Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Press and The Enemy of the People

In our current political environment, Trump is playing the role of Hitler and Fox News the role of Joseph Goebbels. And, the election ends in one week from this posting.

Hitler delivered a message of hate and fear, and Goebbels amplified that message in the press. Or, Goebbels filled the media with a message of hate and fear, and Hitler exploited that message to become Chancellor of Germany. Both routes lead to the same well-known conclusion.

Comparably, Trump and Fox News are delivering and profiting from a comparable message of hate and fear. They fill the same two rolls.

When I make this comparison, is this comparable to Trump saying that “the press is the enemy of the people?” If somebody were to send a pipe bomb to Trump or Fox News headquarters, would my rhetoric be in any way to blame? Ought I to not write these things in the name of civility?

Anybody who knows my writings knows that I argue that political violence is legitimate only if peaceful options have been eliminated. As long as we can cast meaningful votes, we may not legitimately use guns and bombs.

Granted, the Republican Party has bent over backwards to weaken the right to vote. Through Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other tactics, a Democratic vote now counts for about 0.9 Republican votes. That is to say, 1 out of 10 Democratic votes are either gerrymandered into impotence or diluted by the need to represent people who are kept from voting through voter suppression tactics. To the degree that the Republican Party continues these practices, to that degree they threaten the legitimacy of the rule of law. But, they have not eliminated democracy. It is still possible to vote them out of power, even though it takes a supermajority of about 55% to do so. While peaceful options remain, bombs and bullets are prohibited.

Also, violence against Trump and Fox News would not work. They are not the source of the problem. They are symptoms of a problem that actually never goes away.

Trump has a simple heuristic. He says something and listens to the audience response. If the audience cheers, he repeats it. If not, he drops it. He is simply an echo of the sentiments of his audience. However, in echoing those sentiments back at the audience, he amplifies them. They grow louder and more extreme.

If Trump had run as a Democrat, it is likely that the same thing would have happened, only with a different message. Instead of unleashing white and Christian supremacy and directed the nation in the direction that Nazi Germany took, we would be at risk of rehearsing for a modern version of the French Terror where we lined billionaires, corporate executives, and priests up at the guillotine for execution. But, he did not run as a Democrat, so we do not have those problems (yet).

The same is true of Fox News. They say something and look at the ratings. If the ratings go up, they repeat it. If not, they drop it. Truth does not matter. Evidence does not matter. Future implications do not matter. Current ratings matter.

So, the problem rests, not with Trump or Fox News, but with what the audience cheers and what is echoed back to them. One is not going to solve that problem with bombs and bullets.

More to the point, it is not wrong in itself to say that the press is an enemy of the people. It is another way of saying that the press is not serving some of the public's interest. Much of the press does not. They prefer to print or broadcast half-truths and deceptions that promote a political tribe. They look at what gets "like" and "shares" and care nothing about truth, evidence, or long-range implications.

The problem is with doing this recklessly or with malevolence.

Imagine that you and I are walking down the street. You are armed. I point to somebody on the other side of the street and shout, “MY GOD, HE HAS A GUN! HE’S GOING TO MURDER SOMEBODY.” You then shoot and kill this person.

It is not wrong in itself for me to shout this. That depends on whether he has a gun and he is about to murder somebody - or whether I at least have credible and responsible evidence to that effect. Given the potential consequences, I had better have very good evidence.

Similarly, it is not wrong in itself to say that the press is the enemy of the people. It is not wrong to say that a caravan of refugees is an enemy army coming to invade our country, kill and rape us, and perhaps even eat some food if they are hungry and it is generously provided. What is wrong in itself is saying on a public news broadcast day after day when all of the available evidence suggests that it is false, “MY GOD, THEY ARE RAPISTS, MURDERERS, AND MIDDLE-EASTERN TERRORISTS FUNDED BY DEMOCRATS AND JEWS ON THEIR WAY TO CONQUER OUR NATION!”

When somebody mails pipe bombs, another shoots two black people at a grocery store, and a third kills 11 Jews after hearing such a message, there is good reason to condemn the people who delivered the message. This is true in the same way that if you were to kill the person across the street on my perhaps malevolent, perhaps reckless assertion that he was about to murder somebody, I would share moral responsibility for those consequences. Decent people are neither malevolent nor reckless about such things. Decent people condemn those types of lies and recklessness.

Trump is playing the role of Hitler. Fox News is playing the role of Goebbels. And we are having an election where we can still peacefully defeat these people.

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