It’s time to Break It Down!
There are few phrases more oft repeated since the inauguration of the 45th President than fake news. Few people utter it more often than conservatives who nearly spontaneously combust in their effusive efforts to issue a retort to some statement they feel unfairly debases or attacks Donald The Great.
Last night, #45 asserted that he could be the “most presidential” President in the history of the country with one notable exception. Yes, even our current Commander-in-Chief was able to admit that President Lincoln was better. What he actually said was this:
“With the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president in history.”
This most “immodest” Fantasy was something that Trump and his bigly appointed brain was able to conceive, despite, having served only slightly more than six months in the Oval Office, and without having shepherded one single piece of notable legislation to successful completion, i.e., not having passed a (significant) bill. What in the Sam Hill could have possessed him?
Let me be perfectly clear; Donald Trump is not without a noteworthy accomplishment as President. He is, in point of fact, the first President in American history to win and assume office with no prior governing or military experience. While I do not recall him having drawn attention to that point, if he were to do so, I would be among the first to co-sign and extend praise for that singular accomplishment. Though, I must concede, I’m still uncertain whether that says more about his talent, leadership, skills, and abilities, or the collective malfeasance of an electorate that unwittingly dismissed a 228 year-old standard, I’m content to let you be the judge of that. However, that’s not a point of debate; at least not for this post. Feel free to take whatever side of that particular issue you choose. My single point of emphasis in raising this particular matter is Mr. Trump earned kudos for that achievement.
Of course, almost as soon as he took office, he apparently started looking for the most creative of ways to undermine what could be one of, if not his most important personal accomplishment as President, up to and including the here and now. The day after his inauguration, he trotted out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, who immediately began to spray the American people with not fully formed machinations otherwise known as Trump Fiction. Spicey, as SNL affectionately dubbed him, posited that Trump claimed his was the largest Inaugural crowd ever on the National Mall. Not surprisingly, this ludicrous assertion was immediately rebutted with historical film footage and photographs. The Spiceman would ultimately alter this allegation by amending the claim to include televised and Internet coverage. A couple of days after Spicer’s initial bovine excrement, Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, inserted the term alternative facts into the conversation. If this falsehood had been revised any more, it would have needed to have been replaced by Senior Advisor to the President, Jared Kushner’s, SF-86 Form.
In an Orwellian, post-truth, newspeak kind of world, this probably made perfect sense. Otherwise…not so much. As she has subsequently done with a number of other issues, Ms. Conway maintained that #45 believes his crowd was larger. Apparently, ipso facto, facts, proof, and evidence, notwithstanding, that makes it true. Alas, 2017 is not 1984, but the dystopian propaganda model is alive, well, and thriving in TrumpWorld.
Let’s face it. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the knowledge and wisdom of experts while elevating non-experts who lack relevant experience into important jobs across the federal government. You might even say, apart from muckraking tweet storms and rants, pairing high profile posts with incompetent and undeserving appointees is sort of his stock-in-trade. From Education Secretary to Energy Secretary, to Housing and Urban Development Secretary, to Communications Director, to name just four, the President has forced highly successful square pegs of people into hugely important round holes of responsibility. Mrs. DeVos has no public school experience, nor any reported or apparent affinity, Rick Perry didn’t even know the Energy Department, which he famously couldn’t recall as a candidate, is responsible for our nation’s nukes, Dr. Carson did live near public housing; kudos for that (tongue firmly implanted in cheek), and Mr. Scaramucci, whom to his credit, does have TV cred. Yet, he has no experience managing communications. Alternately, what he does have is a Goldman Sachs legacy. Oh yeah, drain that swamp (Said Trump).
To expand the list of examples for your consideration, here are a few interesting, if not bizarre examples of Trump’s philosophy of “Apprenticing” his appointees:
- Party planner Lynne Patton, who helped plan Eric Trump’s wedding but had no professional experience in housing, was appointed last month to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office for the region that covers New York and New Jersey.
- Trump nominated someone who is not a credentialed scientist to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist. Sam Clovis has described himself as “extremely skeptical” about the expert consensus on climate change. The post he’s been tapped for has been occupied by a string of individuals with advanced degrees in science or medicine.
- News broke that Trump will nominate a prominent coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, to serve as the No. 2 at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, the Trumpists have actively taken steps to prevent experts from doing their jobs. The EPA removed several agency websites in April that contained detailed climate data and scientific information, including one that had been cited to challenge statements made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. One of the Web pages that was shuttered had existed for nearly two decades and explained what climate change is and how it worked.
Recently, Trump’s political appointees at the Interior Department abruptly removed two top climate experts from a delegation scheduled to show Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg around Glacier National Park.
The administration is heavily populated with people who lack qualifications that would have been prerequisites to get the same jobs in past Republican and Democratic administrations. It starts at the top: No one not named Trump seriously believes that the president’s daughter and son-in-law could have gotten their plum West Wing jobs if not for nepotism.
Jared Kushner purportedly proposed to Russia’s ambassador the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin last December, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring by the U.S. government.
The president, for his part, didn’t want any professionals from the government, including the Russia expert on the National Security Council, to sit in on his meeting with Vladimir Putin. The Russians also reportedly recommended that a note taker be present, but Trump refused.
Trump attacked federal judges who found that his travel ban was unconstitutional. Then he criticized professional lawyers in his own Justice Department for pursuing a “watered down” version of the ban that could withstand judicial scrutiny.
The director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, a persistent critic of the Trump administration’s approach to ethics, stepped down last week nearly six months before his term was scheduled to end. Walter M. Shaub Jr. drew the ire of administration officials when he challenged Trump to fully divest from his business empire and chastised Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump products from the White House briefing room.
Trump said he knew more about war than the generals. He cast doubt upon the medical community consensus that vaccines do not cause autism. And he said a federal judge of Mexican descent couldn’t objectively adjudicate a fraud lawsuit against Trump University because of his heritage. That judge was born in Indiana, by the way. Speaker Paul Ryan called this “the textbook definition” of a racist statement at the time.
Trump’s embrace of experts and expertise is situational. Candidate Trump often claimed that the government’s unemployment rate was “totally fiction,” even though the economists who tabulate it are insulated from political pressure. “Don’t believe these phony numbers,” Trump said at a rally last year. “The [real] number is probably 28 [percent], 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
But when there was a good jobs report in March, which showed the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump now believes the same numbers. “They may have been phony in the past, but they are very real now,” Spicer said.
In a new book entitled “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” Tom Nichols describes Trump’s victory last November as “undeniably one of the most recent—and one of the loudest—trumpets sounding the impending death of expertise.”
“The abysmal literacy, both political and general, of the American public is the foundation for all of these problems. It is the soil in which all of the other dysfunctions have taken root and prospered, with the 2016 election only its most recent expression.
In summation, despite the cacophonous cries of right wing outrage, there consistently appears to be plenty of there, there. To wit, I submit to you, “Fantasies, Fiction, and Falsehoods: That’s the Real Fake News!”
I’m done; holla back!
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