It has long been asserted that conservatives have falsely adopted the language of populism to frame their initiatives that serve the interests of the wealthy in this country.
Although some pundits like to use the term “conservative populism” or “right-wing populism” and even designate Donald Trump as its most visible proponent the reality is, as Trump proves virtually every day, the language or the messages of these supposed movements are steeped in lies and deceit. Right-wing nationalism and bigotry, rooted in hatred, is not populism although the racists will gladly accept the label “populist” to disguise their hatred. Consequently, Trump is the result of decades of lying by movement conservatives. They lied themselves into a Trump dynasty because they abandoned truth and reality to create the deceitful linguistic framework that led to power.
Thus the press dutifully reports on the Trump cruel tax plan as “reform” when, in fact, the plan shifts massive amounts of money, nearly $2 trillion, to the country’s richest 1 percent and is really a direct expression of support for an oligarchic system of governance. Reform happens when something gets fixed, not when it hurts millions of people at the expense of making a relatively few people much richer. Trump’s plan should be called cruel, not reform, but conservatives now own and control the mainstream journalistic language. If journalists won’t change the rhetorical structures now when the media is under siege by a tyrant who claims it’s fake then it never will.
This brings me to my point. I’m struck by the press’s participation in the conservative deceit even as the nation’s tyrant attacks it day after day with heated rhetoric and outlandish claims of “fake news.” Here are a couple of recent samples:
Keep hearing about “tiny” amount of money spent on Facebook ads. What about the billions of dollars of Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
It is finally sinking through. 46% OF PEOPLE BELIEVE MAJOR NATIONAL NEWS ORGS FABRICATE STORIES ABOUT ME. FAKE NEWS, even worse! Lost cred.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2017
Contrast those tweets with this headline on the CNN site: “Senate approves budget kick-starting GOP tax reform effort.” So let’s be clear: A major American news organization is under relentless attack by a “conservative” American president yet it uses the lies and deceit of conservative language in a headline. Here’s an accurate and truthful headline on the subject: “Senate approves budget giving tax windfall to country’s richest.”
Although American presidents have been in conflict with the press before, Trump’s daily barrage of attacks on the mainstream media is unprecedented. Even as I write that last sentence, however, I know there’s some highly paid contrarian in the besieged mainstream media that will offer up an example of how former President Richard Nixon or whoever also attacked the press. The contrarian stance under Trump has become utterly meaningless and boring. It only serves to normalize Trump and his cruel behavior.
But the pressing question now is whether the mainstream media can change. Can it discard “both sides” journalism and develop a new daily rhetoric steeped in opposition to the authoritarian that wants to destroy them? I’m not referring to pundits here, such as Paul Krugman or Charle Blow, who have done an admirable job speaking up. I’m referring to the reporters and editors framing Trump’s petulance with outdated rhetorical structures on a daily basis.
The mainstream media is eventually going to lose its progressive support or interest because it has been complicit in reporting conservatives’ lies as arguments. As I’ve written repeatedly in the past, a lie is not an argument. I cringe when I read the word “reform” to describe an effort to reward rich people with tax advantages or deny ordinary people and elderly people health care. This becomes, for me, a question of ethics.
By using the deceitful framing language developed by conservatives over the past decades, which culminated in a Trump presidency, the mainstream media is giving aid and comfort to that evil which would destroy them. Why doesn’t the media establishment fight back?
Here are some suggestions:
An Oppositional Press. The American mainstream press needs to reimagine itself as a fierce opponent to the Trump administration and the conservative movement and deploy strategies to defend itself and the American people. Its day-to-day reporting needs to reflect the opposition. What at this point is there to gain by allowing its opponents to dictate the terms of the language that gets used to report on events and developments that will hurt people and only damage the press’s credibility? Trump once tweeted that the media “is the enemy of the American people.” Does the press need more motivation than that to become part of a growing resistance to Trump?
Language Makeover. More than likely, anything the conservatives or Trump propose can’t be defined as “reform.” The word needs to go when it comes to describing conservative policy. The “both sides” rhetoric needs to get trashed as well. Simply state the truth. Here’s an example: “Trump’s proposed tax plan rewards the wealthy despite his repeated lies and the lies of those political leaders who support the plan.” What’s difficult about that last sentence? How is it not truthful or how is it unfair? I’m unsure why we don’t see more sentences like this in the mainstream media or on the networks in day-to-day reporting. Editors needs to develop a new oppositional rhetoric that seeks truth, not false equivalences.
Subjective Not Objective. The American press needs to drop the objective-news or the fair-news tropes. It needs to openly endorse a fighting, oppositional rhetoric to Trump’s administration and those that support it. Trump is a petulant tyrant that has already infected our democratic structures with Big Lie rhetoric yet it can and will get worse. The press needs to start envisioning itself as completely irrelevant in the Trump era and understand the implications if that becomes true if it isn’t already true in some cases. Just because CNN ratings are up doesn’t mean Trump won’t win another term in office or that truth will eventually triumph or that reality-based and evidence-based knowledge can survive the onslaught.
Trump is trying to marginalize the real press—this doesn’t include the Republican propaganda arm Fox News—for perhaps a big moment when he seizes dictatorial power through martial law after, say, starting a war or to discredit it in advance of a legal effort to remove him from office. By creating chaos over what to believe and/or who to believe, Trump is really just following the conservative game plan to the dark finale, which is the collapse of American democracy.
This is a perilous moment in our country’s history. It’s time for the media to step up and help preserve democracy and itself, which are intertwined.