A lot of time has been spent over the last week or so concentrating on Donald Trump’s comments about the press, particularly his tweet about the media being an “enemy” of the American people. I still believe the reaction is overblown. Trump needs a rival because so far his Presidency has been nothing but executive orders and trying to quell in his administration, what looks like the food fight scene in ‘Animal House.’ Once the legislation he wants to sign gets held up, or Chuck Schumer blocks Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, he’ll then utilize the press to lob attacks against whatever rival he chooses.
The real danger Donald Trump presents in my view, is his complete disregard at times, for the truth and his dismissal of facts. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal gave the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture the University of California, and something he said stood out more than anything else:
His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.
But again, that’s not all the president is doing.
Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asks:
Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can’t back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don’t have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it’s irresponsible for the President to say that.
To which the president replies:
Many people have come out and said I’m right.
Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.
We are not a nation of logicians.
I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have an argument.
He isn’t telling O’Reilly that he’s got his facts wrong. He’s saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter: That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them — or, in his case, both.
Then he says this:
Substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “justice” and “injustice,” and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.
That’s where Trump is most dangerous. Forget about him calling the media an “enemy.” It’s when he speaks to supporters, telling them to ignore what the media says and believe whatever comes out of his mouth, that it slips into this Orwellian world, and I want no part of that. The worst part is, his supporters go along with his nonsense.
A perfect example of this is when Trump made the claim of “thousands and thousands of Muslims” celebrating the 9/11 attacks in Jersey City. Here are his exact words:
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
This claim is objectively false. No evidence of this claim exists. None. That didn’t stop him from repeating it. Again, as Stephens said, Trump sees truth as what he can get away with. Trump’s supporters weren’t vocally backing him until a small news report surfaced:
The Trump campaign posted snippets of video clips from a local CBS New York City newscast at the time that reported on the arrest of “eight men”–not “thousands and thousands”– who were reported by neighbors as having celebrated the attack. One snippet mentions they had a model of the Twin Towers, as Zalisko had recalled. But while the newscast quotes an investigator as allegedly saying these men knew about the attack in advance, it is unclear if any charges were ever brought–or if the claims of celebrations were ever proven.
That is all it took for supporters to say Trump’s absurd claim was “confirmed.” When pointing out that several people celebrating on rooftops did not support Trump’s assertion of “thousands,” they’d quickly retort, “But it did happen!” By that point, the numbers didn’t matter. A portion of what Trump said may have been credible and therefore, he’s right.
It’s this phenomenon that should concern people more than anything Trump says about the media.