May 6, 2016

The Art of Distortion, or: Of Donald Trump and a Paper Tiger

Reuters/Scanpix
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States, April 4, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States, April 4, 2016.

Trump is the only hope for Republicans in the US election campaign.

A clash of cultures is brewing in the US. Populists Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are ideological and cultural opposites, have reaped the rewards of rampant dissatisfaction. However, it is Trump’s campaign that has been the target of a systematic assault by the mainstream media, which has merely served to stoke public distrust.
The 2016 US presidential election cycle has completely renounced the ordinary. Most of the media frenzy has focused on two candidates, a Democrat and a Republican, neither of whom is a purebred partisan nor the typical run-of-the-mill establishment puppet. “Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders has been an independent throughout his long career in politics and joined the Democrats only last year. Real-estate tycoon Donald Trump, on the other hand, has changed party five times and became a Republican again in 2012. Sanders promises to employ socialism to distribute all kinds of free amenities to the voters, while Trump promises to employ protectionism to “make America great again”.1 The former’s modus operandi is a revolution, the latter’s is ruthless negotiation.
Both Trump and Sanders are products of the politics of rage. They represent the discontent of the victims of the two-party system, which was spawned by deceitful career politicians and the dishonest mainstream media. The people are fed up with career politicians, who only serve their wealthy donors and puppet-masters, and whose policies threaten the Second2 and Fourth3 Amendments, and whose policies seek to import an electorate from third-world countries,4 who will end up taking jobs away from Americans5 (and who will grow dependent on welfare6). “Traditional politics and politicians have failed,” as columnist Eugene Robinson so aptly put it.7
The media have likewise failed, with their inability to drive the political narrative now revealed. The main functions of journalists are to scrutinise, mediate and interpret the actions of those in power. Yet the media also have enough power of their own to elect rulers, which historically has been the function of the clergy.8 However, ignorant apathy is no substitute for competent journalism and the ongoing election has proved just how little merit the lecturing of columnists really has.9
Because the media landscape tilts to the left,10 the “multicultural” left is quite eager to attack the right ad hominem to hold a different viewpoint—it is an expedient method to direct the discourse (or put a stop to it). Donald Trump poses a serious threat to the media—having even gone as far as to suggest suing outlets that lie—which has resulted in the two political sides joining forces to brand Trump a fool, a verbose entertainer, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe, a fascist, (of course) Hitler, and even a bimbo. A simple yet derogatory label garners most attention and little else is being served up to the public anymore.11 Trump, for his part, continually incites it with his lowbrow behaviour and juvenile bullying.12
This time, however, we can observe one party undermining its own aspirations: for example, the conservative outlet National Review recently espoused a hard-line anti-Trump position.13 Yet Trump is the only one that stands to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. First, he has considerable minority support, and second, he will attract the support of first-time voters, independents, and even Democrats.14 He has also promised to impugn Bill Clinton’s side job as a serial rapist, the dirty money that flows through the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary’s criminal negligence in relation to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and her mishandling of State Department e-mails. Sanders is armed with rage and white youths, but Hillary Clinton is buttressed by the party establishment, superdelegates,15 blacks and women—at least for now.16 (Sanders still stands a chance, however, as Clinton should face indictment17 and imprisonment18—if, of course, the US thinks itself a country that legitimately follows the rule of law. A frequent topic of discussion has been Hillary’s deteriorating health. But there have also been rumblings that Joe Biden would swoop in to save the day in case of emergency.) Trump, though, is the presumptive Republican nominee, as his last two remaining competitors decided to drop out after the recent Indiana primaries. Some former opponents have already expressed their new-found support, while others probably never will.
Trump did not appear out of thin air, because the forthcoming matchup will be between not simply two economic policies, but two world-views: namely, the prescriptive collectivism of the left and the liberal individualism of the right. Trump is tasked with using his political flexibility to draw in voters, which would save the conservative party before its numerical minority becomes insurmountable.19 The left itself is to blame for creating Trump: he is a reality television star with a legendary name, who will play the game of politics with the left on equal terms. He can be devious, brazen and braggadocious—exactly what is needed to defeat Clinton in the autumn. Trump represents all who are sick and tired of the left chiding them over political correctness, of being labelled haphazardly,20 and of the culture of offence-taking21 in general.
In addition, Trump has laid his life and reputation on the line in the name of idealism (and definitely in the name of narcissism). The threat of assassination forces him to wear a bulletproof vest in public and it is the reason why he is under the protection of the Secret Service. Several of his recent rallies were interrupted by violent protesters, many of whom were Sanders supporters or from the Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps America’s woeful education system does not teach that the forceful suppression of free speech is one hallmark of fascism—maybe, then, it is a little hypocritical to refer to Trump as Mussolini. The media tried to blame the protests on Trump, and even Ted Cruz said that Trump himself was responsible for such a “climate”.
It should be said that Trump offers much that can be criticised: he is a phony conservative, his protectionist policies are antithetical to free-market principles, he doesn’t care much about pollution (at least reducing it), his career in business does not make him a politician, he constantly needs to clarify his statements retroactively, and so on. However, I will focus solely on empty criticism and a feckless smear campaign.
Trump is not a mechanical demagogue (unlike a certain former rival of his22). In his 1987 best-selling book The Art of the Deal he described how he handled the media, and those practices are in play even today.23 His craft and trolling is evident in the fact that the media—whether they despise him or not—hardly give airtime to anything but him. But this coverage has been laden with distortion, generalisation and misleading stories. Let us now look at some remarkable examples.
When Trump announced his campaign last summer, he mentioned criminals from Mexico who had entered the country illegally, some of whom were “rapists”. The media distorted and generalised his statement, leaving the impression that Trump had declared that all Mexican immigrants, or indeed all Mexicans, were rapists.24
A month later, he sparked a new wave of media backlash, when he said that Senator John McCain was not a “war hero”.25 His first response was to deny it, but then he changed his answer and said five times that McCain was in fact a hero. The media’s distortion made it seem that Trump did not consider McCain a war hero because he had been captured. Actually, he meant the exact opposite: he said that McCain was indeed a hero precisely because he was captured. Trump later repeated that all who are captured are heroes.26 Many outlets labelled Trump a draft-dodger, and some even called him a coward. In reality, this was not the case—his number simply was not called.27
After the televised debate in August, the media convicted Trump of sexism. But in truth, the context had been twice removed and had distorted his statements. Using statements that were taken out of context,28 Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly accused Trump of a “war on women,”29 which irritated Trump because he thought he had been mistreated enough already.30 The next day he gave an interview in which—among other boxing metaphors31—he said that Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”.32 The media saw an allusion to menstruation,33 discarding the repeated use of imagery and also the fact that Trump used the exact same phrase to describe Chris Wallace, another debate moderator. Thus it seemed that Trump had made a comment that was sexist and nothing but.34 Trump responded that he had meant Kelly’s nose and that only “a deviant would think anything else”. In a subsequent interview, Brande Roderick, the subject of one of the statements Kelly cited, actually gave high praise to Trump and said she held nothing against him.35 (Naturally, this did not mean that others could not be offended in her stead.)
Trump decided to boycott Fox News, but a truce was quickly called, courtesy of pleading by Roger Ailes, its president. Despite the media’s narrative fiat, Republican women in fact favour Trump.36 Besides, Trump is said to hire people based on competence, not their sex.37,38 (Sexism seems more the domain of those who specifically insult the intelligence of women.39) Because Trump indeed says things that offend women, with good cause, the media are prone also to attack, on impulse, his innocuous comments about women. But he cannot be fashioned into a misogynist based on his statement that women and doctors should be punished if abortion were declared illegal.
He stirred up most controversy by proposing a ban on Muslims entering the US until it could be figured out “what is going on”.40 The title of the subsequent Trump campaign press release states, in bold letters, that the matter concerned preventing “immigration”, but the media rephrased his statement to make it seem that Trump wished to ban all Muslims out of xenophobia.41 Still, no label can cancel out two facts: the US Code of Laws, and precedent.42,43 Besides, it is rather telling that about half the population actually support banning Muslim immigration, including Democrats (whose opposition to the proposal increases by one-fifth at the mere mention of Trump’s name).44 The fear of justifiably criticising Islam45 is evidence of true fatuousness and of the self-destructing power of political correctness46, because Islam is diametrically opposed to the religio-cultural bedrock of the West.47 Trump is critical of Islam and called Brussels a “hellhole” in January, which was of course deemed offensive. But it transpired that, in such “hellholes”, innocents are killed by the dozen. The West is trying to import a culture which does not want to assimilate with multiculturalism. Trump is controversial because he has highlighted problems related to immigration and terrorism that the media can no longer sweep under the carpet. Blood is on the hands of those who protect feelings over hard truths. Trump promises not to let the US become Europe.
At the end of March, Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery for assaulting reporter Michelle Fields. Fields claimed that Lewandowski had almost “yanked” her down, and that it had been the “worst” experience of her life apart from the death of her father. Lewandowski denied ever having met Fields. When the security camera recording was released, it was clear that Lewandowski had grabbed Fields by the upper arm. This is as far as the media delved into the matter, labelling Lewandowski a thug and liar and clamouring for him to be fired. However, the Secret Service had warned Fields multiple times to keep away from Trump so, in effect, Lewandowski stepped in to do the job that a laggard bodyguard did not.48 The state attorney decided not to prosecute, to the disappointment of all the white knights in the media.
The most telling failure on part of the media has, of course, been the ten-month doomsaying, which still did not stop Trump seizing the nomination. Politico listed nine blunders that many an analyst made throughout the campaign.49 It took 17 candidates to make it clear how important an outsider’s financial and ideological independence really is to the voters. And, for all that time, the media did not bother to listen to the voters. No wonder the people have no trust left.50
The public’s mistrust of politicians and the media is constantly on the increase, especially because all the original sources are stored in the eternal memory of the internet, readily available to all. Trump has proven that the media constitute a toothless paper tiger that is all growl and no bite. The media’s apparent bias has blown a hole in the narrative make-believe, which is set to become a watershed with Trump leading the way.
Trade unionist Nicholas Klein said in 1919: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”51 It is too soon to be speaking of monuments. November will decide whether Trump will get the chance to make America great again. The future of the Republican Party is also yet to be decided. Staunch conservatism will not save it, but a certain reality TV star might just prove to be their saving grace. Trump is definitely not the most honourable, most cordial, or the most pleasant, but he is the only shot the Republicans have.
Translated by the author.
The English version of this article has been updated and differs slightly from the Estonian version.
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1 The official slogan of the Trump campaign.
2 Peter Roff, “On Guns, Obama Shoots Blanks” – U.S. News & World Report, 6 January 2016, www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/peter-roff/articles/2… 3 Lance Whitney and Edward Snowden, “Fourth Amendment no longer exists” – CNET, 29 May 2014 www.cnet.com/news/edward-snowden-fourth-amendment-… 4 “Political ideology by religious group” – Pew Research Center, 2016, www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/politic… 5 Karen Zeigler and Steven A. Camarota, “All Employment Growth Since 2000 Went to Immigrants” – Center for Immigration Studies, June 2014, cis.org/all-employment-growth-since-2000-went-to-i… 6 Steven A. Camarota, “Welfare Use by Legal and Illegal Immigrant Households” – Center for Immigration Studies, September 2015, cis.org/Welfare-Use-Legal-Illegal-Immigrant-Househ… 7 Eugene Robinson, “The Rising Pull of the ‘Change’ Candidates” – Truthdig, 29 January 2016, www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_rising_pull_of_th… 8 Evan Thomas – DiscoverTheNetworks.org, www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?…. Should media bias actually amount to 15%, then President Barack Obama would have won neither of his elections.
9 Some think that Trump’s and Sanders’ popularity is solely “based on emotions”. See, for example, Paul Waldman, “Are Republican voters going to come to their senses about Donald Trump?” – The Washington Post, 20 October 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/10/… 10 Pamela Engel, “Here’s How Liberal or Conservative Major News Sources Really Are” – Business Insider, 21 October 2014, www.businessinsider.com/what-your-preferred-news-o… 11 Ryan Grim and Igor Bobic, “A Racist, Sexist Demagogue Just Won the New Hampshire Primary” – The Huffington Post, 9 February 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-new-hamp… 12 Trump’s recent kerfuffle with Ted Cruz over both of their wives is most unbecoming of a gentleman.
13 Glenn Beck et al., “Conservatives against Trump” – National Review, 21 January 2016, www.nationalreview.com/article/430126/donald-trump… 14 Sarah Ferris, “Poll: 20% of Dems would defect for Trump” – The Hill, 9 January 2016, thehill.com/homenews/campaign/265330-some-dems-wou… 15 Trevor Timm, “Even if Sanders wins the popular vote, Clinton could still get the nomination” – The Guardian, 11 February 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/11/bernie-san… 16 Polls suggest Clinton’s lead is shrinking.
17 “Former House Majority Leader Claims FBI Is ‘Ready to Indict’ Hillary Clinton” – Zero Hedge, 27 January 2016, www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-01-27/former-house-maj… 18 18 U.S. Code § 793 – “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information”, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/793#f 19 Trump’s last two rivals—Ted Cruz and John Kasich—stood no chance of winning the general election.
20 An honest discussion about the criminality among the black population or about the intolerance inherent to Islam can be ended simply by uttering the word “racist”.
21 A wonderful example involves the tragic case of the students of Emory University, who needed psychological counselling after seeing “Trump 2016” written in chalk on campus.
22 Jason Silverstein, “Marco Rubio mocked for ‘robot’ debate performance after repeating anti-Obama slam FOUR TIMES (VIDEO)” – NY Daily News, 7 February 2016, www.nydailynews.com/news/national/marco-rubio-mock… 23 Brendan James, “Donald Trump Explained How to Dominate the Media in 1987: ‘I Play to People’s Fantasies’” – International Business Times, 9 December 2015, www.ibtimes.com/donald-trump-explained-how-dominat… 24 Alberto A. Martinez, “The media needs to stop telling this lie about Donald Trump. I’m a Sanders supporter—and value honesty” – Salon, 21 December 2015, www.salon.com/2015/12/21/the_media_needs_to_stop_t… 25 “Trump on McCain: ‘He’s a war hero because he was captured’” – Daily Mail, 18 July 2015, www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1200102/Trump… 26 “‘This Week’ Transcript: Donald Trump” – ABC News, 19 July 2015, abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-donald-tru… 27 Jon Greenberg, “Was Trump a ‘draft dodger’?” – PolitiFact.com, 21 July 2015, www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2015/jul/21/… 28 For the remarks directed at Rosie O’Donnell, see RealityTvScandals, “Montage of Insults by Donald Trump to Rosie O’Donnell” – YouTube, 6 August 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NXEaF-w2MY 29 “Transcript: Read the Full Text of the Primetime Republican Debate” – Time, 6 August 2015, time.com/3988276/republican-debate-primetime-trans… 30 Referring to the types of questions he had been asked. Whether someone’s verbiage is more salient than, for example, questions regarding domestic and foreign policy is a separate matter.
31 He used these expressions: “lightweight”, “trying to be tough and be sharp” and “has been a brutal day”.
32 Ian Hanchett, “Trump: Kelly Had ‘Blood Coming out of Her Eyes, Blood Coming out of Her Wherever’ in Debate” – Breitbart, 7 August 2015, www.breitbart.com/video/2015/08/07/trump-kelly-had… 33 Kieran Corcoran, “Trump is KICKED OUT of Republican conference over his new sexist attack on Megyn Kelly: Tycoon comes under fire from all sides for his ‘there was blood coming out of her … wherever’ remark” – Daily Mail, 8 August 2015, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3190115/There-blo… 34 “Donald Trump: I don’t respect Megyn Kelly” (CNN interview with Don Lemon) – CNN, 8 August 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZdX6WHACnk. This exact cut of the interview is embedded in relevant articles on CNN. See Holly Yan, “Donald Trump’s ‘blood’ comment about Megyn Kelly draws outrage” – CNN, 8 August 2015, edition.cnn.com/2015/08/08/politics/donald-trump-c… 35 “Megyn Kelly took Trump ‘on your knees’ comment out of context, contestant agrees” – The Right Scoop, 7 August 2015, therightscoop.com/megyn-kelly-took-trump-on-your-k… 36 CNN/ORC poll results: 2016 election – CNN, 22 March 2016, edition.cnn.com/2016/03/21/politics/2016-election-… 37 Tierney McAfee, “Ivanka Trump Says Dad Donald Is Not Sexist: ‘He’s One of the Great Advocates for Women’” – People, 29 December 2015, www.people.com/article/ivanka-trump-donald-trump-n… 38 Carlos Lozada, “Donald Trump on women, sex, marriage and feminism” – The Washington Post, 5 August 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/08/… 39 Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in February: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” Leading feminist Gloria Steinem in February: “Women will go over to Sanders’ side because the ‘boys are with Bernie’”.
40 “Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration” – DonaldJTrump.com, 7 December 2015, www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trum… 41 Dana Milbank, “Donald Trump, America’s modern Mussolini” – The Washington Post, 8 December 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/donald-trump-isnt-… 42 8 U.S. Code § 1182 – “Inadmissible aliens” – www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1182#f 43 The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson–Reed Act) – Office of the Historian, history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration… 44 “Fox News Poll: 2016 GOP race, Trump’s Muslim ban, terrorism & ISIS” – Fox News, 18 December 2015, www.foxnews.com/politics/interactive/2015/12/18/fo… 45 Both Obama and Clinton refuse to use the phrase “radical Islam”.
46 In San Bernardino, 14 people were killed by a terrorist couple. Their neighbour did not alert the authorities of “suspicious activity” because he was afraid of being labelled “racist”.
47 Andrew C. McCarthy, “Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban Should Touch Off a Badly Needed Discussion” – National Review, 8 December 2015, www.nationalreview.com/article/428201/donald-trump… 48 “‘Can I Press Charges?’ Report: Secret Service Says Michelle Fields Touched Trump Before Lewandowski Intervened” – Breitbart, 29 March 2016, www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2016/03/29/secret… 49 Nick Gass, “The 9 worst predictions about Trump’s rise to the top” – Politico, 4 May 2016, www.politico.com/story/2016/05/trump-pundits-wrong… 50 “Bad News: Just 6 Percent of People Say They Trust the Media” – NBC News, 18 April 2016, www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/bad-news-ju… 51 “Address of Nicholas Klein – Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America” [1919], p. 53, ia802702.us.archive.org/34/items/generalexecuti191…

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