Tag Archives: Donald Trump

The Media Is down in the Gutter with Trump

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            How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and—at best—spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.

            So much has been written about Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists—“fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements—are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.

            Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.

            American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.

            Truth only derived from facts—verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.

            From the start of Trump’s run for president—before the start—Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign The New York Times led its coverage with its forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the fact of the Times’ embarrassing wrongness—the day before Election Day they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning—it cited odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might suggest the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.

            It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways it makes you look really, really dumb. 51-49 could go either way. 85-15, not so much.

            The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.

            After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called “Resistance.” Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism; what this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact that we are all doomed. It would be nice to hear Blow’s opinions about taxes, militarism and abortion.

            Next came years—years!—of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person blah blah blah to an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame.

            Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: if your mother says she loves you, check it out? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so, we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA people, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.

            What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent either $100,000 or $200,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads were apolitical. Many were pro-Clinton. The company has no ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $200,000 couldn’t have and didn’t move the needle.

            Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them that there was more. The Mueller Report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable copies of documentary evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.

            It was barely an idea for a story.

            Russiagate fell apart so decisively that Democratic impeachers now act like the Mueller Report—a media obsession for three years—never even happened.

            Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: if it’s news, print it. The identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington, and elsewhere if you know where to look, for months.

            Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?

            “I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?

            There is a because-Trump change in media ethics that I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.

            Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has WMDs.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About Medicare-for-All” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.

            But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no bigger than his predecessors (see Iraq WMDs, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.

            I say, give coverage of Obama and other ex-presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House gets from the news media:

            “Wallowing in Corrupt Wall Street Cash, Obama Drops $11.75 Million on Gaudy Martha’s Vineyard Mansion Estate”

            “Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush”

            “Jimmy Carter, First Democratic President to Not Even Bother to Propose an Anti-Poverty Program, Dead at TK”

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does

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            “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters, okay?” Donald Trump said at an Iowa campaign rally in January of 2016. That remark gets quoted, mostly by liberals bemoaning the unquestioning loyalty of the president’s stupid supporters, a lot.

            But there’s another, more interesting, facet of that meme: Trump, it’s clear, can get away with just about anything—impeachment included. He will be impeached without turning a single voter against him.

            Nothing has ever been less deniable than the president’s imperviousness to, well, everything. Trump’s haters hate it, his fans love it, everyone accepts it. A month ago Trump’s lawyers for real argued in open court that, if their client actually were to go on a shooting spree in midtown Manhattan, he couldn’t be charged with a crime until he was no longer president.

            Without enumerating President Trump’s rhetorical offenses and deviations from cultural and political norms, how does he get away with so much? Why doesn’t he lose his base of his electoral support or any of his senatorial allies?

            It’s because of framing and branding. Trump isn’t held accountable because he has never been held accountable. He has never been held accountable because he has never allowed himself to be held accountable.

            Hitler believed that, in a confrontation, the combatant with the strongest inner will had an innate advantage over his opponent. Audacity, tenacity and the ability to keep your nerve under pressure were essential character traits, especially for an individual up against stronger adversaries. Trump never read “Mein Kampf” but he follows the Führer’s prescription for success. He never apologizes. He never admits fault or defeat. He lies his failures into fake successes, reframing history into a narrative that he prefers. It’s all attitude: because I am me, I can do no wrong.

            I’m not a billionaire real estate grifter turned billionaire presidential con man.

            But I get this.

            When I began my career as an editorial cartoonist, I staked out ideological territory far to the left of my older, established colleagues, most of whom were ordinary Democrats. In the alternative weeklies, other cartoonists were as far left as me. But they weren’t syndicated. I went after mainstream daily newspapers. My first two syndication clients were the Philadelphia Daily News and the Los Angeles Times.

            My status as an ideological outlier reduced the number of newspapers willing to publish my work. But the editors who did take a chance on me knew what they were getting and so were able to defend me against ideological attacks. Once they saw that braver papers were publishing my cartoons, moderate publications picked them up too.

            Despite being an unabashed, unrepentant leftist, I became the most reprinted cartoonist in The New York Times. Secretly, many of the “Democratic” cartoonists were as left as me. They were jealous: how had I gotten away with wearing my politics on my sleeve in such bland outlets as The Des Moines Register and The Atlanta Constitution?

            First, I was willing to take some heat. I accepted that I would get fewer clients and thus less income. I insisted on drawing the work I wanted to do, never watering down my politics. If everyone rejected me, that was fine. Better not to appear in print than to do wimpy work. And in the long run, I was better off. There have been rough patches. But progressives have taken over the Democratic Party. I’m one of the few pundits the left can trust for a simple reason: unlike Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington, I have always been one of them, regardless of prevailing winds.

            Second, I developed an unusual drawing style. When I started out most editorial cartoonists mimicked two icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly. The “OliNelly” house style of American political cartooning was busy, reliant on caricature and crosshatching. Daily newspaper staffers drew single-panel cartoons structured around metaphors, labels and hoary symbols like Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant.

            I did everything the opposite. I drew multiple panels, wrote straightforward scripts inspired by comic strips. My drawing style stripped down to a brutally simple abstract look in which most characters looked almost identical. No metaphors—you didn’t need to learn how to read a Ted Rall cartoon. They weren’t as pretty as MacNelly’s. The chairman of the Pulitzer committee, whose death I shall toast, denied me the prize because I didn’t “draw like a normal editorial cartoonist.” But you knew my stuff wasn’t by anyone else. Branding.

            I created space for myself ideologically and stylistically. So I got away with—still get away with—more than many of my peers.

            Finally, I learned to never apologize.

            Most of the time when a cartoonist apologizes for causing offense, they don’t mean it. Their editors, themselves feeling the heat from an avalanche of letters-to-the-editor and social media opprobrium, force them to say they’re sorry. This I will not do. It’s too undignified.

            Sometimes cartoonists really do screw up. In one particular cartoon I took aim at the president and instead wound up wounding a group of disadvantaged people. So I acted like a human being: I apologized.

            What a mistake! Papers that had stuck with me through previous controversies abandoned me, canceling my work. The group I’d apologized to proclaimed itself satisfied and appealed to the quislings to reconsider, in vain. I learned my lesson. Never apologize, especially when you’re wrong. Americans forgive evil, never weakness.

            With his far longer reach, influence and experience than yours truly, Donald Trump has figured out how to carve out room for himself to run off at the mouth, offend protected groups and defy cherished traditions. No one can make him stop. No one but him. And no one can make him say he’s sorry.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Sorry but It Really Is Too Late to Save the World

Even if humanity slams on the brakes, stopped emitting carbon dioxide and goes back to horses and buggies, global warming will continue for at least a few more decades. So although Donald Trump and his rolling back of air pollution emissions standards are annoying, it’s probably too late anyway.

If the Democrats Had Tried to Impeach Hitler, They Would Have Ignored the Big Stuff

There’s a lot of good reasons to impeach Donald Trump. Let’s start with the fact that he is an asshole. Rude, crude, socially unacceptable. Openly talks in racist language. Coddles Nazis. But in their impeachment inquiry Democrats are instead focusing on a very hard to follow narrative about his phone call to the president of Ukraine, in which he asked that country to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of vice president Joe Biden, and initially threatened to withhold military aid but then granted it. This is way too much like Iran Contra: who can follow the story even if it’s true?

Actually, a Lynching is Quite Different

Echoing the classic Clarence Thomas line about being the victim of a high-tech lynching, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is a lynching. Clearly the president is in need of a serious history lesson.

The Impeachment of Trump Is a Deep-Democratic Coup Against Elizabeth Warren

Is Nancy Pelosi using impeachment to mess up Elizabeth Warren?

Some Republicans see the Ukraine/Biden impeachment inquiry as a deep-state coup attempt against President Trump. Some progressives are beginning to scratch the surface of an alternative, but equally cynical, analysis that I think leftists ought to consider:
The impeachment of Donald Trump is a DNC/centrist coup attempt against progressives inside the Democratic Party.
Democrats could have launched impeachment proceedings over any number of more compelling issues: Trump’s child separation policy at the border, the Muslim travel ban, emoluments, the president’s erratic behavior on social media. Why the Ukraine/Biden affair?
The House inquiry is hardly ideal from a framing perspective. The only conceivable reason that the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma hired Vice President Biden’s screw-up drug addict alcoholic son, with zero experience in the energy sector, to sit on its board of directors for $50,000 a month was that he was the vice president’s son. Vox notes that “the situation constituted the kind of conflict of interest that was normally considered inappropriate in Washington.” Pre-impeachment, no one knew about this sleaze.
Knowing that his worthless son was working a no-show “job” there for a company brazenly trying to buy his influence, Vice President Biden ought to have been the last Obama Administration official to call the president of Ukraine about anything. Democratic leaders, corporatists to a man and firmly on team Biden, nonetheless are aware that their impeachment inquiry risks exposing their preferred candidate to the kind of scrutiny that can lose an election.
Biden apologists like the New York Times’ resident conservative columnist Ross Douthat are furiously spinning the argument that Americans should ignore Biden’s corruption to focus on Trump’s worse corruption. “Hypocrisy is better than naked vice, soft corruption is better than the more open sort, and what the president appears to have done in leaning on the Ukrainian government is much worse than Hunter Biden’s overseas arrangements,” argues the Dout. But impeachment is a political, not a legal (or legalistic) process. We knew what Trump was when we elected him; this point goes to the president.
So why go after Trump over Ukraine/Biden and not, say, the fact that he’s nuts?
Risks aside, the Democrats’ Ukraine investigation—not successfully, I think, but anyway, it tries—to rescue Biden’s flagging campaign by transforming him into a victim. Liberals love victim narratives.
And now the crux: Elizabeth Warren. When Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, the self-styled progressive from Massachusetts was rising in the polls so fast that many analysts, me included, believed that she had become the most likely nominee. I still do. That goes double following Bernie Sanders’ heart attack, which fuels concerns about his age.
As impeachment proceedings do, the current effort to sanction Trump—remember, odds of getting 67 senators to vote to remove him from office are exceedingly long—will dominate news coverage as long as they go on. It’s going to be impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, 24-7.
The drone of impeachment will eclipse Warren’s remarkably disciplined campaign. She has a plan for everything but the media won’t cover them. Warren trails Biden on name recognition; how will voters get to know her? I’d be spitting bullets if I were her campaign manager.
As I’ve written for The Wall Street Journal, progressive ideas are dominating the current presidential campaign cycle on the Democratic side. Most of the top candidates have endorsed Bernie Sanders’ key 2016 promises: free college, Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage. Nearly three out of four Democratic voters self-identify as progressives.
Bernie lost the Battle of 2016 to Hillary Clinton but he won the war. Corporatists still control the DNC but the vast majority of Democrats lean left. Before Biden entered the 2020 campaign it seemed clear that four decades of Third Way/Democratic Leadership Council/New Democrats/Clintonite rule of the party was coming to an end. A progressive, either Sanders or Warren, would almost certainly be the nominee.
Biden’s campaign is about one thing: blocking progressives.
Samuel Moyn, interviewed in Jacobin, sort of gets it. “[Democratic Congressman] Adam Schiff and many others are not concerned about saving the Democratic Party from its historical errors, including its own disaster in 2016,” Moyn says. “If impeachment becomes a distraction from that much more pressing campaign to save the Democratic Party for the Left, then it will have been a disaster.”
What better way for moderates to recapture control of the Democratic party than by impeaching Donald Trump? The impeachment brigade has progressive allies like AOC’s “squad.” But the pro-impeachment Democrats who are getting airtime on MSNBC, unofficial broadcast organ of the Democratic Party, are the centrist/DNC “national security Democrats.” (Note the new/old branding. Scoop Jackson, call your office.)
Impeaching Trump may not be a fiendishly clever conspiracy to recapture the Democratic Party from the left. It may simply work out that way—dumb luck for dumb corporatists. Regardless, pro-impeachment progressives are dupes.
Why impeach Trump when it seems so unlikely to result in his removal from office? Why risk energizing and further unifying the Republican Party?
As their backing of Hillary over the more popular Bernie in 2016 showed, the old DLC cabal is more interested in getting rid of the progressives in their own party than in defeating Donald Trump. Impeachment may not nominate, much less elect, Joe Biden. But it just might neutralize Elizabeth Warren.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Joe Biden is the New Hillary, But Even Less Likely to Beat Trump

The main appeal of Joe Biden’s candidacy for president is that he would supposedly be more electable than other Democratic presidential candidates. However, he is also the second coming of Hillary Clinton. She lost to Trump. But Biden, if anything, seems to have fewer advantages than she did.

Don’t Worry, the Government Will only Use Their New Anti-Mass Shooting to Suppress Us

Right wing politicians are using the latest mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso as an excuse to say that they need the same sweeping rights to invade privacy that they currently use to combat foreign terrorists against potential American domestic terrorist threats. It’s not hard to see how these tools would quickly be used to crack down on any form of dissent.