Trump’s Right: The Election IS Rigged, and the Press Is Rigging It
Why, Regardless of Whom You Support This Time Around, You Must Demand More of the Media Before It’s Too Late
by Alexander Zubatov
Although I am not a Republican, a conservative, a white nationalist, an Evangelical, an Islamophobe, a right-winger, a gun owner, a pro-lifer, a gay-basher, a raving racist or anything of that general sort, I happen to believe that Donald Trump is a better choice for President than Hillary Clinton … but that’s not what this article is about. I am not asking you to come to share any particular views of the candidates and their positions that I’m necessarily going to express below … except for one, and that’s this: the manner in which the media has conducted itself in the course of this election cycle is beyond atrocious. It has done everything in its power to dumb down our political dialogue, distract us from the issues and run a bare-faced disinformation campaign geared towards the election of Hillary. My argument, in a word, is that whether you love her or hate her or will be voting for her because she’s just the best of the worst, if you care at all about the integrity of the political process, you should not allow yourself to accept the manner in which the media is conducting itself in the course of this election. While the press may want us to share its hive mind, resistance is not futile. Or, at least, not yet.
When Donald Trump suggested on August 1st that the election is rigged — a charge that merely echoed the case Bernie Sanders and one-time presidential candidate and respected law professor Lawrence Lessig had been repeatedly making for some time and a charge given additional credence by the release of the DNC’s conspiratorial e-mails that led to the downfall of the odious Debbie Wasserman Schulz but somehow left the equally sleazy Hillary Clinton largely unscathed — the mainstream press rushed to brand Trump an irresponsible demagogue making some sort of crazy and unprecedented insinuation that could imperil the legitimacy of the election’s results in November. The irony of the media’s reaction to Trump’s pronouncement is that, with every day that passes, the press itself is proving Trump right.
There is indeed something unprecedented going on in the course of this election, but it is not Trump’s assertion that the system is rigged against him; rather, it is the extent to which the media has taken it upon itself to wage war upon one of the two presidential candidates, resorting to every trick in the book in order to make the case against him. The media is rigging the election, and whether you are a Trump supporter, a Hillary supporter or neither, it is in your best interests not to tolerate this perversion of the democratic process. Remember: the same media manipulation machine that has now set its sights squarely on Trump had, in earlier rounds of voting, deployed that same monolithic machinery against “outsider” candidates such as Bernie Sanders. Whatever else it is, the media is, first and foremost, BIG BUSINESS, and so it is inherently likely to favor the candidate of big business, who, in this election, is clearly Hillary Clinton. Thus, regardless of whether or not you happen to like the direction of the media’s bias this time around, fighting this machine is in all our interests if we ever want to see true change in our electoral and political system.
Like a purely unbiased person, a purely unbiased press simply doesn’t exist and never did. We can all agree on that. And yet the effort to be objective is a good in itself. The closer the press must adhere to a standard of professionalism, objectivity, newsworthiness and fair and balanced coverage (and no, I don’t mean the Fox News version of “fair and balanced”), the better the outcome will be for all of us. We all benefit when the media informs and enlightens us, when it elevates our public discourse and opens our eyes to that which does not lie in plain sight. Conversely, we all suffer when the media becomes a vehicle to disseminate its own narrow prejudices or reinforce prevailing prejudices, when it acts as a mere instrument of larger market forces, when it drags us down into the muck and the mire or when it piles on and repeats ad nauseum what is already everywhere and readily apparent. There is a place in this world, perhaps, for The National Enquirer and other forms of tabloid infotainment, but if there is not much difference left between The National Enquirer and The New York Times, then before long, there also won’t be much difference left between news and nonsense, between press and propaganda. We have already skidded far down that slippery slope.
Here is a small sampling of the kinds of “news” coverage of Trump’s campaign with which ostensibly serious publications have regaled us:
- publishing naked photos of Melania Trump, discussing such photos and their implications in depth and raising the question of whether or not various aspects of her biography (wholly irrelevant to any political issue) may or may not be accurate;
- suggesting — as though it matters one way or the other — that Trump kicked a baby out of a rally, even if the baby’s own mother, who recognized that the baby was causing a disturbance, was already on her way out when Trump made the remark at issue (which she, unlike the tone-deaf press, accurately understood to be an instance of Trump’s dry humor); she re-entered later with the baby in tow, after it had stopped crying (see here for her side of the story … or, better yet, don’t waste your time on this junk!);
- raising the seriously wacky idea that Trump is seriously issuing calls to have Hillary Clinton assassinated, when, in reality, his comments on the Second Amendment crowd’s ability to stop Clinton were, at the absolute worst, no more than another instance of ill-advised dry humor lost on the humorless press; notably, the same day The New York Times (among many other publications) headlined this ludicrous idea that Trump was trying to get Clinton killed, it was running a fluff piece on how Hillary Clinton grew up in poverty and supported herself and Bill when their fortunes were at a nadir, which, in The New York Times’ view, somehow excuses or explains her comfy relationship with corporate America;
- suggesting Trump may be refusing to release his tax returns to conceal the fact that he has contributed to an organization supportive of pedophilia and is, therefore, himself a pedophile; yes, this is a real claim that New York Magazine has recently made here, while also admitting that there is, in reality, not a shred of evidence Trump is actually a pedophile or has contributed a dime to any such organization, but because there are some people somewhere on the internet making absurd claims he is a pedophile in order to pressure him to release his tax returns, this is, in itself, apparently newsworthy; the story carefully hedges all its allegations to avoid a libel suit, but the transparent purpose of this clickbait is to seed in people’s heads the idea that Trump is actually a pedophile; and, by the way, if you’re going to keep hammering Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, why not play fair and keep hammering Hillary just as hard for refusing to release those $225,000 speeches she made to Goldman Sachs?
- running a slew of insanely inappropriate pieces, such as this one from The Washington Post, suggesting that Trump is literally insane; these are written by armchair psychiatrists for the simple reason that real psychiatrists — the only ones actually qualified to throw around such diagnoses— are ethically prohibited from opining on the mental health of people who are not their actual patients by what is known as the Goldwater Rule, implemented because of psychiatrists’ rush to judgment about 1964 Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, a guy who, just like Trump, had more than a few views that posed a challenge to the complacent consensus of the business-as-usual “mainstream”; as the theorist of power Michel Foucault has argued, psychiatric diagnoses can be a potent and dangerous tool used to categorize, diagnose and sequester those too far out of the mainstream of our political lives;
- devoting pages and pages of analysis to the questions of whether Trump is a fascist, a racist, a narcissist or all of the above; the charges of fascism and racism leveled at Trump simply dilute the actual meanings of these words to the point where they become casual labels to be thrown around rather than the meaningful terms of opprobrium they should be (and, indeed, the careless manner in which the term “racist” is being routinely used to refer to anyone with whom we happen to disagree about race issues has stripped that word of nearly all its meaning); as for the “narcissist” charge, is there a single politician (other than, perhaps, Jimmy Carter) who doesn’t fit the bill?
- spending day upon day upon day inflaming the silly controversy between Trump and the publicity-seeking Khizr Khan; sure, Trump didn’t do anything to help himself by needlessly and classlessly harping on this guy, but the press pressed the issue, stoked the flames and wouldn’t let it go;
- attacking Trump for not being quick enough to disown the support of white supremacist David Duke (whose support Trump in no way solicited), while quickly burying what is surely a much more inexplicable and significant story concerning the fact that, on August 8, 2016, i.e., after the mass shooting in Orlando, the Orlando shooter’s Taliban-praising, America-hating father was sitting front and center on the stage at a Hillary Clinton rally;
- repeatedly feeding a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Trump campaign is imploding in order to make people think it is imploding so that they jump off the ostensibly sinking ship, and then doubling down when concerned politicians and others believe these tall tales and start jumping;
- routinely making a big stink of every one of Trump’s many gaffes, inconsistencies and errors in judgment, while giving the more scripted and polished but deeply sinister Hillary Clinton a free pass on the serious and continually re-emerging concerns about her longstanding pattern of lies, pandering, politically motivated position-switching, insularity, cronyism and corruption; the media’s myopic focus on Trump has insulated the public from the recognition of how truly awful Hillary Clinton is, and, at the very least, her numerous character deficits, highly questionable judgment and history of policy errors and catering to entrenched financial interests merit the same kind of scrutiny reserved for Trump.
You do not have to agree with my view that every one of these stories is fluff, nonsense or otherwise inappropriate or unfair in order to admit what is now too obvious to be denied: the media is running its own flagrant, incendiary and totally classless smear campaign against Donald Trump. It is undoubtedly doing so both because the media is the establishment favoring Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, and because Trump has repeatedly flouted the unspoken rules of the “callout culture” the media has helped create, where anyone who violates such rules must quickly apologize and kowtow to the press.
Let me be absolutely clear: Trump’s behavior is often … what’s the word I’m looking for? … erratic … no, flat-out idiotic. He feeds the media firestorm by pandering to birtherism, fighting flame wars and firing off tweetstorms, engaging what should be ignored and, by saying anything and everything that comes to mind, being the complete opposite of the all-too-on-message Hillary Clinton. Part of this is his temperament, and part of it is undoubtedly a product of political inexperience, and these are both legitimate issues for the press to raise in covering his campaign, but there is a difference between the media raising an issue and the media waging a tireless campaign to convince voters of their folly in supporting a particular candidate.
To quote Michelle Obama’s DNC speech, “When they go low, we go high.” Or, at least, we should go high. But the left-leaning media isn’t going high. When Trump goes low, it sinks to his level and then goes still lower. Its scandal-sheet-style coverage of Trump’s many personal foibles and silly antics detracts from what should be and could be a robust discussion of actual political issues that he has raised in ways that are challenging to political orthodoxy on both sides. The reality, when we look a bit deeper, is that although Trump has been widely depicted in the press as some bumbling would-be dictator that is destroying the party of Lincoln, he has, albeit in his often crude and simplistic way, shown the political will and independence of mind to challenge entrenched policy commitments and stale orthodoxies that needed to be challenged. When people’s longstanding uncritical commitments are challenged, they tend to get upset, and the press is no exception. But make no mistake: whether right or wrong, Trump’s many contributions on this front are a much-needed public service. Here are some examples of his ideas variously dismissed by the media but meriting, at the very least, the kind of prolonged and serious discussion the tabloid press has prevented from taking place:
- If Trump’s call to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it is not the right solution to the problem of illegal immigration, what is? He is surely right that admitting an unchecked flood of unskilled and uneducated illegal immigrants into a nation already suffering from the morale-sapping consequences of income inequality and struggling to find work for unskilled workers in an increasingly high-tech knowledge economy is a recipe for disaster. His indelicate language notwithstanding, his claim that such immigrant communities are higher in crime and drugs is, statistically speaking, correct, for the simple reason that it is true of all poor people living on the fringes of society. He is also surely right that rewarding such illegal immigrants with an easy path to citizenship or other privileges not available to U.S. citizens is not a wise policy decision. Labeling his claims “racist” is far easier than discussing their substance, but a real discussion, not a knee-jerk response, is what we need. Let’s discuss other viable solutions rather than call Trump “racist” and resume our business as usual, as though there’s no problem to be solved.
- Trump’s view that we need to restrict Muslim immigration until we get a handle on what is going on with the epidemic of terrorism by Islamic extremists might be constitutionally dubious and sound extreme to segments of the left that are too cowed by political correctness even to utter the words “Islamic extremism,” and yet when it is known, for instance, that 13% of Syrian migrants support ISIS, or that 51% of Muslims in the U.S. would want the option of being governed by shariah law rather than the U.S. Constitution, and nearly 20% would support the use of violence to make shariah the law of the land (see here), we need to consider our options rather than stick our heads in the sand as we have been doing under Barack Obama. A continuation of our present policies will lead to the same catastrophe that is looming in much of Western Europe, which has been overrun by people who resent the West, do not value our essential ideals of tolerance, pluralism and freedom of speech and religion and want to turn Europe into an extension of the universal caliphate. Trump’s solution is surely short on empathy, but the alternatives we have heard from Hillary Clinton and other neoliberals and neoconservatives — to the extent we have heard any at all — are short on common sense. Again, therefore, this is an issue Trump has put on the table that merits serious discussion rather than the kinds of overblown rhetoric, spate of name-calling and other appeals to emotion being circulated by our pathetic press.
- Trump, like no Republican before him, has questioned America’s financially ruinous and politically disastrous policy of interventionism, militarism, failed nation-building and financing of religious extremism in the Middle East and beyond (with, most recently, $400 million under dubious circumstances to fundamentalist Iran and a whopping $1.5 billion gift to Saudi Arabia so that it can fight dirty wars and further spread its extremist brand of Wahhabi Islam worldwide) and has even dared to question some of our long-standing but outdated Cold War alliances that may no longer be as useful and advantageous as they once were. Among Republicans, he has been a voice in the wilderness bold and independent-minded enough to proclaim George W. Bush’s colossal blunder in Iraq a mistake, while simultaneously criticizing Obama’s combination of misdirected militarism in Libya and feckless floundering in Syria. Both “mainstream” old-guard Republicans like the Bushes, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney and the rest and “mainstream” old-guard Democrats such as the Clintons have been unequivocal supporters of nearly every single American war, intervention and “police action,” resulting in vast expenditures, massive loss of life, endless dislocations, worldwide hatred of America and the creation of 10 would-be terrorists for every one bombed out of existence. If Trump is wrong on this constellation of issues, then he surely merits a real response, not a facile dismissal delivered by means of the charge of “isolationism” and other ready-made but hollow labels.
- Similarly, Trump’s questioning of neoconservative Republican and neoliberal Democrat free-trade dogma in suggesting that we need to look critically at our trade deals that send American jobs overseas without a sufficiently attractive quid pro quo has opened up for discussion an entire economic realm where smug assumptions have taken the place of critical scrutiny and careful analysis. Trump may well be wrong, but is he wholly wrong? Is there something else that can be done to stop the hemorrhaging of American manufacturing and other low-skilled jobs being shipped overseas? What constructive and plausible solutions has Hillary Clinton offered to the problem Trump has identified?
- If Trump has been anything, he has been, first and foremost, an outspoken critic of the cancer of political correctness that is destroying America from within. He has put this issue on the table more loudly and clearly than anyone before him. I happen to feel very strongly about political correctness and have argued at length about the dangers it poses to the very core of our civilization, so I won’t even pretend to be a dispassionate observer with regard to this controversy, but even if you disagree with equal passion and fervor, Trump’s views on this issue are more or less shared by the majority of the U.S. population (59% according to a recent Pew Research Survey), with many of those he is speaking to left behind economically even as they are being ironically and relentlessly attacked as “privileged” in the cultural sphere. As even Obama has observed, too many universities have abandoned the basic values of free speech and tolerance of a diversity of viewpoints and chosen to appease and coddle the loudest and most aggressive students rather than trying to cultivate the most highly educated and prepared citizenry in the world. Yet the discussion of these issues has turned into yet another disgusting exchange of epithets, with the media simply labeling Trump and all his supporters racists threatened by the impending loss of their cultural and political preeminence. Rolling Stone, in an article typical of this common genre, has dismissed all Republicans favoring Trump as the “party of dumb white people” (the title of the article was changed to read “the party of white paranoia” — not much better — but the URL still carries the more incendiary original title). Such inflammatory rhetoric might represent a fun and juicy rallying cry for the minority of the American population that supports political correctness, but it is hardly any way to bring the majority into the conversation or conduct a civil discussion of a serious issue.
These are just a few examples among many others that I could draw on, the overall point being that if the press were not so hard at work misleading and deluding us, we would be more readily able to recognize the extent to which Trump’s bucking of entrenched traditions is a positive contribution. From his lack of religiosity and obvious lack of concern about the traditional issues held dear by social conservatives (such as abortion, with regard to which he has, for instance, refused to condemn Planned Parenthood in its entirety, and gay rights, for which he has expressed outright support), to his challenge to the deep-seated corruption of the electoral process and the role of money in politics, to his willingness to embrace the causes of poor people in lieu of kowtowing to the 1% and the donor class (like the Bushes and Clintons of the world have done), Trump’s positions on these and many other issues are a breath of fresh air that finds common cause with the similarly orthodoxy-defying candidacy of Bernie Sanders and would resonate with those on the political left if not for the disinformation campaign the media has shamelessly and relentlessly waged against Trump.
Let me say this again: I am not asking you to believe, as I do, that Donald Trump, for all his flaws, is a better choice than Hillary Clinton. I am not asking you to vote for him. I am not asking you to put aside your reservations about him and his character, many of which I actually share. I am not asking you to adopt my view that the corrupt lying neoliberal militaristic arch-panderer Hillary Clinton is the most dangerous presidential candidate in many decades.
The one thing I am asking you to do is to expect better than the race to the bottom the media has given us in this election cycle. We want and deserve a searching and engaged discussion of the actual issues, not obsessive analyses of dumb tweets, naked photos, silly insults and the like.
Deploy your voice, your wallet and your fingers. Stop clicking on political clickbait. Don’t buy the biased b.s. they’re selling. Stop your subscriptions if they don’t stop sucking the air out of the political process. Take to the airwaves and the comments sections to let these sensation peddlers know you’ve had enough.
At a transitional moment when so much hangs in the balance, we need and deserve more than this from the people whose job it is to keep us informed. If we accept less today, we will get still less tomorrow. You may be perfectly pleased with the media’s shameless shilling for Hillary, but if we let them do this to us now, it may be too late to stop them when you are less happy with the outcome the next time around.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.