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“Fundamental Values And Norms”: The Media Have Reached A Turning Point In Covering Donald Trump. He May Not Survive It

The news media have come in for a lot of criticism in the way they’ve reported this election, which makes it exactly like every other election. But something may have changed just in the last few days. I have no idea how meaningful it will turn out to be or how long it will last.

But it’s possible that when we look back over the sweep of this most unusual campaign, we’ll mark this week as a significant turning point: the time when journalists finally figured out how to cover Donald Trump.

They didn’t do it by coming up with some new model of coverage, or putting aside what they were taught in journalism school. They’re doing it by rediscovering the fundamental values and norms that are supposed to guide their profession. (And for the record, even though I’m part of “the media” I’m speaking in the third person here because I’m an opinion writer, and this is about the reporters whose job it is to objectively relay the events of the day).

If this evolution in coverage takes hold, we can trace it to the combined effect of a few events and developments happening in a short amount of time. The first was Trump’s press conference on Tuesday, the ostensible purpose of which was to answer questions about a fundraiser he held in January to raise money for veterans’ groups. In the course of the press conference, Trump was at his petulant, abusive worst, attacking reporters in general and those in the room. “The political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met,” he said, saying to one journalist who had asked a perfectly reasonable question, “You’re a sleaze.” These kinds of criticisms are not new — anyone who has reported a Trump rally can tell you how Trump always tosses some insults at the press, at which point his supporters turn around and hurl their own abuse at those covering the event — but Trump seemed particularly angry and unsettled.

To see how the press looked at that revealing event, it’s critical to understand what led to it. It happened because the Post’s David Fahrenthold and some other reporters did what journalists are supposed to do. They raised questions about Trump’s fundraiser, and when they didn’t get adequate answers, they investigated, gathered facts, and asked more questions.

It was excellent work — time-consuming, difficult, and ultimately paying dividends in public understanding. And Trump’s attack on them for doing their jobs the way those jobs are supposed to be done couldn’t have been better designed to get every other journalist to want to do the same. They’re no different than anyone else: When you make a direct attack on their professionalism, they’re likely to react by reaching back to their profession’s core values to demonstrate that they can live up to them. Trump may have wanted to intimidate them, but it’s likely to have the opposite effect.

The same day as the press conference, a trove of documents from Trump University was released as part of a class-action lawsuit accusing Trump of fraud. The documents revealed allegations as to just what a scam that enterprise was: high-pressure sales tactics, nothing resembling knowledge being imparted to the “students,” people in financial trouble preyed upon and told to max out their credit cards to pay for more seminars and courses. Some of Trump’s other schemes may have been comical, but as far as we know nobody was victimized too terribly by buying a Trump Steak or a bottle of Trump Vodka. Trump University is something entirely different, and it’s not over yet; questions are now being raised about an investigation the Texas Attorney General’s office undertook of Trump University, which concluded that it was cheating Texans out of large sums of money; the investigation was dropped by then-AG Greg Abbott, who later got $35,000 in contributions from Trump and is now the state’s governor.

Plenty of presidential candidates have had shady doings in their pasts, but can you think of anything that compares to Trump University? A party’s nominee allegedly running a con not just on unsuspecting victims, but on victims specifically chosen for their vulnerability and desperation? It’s no wonder that you can’t find any Republicans who’ll defend it, in a time when ordinarily you can get a partisan hack to justify almost anything their party’s leader is doing or has done.

Then you had Trump’s continued attacks on the judge presiding over that fraud case. It’s unusual enough for a presidential candidate to be publicly attacking a judge in a case he’s involved in, but what’s most appalling is the blatant bigotry at the basis of Trump’s criticisms. First Trump would simply say that in addition to being biased against him the judge is “Mexican” (which is false — the judge was born in Indiana). Now Trump says that because the judge is “of Mexican heritage” he should be removed from the case. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he says. Given all the other demographic groups Trump has insulted and offended, the natural conclusion would seem to be that only white male judges are fit to preside over Trump’s many, many lawsuits.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 3, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, News Media | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Chill Wind Blows”: Something More Dangerous Than An Ideological Animosity Toward The Press

Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.

He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.

Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.

But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.

At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”

This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)

But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.

This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.

Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?

These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.

In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.

James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

And that extends to the country’s politicians.

This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.

Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Donald Trump, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The White Entitlement Of Some Sanders Supporters”: If You’re Young, White And Privileged, You Don’t Expect To Lose

“Killary Clinton is stealing the nomination and the system is rigged against Bernie Sanders,” said the two young white guys standing behind me in line. They rambled incessantly about how she was cheating and could not be trusted. Superdelegates were their greatest frustration. Unelected delegates who could “decide” the nomination proved that the process was a sham that was intentionally set up to prevent Sanders from winning.

At first I tried to ignore the conversation and thought they were Trump supporters (“Killary” is usually a right-wing thing). But once it became clear that these guys were Sanders supporters, I had to jump in. For years, these guys had been “my people.” I have been a fan of Sanders long before his presidential run and have made many friends due to our mutual admiration of his policies. Surely, I’d be able to have a civil, rational conversation with these guys, right?

When, I chimed in it was evident that we were speaking different languages. We agreed on most of the substantive policy issues, and I told them how I even interned for Sanders about a decade ago. We should have been able to see eye to eye, but we could not. The main source of their frustration was merely the fact that they had lost. The fact that she is ahead in the popular vote, has won more primaries and caucuses, and has earned more delegates was to them a minor nuisance. They had their absurd talking points and were unwilling to deviate into reality.

The more I reflected on them, the more I realized the key point: They felt entitled to win, and a defeat meant that someone must have cheated or that their opinions did not matter, which of course couldn’t be true. They preferred to suspend reality and fabricate injustices rather than concede that Sanders has lost fair and square.

Essentially, we disagreed on what America supposedly promised or owed us. They felt success was promised to them. The entitlement to believe that you should always win allowed them to overlook how the system in many ways has always been unjustly rigged in their favor because they’re white. I brought up race during our conversation and how I’m very aware of how a system can be rigged against you. These guys acknowledged my point, but it was obvious that this reality did not factor much into their thinking. They felt aggrieved and cheated, and that was all that mattered.

They could not understand the perspectives of blacks, Latinos and other minorities in America who are regularly treated as threats to society before their voices can be heard. We are often silenced before we even have the chance to win. And as a result, we know that losing is a reality we will confront and that success can be a difficult and long process that may only show its face in the lives of our children or grandchildren who have more opportunities because we’ve spent a lifetime fighting for positive change.

These guys could not understand this struggle. They wanted immediate success and gratification, and they were not used to things not going their way. The issues and the lives of others had become irrelevant. All they wanted was for me to agree that they had been unjustly cheated, and that “Killary” and the DNC had rigged everything against them. I could not agree, so I had to walk away.

Sanders’s message has resonated mostly with a younger, predominantly white electorate like those two guys. Their message and frustrations have been heard loud and clear, but their electoral defeats have resulted in an intensified pack or tribalist mentality that unfortunately has similarities to the white tribalism that has guided Trump’s campaign. Sanders and Trump are mining similar disaffections amongst the white electorate.

On Face the Nation, Sanders recently attempted to pour cold water on some of the rage and rhetoric of his supporters, “I wouldn’t use the word rigged…I think it’s just a dumb process which has certainly disadvantaged our campaign.”

Trump on the other hand regularly feeds and emboldens these sentiments. He is speaking to voters like a commenter to The Atlantic whose perspective was so striking that the publication published his unsolicited comment in their Notes section, which regularly incorporates a more conversational and untraditional approach to covering the news. The commenter is a Midwestern, working-class white male in his late 30s who intends to vote for Trump if Sanders does not win the nomination because “if it is all going to be tribal politics, then well, I guess you have to go with your own tribe—if not for your sake, then for the sake of your kids.”

Sanders has broadened the Democratic electorate to include voters who may not normally participate in the primaries and caucuses, but now they need to combat the tribalism that could negatively impact Clinton and other Democrats in the general election. Sanders, unfortunately, has said that he has no obligation to convince his supporters to throw in with Clinton.

A beguiling component of Sanders’s campaign is how the unintentional white tribalism that has been forged on shared economic hardships has boosted his campaign, while at the same time rendering him unappealing to the minorities he needed to win the nomination.

Sanders’s class-based, inequality and economy focused agenda was not intended to stoke racial divisions, but even progressives are impacted by the class and race-based structures that American society has been built upon. Minorities agree with Sanders’s commitment to crack down on big banks and Wall Street, but many of the economic and social injustices we face exist on Main Street and within the police precincts that are supposed to protect us. And while Sanders may see this distinction, some of his supporters appear not to.

As an African American I could not join the tribe of Sanders’s belligerent, incensed supporters. But I should not have to as long as both they and I are committed to working together to combat structures that disenfranchise Americans electorally and economically. The fact that we could not should be incredibly disconcerting to Sanders, Clinton, and the DNC.

White entitlement is shaping up to be a critical issue during this election for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Trump and the GOP are championing the entitled white life of yore. But the Democrats have another dilemma and must figure out a way for their diverse electorate to converse and unite around the shared goals of equity and progress without the archaic divisions and privileges of the past. Thus far it looks like the Democrats and the Sanders campaign still have a lot of work to do.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, June 5, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters, White Privilege | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump’s Early Stages of Evolution?”: Donald Trump Is Afraid Of Muslim Judges, Too

In an interview with John Dickerson that aired Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, Donald Trump didn’t just hold on to his notion that a judge with Mexican heritage is incapable of treating him fairly in court, he agreed that it was “possible” that Muslim judges wouldn’t be able to either. Referring first to U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the Mexican American judge who is presiding over a Trump University lawsuit, Trump reiterated his accusation of prejudice:

[Curiel] is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he’s got bias. I want to build a wall. I’m going to build a wall. I’m doing very well with the Latinos, with the Hispanics, with the Mexicans, I’m doing very well with them in my opinion.

So in Trump’s mind, despite his big beautiful wall idea, he’s still “doing very well” with Latinos, Hispanics, and Mexicans, just not the ones that are members of pro-Mexican clubs or societies, and judges. And then there are those Muslims: Dickerson asked Trump if be believed he would also be unable to receive a fair shake from Muslim judges as a result of his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, Trump responded, “It’s possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely.”

When Dickerson asked Trump whether he also believed in the American tradition “that we don’t judge people by who their parents were and where they came from,” he replied:

I’m not talking about tradition. I’m talking about common sense, okay? [Curiel’s] somebody, he’s proud of his heritage. And I think that’s great that he’s proud of his heritage. … You know, we have to stop being so politically correct in this country. And we need a little more common sense, John. And I’m not blaming. I’m proud of my heritage, we’re all proud of our heritage. But I want to build a wall.

Then again, Trump’s pseudo-suggestion that justice is more important than an intense love of one’s racial or ethnic heritage may not register with at least some of his own supporters.

In other news, RNC chair Reince Priebus has told the Washington Examiner that Trump’s rhetoric regarding Hispanics would likely evolve between now and the election in November:

I’ve said that I do think Donald Trump understands that his tone and rhetoric is going to have to evolve in regard to how we’re communicating to Hispanics across the country,. I think he gets that. Now, there’s a lot of time between now and November, and I think you’re going to see an evolution on that particular issue.”

Of course, that theory of evolution is not yet supported by evidence outside the minds of establishment Republicans who now find themselves chained to the Trump Express.

Referring to the Trump University lawsuit and Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel, Priebus added that, while he didn’t know much about the case, “I wouldn’t invoke race into any sort of attack or commentary.”

 

By: Charles Danner, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 5, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Judiciary, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Can’t Afford To Weaken Social Security”: President Obama Just Changed The National Debate On Social Security

Speaking in Elkhart, Indiana, President Obama made a significant policy statement, one that may get lost in all the talk of the campaign to replace him. He argued that Social Security not only shouldn’t be scaled back, as many believe, but that it should be expanded.

You can look at this as a move to the left. But here’s a better way to see it: as more like a digging in, a resistance to a decades-long effort to lay the groundwork for significant cuts to the program.

Now that Obama has taken this position, it makes it much more likely that most or all Democrats will adopt it as well, which could truly change a debate that up until now has been dominated by an alliance of Republicans and supposedly centrist advocates whose mission is to scale back the most successful social programs America ever created.

Here’s what Obama said in his speech:

But look, let’s face it — a lot of Americans don’t have retirement savings.  Even if they’ve got an account set up, they just don’t have enough money at the end of the month to save as much as they’d like because they’re just barely paying the bills.  Fewer and fewer people have pensions they can really count on, which is why Social Security is more important than ever. We can’t afford to weaken Social Security.  We should be strengthening Social Security.  And not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned.  And we could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more.  They can afford it.  I can afford it.

Here’s why this is important. For a long time now, the way you’ve shown you’re a Very Serious Person about fiscal matters is to gravely intone that Social Security is “going broke” and say that we must cut back benefits, either by reducing retirees’ payments or raising the retirement age. There’s an entire industry of think tanks and advocacy groups whose mission is to create the intellectual and political environment that will make such cuts possible.

Liberals have only been pushing back against that coalition in a serious way for a few years now. There are some high-profile voices debunking the myth that Social Security is “going broke,” most notably Paul Krugman’s (I won’t bother to go over again why it’s a myth, but if you’re interested I explained it here). But they’ve been hampered by the fact that so many Democratic politicians want to communicate that they too are Very Serious, so they accept some of the premises of the other side’s argument, ceding half the battle over the existence of the program.

And make no mistake: it is a battle over the existence of the program. Despite their assurances that they only want to “strengthen” Social Security, many Republicans would like nothing more than to see it disappear, for two reasons. The first is that they’re simply opposed to large social programs on ideological grounds. The second is that by virtue of its success and popularity, Social Security is an ongoing rebuke to conservative arguments about government. It’s awkward to say, “Government can’t do anything right and should be cut back as much as possible” to a voter who has health care because of Medicare and isn’t eating cat food because of Social Security — and thinks both programs are terrific.

So the political situation is this. Republicans can’t mount a direct assault on the program because it’s spectacularly popular, particularly with those who get checks every month (and who vote in large numbers). At the same time, their campaign against it has been extremely successful in shaping public opinion. Large portions of the public have been convinced that the program is in crisis and is about to go broke, and young people in particular think Social Security won’t exist by the time they retire. The hope of the anti-entitlement forces is that if they can convince enough people of that, when they propose a specific plan to cut back the program, people will say, “Sure, whatever — it’s going broke anyway, so we might as well.”

Until recently, the debate around Social Security consisted of one side saying it was going broke and needed to be slashed, and the other side not disputing those basic assertions too strongly, but saying that we shouldn’t do anything rash. What we are moving toward, however, is the Democratic side saying not only that the program is essentially healthy, but that instead of cutting it we should be expanding it. That’s a profoundly different debate, one that produces an entirely different set of policy options.

Right now you have the president of the United States taking that position, as well as the two leading Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton has proposed some targeted expansions of Social Security benefits, for widow/ers facing a benefit cut when a spouse dies and for those whose benefits are smaller because they spent time out of the workforce raising children or caring for other family members. Bernie Sanders advocates an increase for all recipients: “expand benefits by an average of $65 a month; increase cost-of-living-adjustments; and lift more seniors out of poverty by increasing the minimum benefits paid to low-income seniors.”

With the exception of Donald Trump, all the Republican presidential candidates this year signed on to some form of Social Security cuts, either through increasing the retirement age or cutting benefits. Trump, however, said we just shouldn’t touch it. In one debate, he said, “It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is.” Trump doesn’t say how he’d pay for the program, which should undercut the idea that his position somehow challenges conservative orthodoxy; in reality, all Trump is saying is that he’ll make everyone so rich that we won’t have to make tough choices about such things.

By contrast, Democrats feel an obligation to explain how they’re going to pay for the benefits they propose. Obama described “asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little more.” That isn’t very specific, but there are a couple of ways you could do that, the most obvious of which is to raise the payroll tax cap. Right now you pay Social Security taxes only on the first $118,500 of your income, which means that beyond that level the wealthy pay a lower portion of their income than poor and middle-class people do.

Hillary Clinton says she would pay for increased benefits by “asking the highest-income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system.” That would probably mean applying payroll taxes to investment income and not just wage income as it is now. Sanders wants to do that too, and is more specific about the cap: he would remove it entirely, though he would include a doughnut hole between the current cap of $118,500 and $250,000; you wouldn’t start to pay more payroll taxes until you reached that higher income.

Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to tell exactly how much in greater benefits we could afford with these kinds of measures, because how much the system takes in is heavily dependent on things we can only guess at, like what income growth, inflation, and immigration levels are going to be 10 or 20 or 50 years from now. But now that the most prominent Democrats in the country all agree that we should be expanding Social Security and not cutting it back, we could have a whole new debate on the issue.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | President Obama, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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