime, Trump and his Republican creep squad ratchet up their campaign to discredit with lies the Mueller investigation and our whole justice apparatus. The latest lie is that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign; he’s demanding an investigation of this “scandal.” The truth seems to be that someone in the campaign with a shred of integrity (improbable though that seems) saw something wrong there and blew the whistle with the FBI. Trump wants that “traitor” outed so he or she can be tormented.

Trump has never retracted his related lie that Obama wiretapped him.

Republicans have even mounted an effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s #2, overseeing the Mueller investigation, who refuses to abet their anti-Mueller lie-athon.

Trump and these Republicans call Mueller’s probe a witch hunt. Consistent again with all their accusations, they themselves are the real witch hunters, wanting Mueller burned at the stake.

Do you realize how horrible this whole story is for our democracy? Are you sickened yet?

I guess not. Trump’s approval rating has risen to 50%.

Make America great again!

* Snowden and Manning? Some of what they leaked does fall in that category. But more of it was in fact treasonous, harming America’s legitimate national security and interests; in fact, putting at risk the lives of others who helped America.

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Post-Truth politics, post-democratic politics

March 17, 2017

(This was published as a commentary in the March 12 Albany Times-Union)

“Post-truth” has been named word of the year. The subject looms large for America’s political future. It’s not just a matter of occasional innocent misstatements, but of politically weaponizing falsehood.

Gleb Tsipurski (associate professor of history at Ohio State University) writes in The Humanist magazine that if it works for Trump, other politicians will follow his example; if they too succeed, “we’re headed for a downward spiral“ and “the end of our political order as we know it.” This might sound like hyperbole, but Tsipurski is on to something.

Being caught in a lie used to be deadly for a politician. What is so dangerous with Trump is that his fans don’t care, rationalizing away everything. As he put it, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and lose no votes. This resembles a religious faith impervious to reason. And removing reasoned discourse from politics is not good for sustaining democracy.

We must understand how we got here. Mainstream media has traditionally served as mediator, part of our whole system of political checks and balances. That media role might even have been over-large. Recall how it brought down 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean for a single utterance (the so-called “scream”).

Dean’s “Scream”

Obviously, the media proved unable to perform such a function with Trump.

Why? Tsipurski says “this system for determining political truths has required an intangible but invaluable resource: the public’s trust.” And that trust has been eroding in the last decade (part of a broader decline in social trust generally).

Past trust in the media was due, in good part, simply to a lack of other information sources. But now alternatives have proliferated, notably on social media and elsewhere on the web. And, crucially, it’s not just the same information differently packaged. To the contrary, it’s often material tailored to flatter the recipient’s pre-existing biases. Or even the now notorious “fake news.” Why listen to neutral NPR (and hear things that challenge your beliefs) when you can get fare that instead bolsters what you already think? And when those “alternative facts” differ from what mainstream media says, it’s the latter that might start seeming problematic. Thus mainstream media loses not only its audience, but its authority and trust.

Further, its effort to maintain an aura of objectivity actually undermines mainstream media’s ability to deal effectively with a politician who lies so shamelessly* – and accuses it of being against him (which of course it is, for excellent reasons). Thus the handwringing over whether to even use the word “lie.” And watch the journalists on a program like PBS’s “Washington Week” struggle to act as though Trump is just another normal political figure. They’ll soberly discuss the putative deep policy implications of a Trump statement (like his one-state-solution line), unable to blurt out that it’s simply ignorance.

So a weakened mainstream media couldn’t do to Trump what it did to Dean. And Tsipurski says Trump has a genius for exploiting such systemic vulnerabilities. Use of alternative and social media, bypassing mainstream media (thereby further enfeebling it), played a big role in his campaign. Exploiting trust-related systemic weaknesses similarly fueled his financial enrichment. The Trump Foundation self-dealing, and Trump University fraud, were prime examples. And trust plays a key role in business and commerce generally: vendors supply goods and services trusting they’ll be paid. That’s how the system works. And Trump exploited it by simply not paying, over and over and over.

Is all this “genius?” Or walking through open doors?

The press’s authority is maimed even more by Trump’s continuing attacks, even turning the “fake news” trope against it. Another of his big lies. Tsipurski likens our unfolding situation to a “tragedy of the commons” – when it’s hard to protect a communal resource against those pillaging it. Here, our shared resource is a political environment where objective facts (disseminated by news media) hold sway, so that rational policy choices can be made. “This intangible yet invaluable resource,” Tsipurski writes, “is being polluted and destroyed by Trump’s post-truth politics.”

He understands his followers prefer to have their opinions uncontaminated by pesky reality. (He himself exhibits that very syndrome.) Better yet to feed them falsehoods tailored to those opinions. But voters need a source for, and to care about, truth and reality, to make rational political choices. Only thusly can their interests truly be served. That’s why Jefferson wrote that democracy depends upon an informed citizenry. But if the public doesn’t get it, why should politicians care either – about facts and about people’s real interests? When they can instead succeed by emotional manipulation and lies?

That’s the road to authoritarianism. It’s the one Putin followed. He destroyed Russia’s independent media, so he could work his “magic” on citizens unfettered by truth or any accountability. And that’s the road Donald Trump openly steers toward.

* Falsely accusing his predecessor of a serious crime is disgusting behavior for a president. A sane adult would simply admit the mistake and move on. Not this stinking turd.