There is a venerable child’s saying that goes:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”
Today, five months into the new administration of President
Donald Trump, his opponents, especially those in the media,
have laid an ongoing siege to the chief executive who shattered
their predictions and preferences last November by defeating
Hillary Clinton in the biggest upset since Harry Truman won
over Thomas Dewey in 1948.
This siege, unlike those of medieval times, is not being enforced
by “stick and stones” --- or even arrows and mortars --- as were
those fabled, and often successful, military sieges of the past.
Instead, the strategy of those who wish to take down the new
chief executive is mere words, many of them simply not true.
As a serious poet, short story writer, essayist, as well as
political journalist, I have an inherent interest in the power and
utility of language. When I say “mere words,” I am not
deprecating language, literature or journalism. I am, however,
indicting the use of words which have no substance in them or
Many Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. Many simply
do not like him or his politics. That’s o.k. It’s a free country, and
the way our system works.
We also have many institutions to balance off the actions of a
president, including two houses of Congress, lower federal
courts and the supreme court, the media, and the ballot box.
It so happens that Mr. Trump won the presidential election at
the ballot box (not a plurality of the popular vote, but in the
constitutionally-mandated electoral college). His political party
also won control of both houses of Congress. Many in the lower
federal judiciary were appointed by Democrats; the supreme
court is divided almost in half. Most of the so-called
establishment print and broadcast media is liberal, but there
is also now a significant conservative media, especially among
radio talks shows, a few major newspapers and magazines,
and among opinion journalists.
Public polling shows Mr. Trump consistently under 50%
favorable, but usually in the mid-40s. (Although former
President Obama had higher poll numbers initially, he was
under 50% for most of his two terms.)
There is a duty of an opposition party to oppose. It is not only
understandable, but necessary, for Democrats to oppose any
policies of Mr Trump and his administration with which they
disagree. That’s the way our system works best. It is the
responsibility of the federal judiciary to block any executive
branch actions which are unconstitutional --- with the U.S.
supreme court as the final arbiter. It is the responsibility of all
in the media to treat the actions of both political parties with
honest and healthy skepticism, especially those opinion
journalists who express a point of view of any kind.
But, as I have been pointing out for months now, the public
expects its “news” organizations to present a fair and honest
account of the news. As I have said again and again: “The
front page is not the editorial page.”
Let me very specific.
An ongoing narrative in the establishment (read: anti-Trump)
media is that there is a political, and even legal, “scandal”
regarding President Trump and his relationship with the
government of Russia. This narrative is continued on the news
pages and new programs in a series of news “facts” --- many of
them from unnamed sources. The latest example of this is the
story originating in The Washington Post that the president
personally gave classified secrets to Russia. Although this
allegation has been strongly refuted by top officials in the
government, including those “in the room with the president”
when the alleged act took place, it is being reported as news
“fact” by the establishment media. One of these top officials
is General H.R. McMasters, a national security advisor to the
president, who has an impeccable reputation for honesty. The
Post will not name its sources. Its news pages (and editorial
pages) are constantly filled with anti-Trump stories.
Is it possible that the allegations are true? Of course it is
possible, and the allegations may fairly be made by opinion
journalists and named sources in an editorial context. But
so far it is not “news” --- and considering the source, the
allegations are “fake news,” something which has been
proliferating since (and before) last January 20th.
Incidentally, as president of the United States, Mr. Trump
has the legal right to release any classified information he
wishes to whomever he wishes. Even if the allegations were
true, the media does not reveal that any wrongdoing has taken
place. Some reports now state that Mr. Trump might have
shared information about an ISIS terrorism plot originating
from a non-U.S. source. If so, that would be the president's
We are seeing tactics, as some have pointed out, used by
Senator Joe McCarthy decades ago, and now used by
Democrats, liberals, and some Republicans --- the very
persons who used to complain about McCarthyism.)
Beyond that, the whole Trump-Russian narrative has no
“facts” at all. Yes, campaign officials met with Russian
officials (as did Clinton campaign officials and Democratic
congressional leaders), but what are the facts of what
happened in those meetings? (In one case, that of General
Flynn, he failed to tell the president and the vice president
of his meetings --- and he was promptly fired.)
There are many policies of the new administration which
are genuinely controversial. The new president has made
some mistakes, as every president in both parties does.
There is plenty for the opposition to bring up, and for the
media, to examine skeptically. That does not, however,
justify a weak opposition’s reliance on “fake news,” innuendo
and spitefulness in their public responsibilities.
Fort White House and Fort Mar Al Lago are under prolonged
sieges, but they are so far only sieges of words. They will no
doubt continue until next year’s mid-term elections. Who will
pay the greater price for this verbal warfare?
The answer will come when the voter cavalry arrives in 2018,
and whom they rescue.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.