We are about to walk now into the heart of darkness, and it’s the president of the United States who’s going to be leading us there.
He, who will lie about anything or say anything or hang anyone out to dry to hold on to power, has already spent months telling us that he and his campaign did nothing wrong and it was all Hillary Clinton, and his toadies in what we loosely call “the press” have obliged him and pushed his favorite story lines. But now that the noose is tightening with the indictments, it’s going to get worse. And it will be up to the press, the actual press, not to play along.
What Donald Trump and Fox News and the rest of them are going to attempt to do now will be to mount and execute a disinformation and diversion effort absolutely without precedent in this country’s history. Richard Nixon had his enemies list. But as the Watergate clouds gathered around him in 1973 and 1974, he didn’t try to say it was all George McGovern’s doing.
Why didn’t he? No—I’m asking that in all seriousness. There may be a few reasons, not least being that, corrupt as Nixon was, he wasn’t a psychotic narcissist. But the main reason, I think, is that Nixon didn’t have a huge media machine that took advantage of the First Amendment to twist facts and spread and sustain every lie he told as if he were some infallible emperor. And Trump does.
Go watch yourself some Fox News, or listen to some of these people on the radio, or follow some of their tweets. It’s a different universe. It can be comical at times, like on Monday morning when CNN and MSNBC were digging into the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictments and Fox barely noted that supposed nothingburger while dedicating segments to things like the “Emoji Cheeseburger Crisis at Google.”
But mostly it’s much more sinister. The latest meme is that Bill and Hillary Clinton are worse than Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Because of this Uranium One business. It’s all a pot of lies. I really don’t even want to dignify it by digging into it. Read more here. The long and short of it is that in Trump/Fox world, Hillary gave 20 percent of our uranium to Russia in exchange for donations to her husband’s foundation. On real Earth, the uranium transfer did indeed happen (but doesn’t remotely mean that Vladimir Putin can suddenly do as he wishes with it), but it was a complex inter-agency decision that was taken, as far as the facts are now known, totally without her knowledge. And yet Sebastian Gorka screamed to Sean Hannity last week: “The Rosenbergs, OK? This is equivalent to what the Rosenbergs did, and those people got the chair.”
It’s all based on lies, the usual pinning together of a few facts that can be made to look incriminating as long as certain other exculpatory facts are left out. Now they’re on to Barack Obama, saying his campaign may have paid for the famous Steele dossier, because the Obama campaign paid some money to the same law firm that hired the company that hired Christopher Steele. Whoa, that looks funny, no? Actually, no. Perkins Coie is a big Democratic election-law firm. The biggest. It represented Obama’s campaigns. There are any number of reasons the Obama campaign might have paid the firm a relatively small $972,000 (compared to several million from the Clinton campaign and the DNC).
If you read, say, this innuendo-rich piece of nonsense from The Federalist, you’ll see how these things work. That piece hit on Sunday. Then, after it appeared, Trump tweeted it. Then, after Trump tweeted it, foxnews.com of course wrote up an obliging news story on the tweet.
It’s up to the real media not to fall for this. Hillary Clinton isn’t the president. It often feels as if Republicans are miffed about this, if only because they’d love to be impeaching her, but it’s the case. No one is going to be indicting her. She and her husband are retired. And by the way, both served their country quite nobly in comparison to Donald Trump or Paul Manafort, now alleged to have stolen $75 million and paid not a penny of tax on it.
There’s only one president, and there’s only one story: The story of his and his aides’ and allies’ relentless mendacity. The surprise news of the day, that plea-copper George Papadapoulos has been singing to the feds about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, must have terrified the White House.
But it also means that this is just going to get so much uglier. Trump knows no ethics or honor, has no sense of decency. The Constitution and the oath he swore mean nothing to him. He’ll trample it all, and he’ll turn everything back on the Clintons and Obama for as long as he can.
His “press” lapdogs will cheer and abet him every step of the way. The real press has to stand firm and not be intimidated. And Republicans, by the way: their moment of historical reckoning is coming. What will they do if, impossible as it seems, the Justice Department does indict Hillary Clinton? What will they do if Trump fires Robert Mueller? And even short of those two cataclysmic hypotheticals, how long will they let the president steer this country into the gutter?
Trump will destroy this country to save Trump. The people who can save this country from him need to come to grips with that reality and prepare themselves to act on it. No equal time for lies.
UPDATE: Sure enough, a textbook example of equal time-ism—and then some!—came Tuesday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. I was listening to the top-of-the-hour newscast with Korva Coleman at 6 a.m. She reported on the charges. Then she said meanwhile, Trump’s defenders in the conservative media were saying that the indictments were bogus and Clinton should also be investigated. They even used a sound clip from Rush Limbaugh. Mind you, this was in the top-of-the-hour hard-news segment, when air time is especially precious.
Now: A straight news organization can present this kind of material in one of two ways. One way can be to let its audience know that this kind of thinking is out there, but to frame the presentation in such a way that the audience gets that it’s not a mainstream view. The other way is to fail to do that, thereby essentially endorsing the legitimacy of the point of view. Morning Edition did the latter. A not-very-knowledgeable listener would have come away from that segment—which, by the way, wasn’t even by one of its national reporters like media reporter David Folkenflik, but by someone from North Country Public Radio in upstate New York—thinking, “Well, I guess there are two sides to this.”
It was an embarrassment. They’re such ninnies about their funding at NPR, and so intent on compensating for their presumed liberalism, that they’re going to help overcompensate us into the post-democratic age.