Trump's message to the families of the murdered journalists rings hollow, especially as he views them as ‘the enemy of the people’

Put fake news and Trump in Google and you come back with 48 million results. It tells you something about how the notion has started to infect public life

Sean O'Grady
Friday 29 June 2018 15:12 BST
Donald Trump ignores reporters asking for his reaction to Maryland shooting

By the usual standards of his Twitter feed Donald Trump’s response to the murder of five journalists at their desks in Annapolis, Maryland was measured: “Prior to departing Wisconsin, I was briefed on the shooting at Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene.”

It seemed inauthentic, a rare example of this president speaking his mind but using the words of some staffer in as bland and neutral a way possible – a “boilerplate” form of words as it has been called. What was definitely the real Trump could be seen in the rather chilling one minute, three second clip of him walking from his helicopter to the White House. The press corps are virtually begging him for a few words, but Trump just studiously, callously ignores them.

It wouldn’t have hurt him to say something – but he didn’t. You have to wonder why. You have to wonder what’s wrong with him. You have to wonder whether there is some part of his emotional make up that is missing, rather than his brain. It’s not his intelligence that is his problem, as is so often claimed, but more his lack of emotional intelligence, which may also account for his extraordinary brittleness and vindictiveness.

More rationally, Trump might have calculated there’d be little in it for him to speak to reporters, and especially on this occasion. He would inevitably have to field supplementary questions about his demonisation of the media, of reporters personally (including that gruesome impersonation of a disabled journalist he did at one of his campaign rallies), about the degrading culture he had almost singlehandedly created, one that not even his press secretaries are able to defend with any sense of conviction.

Trump might have had to explain why he calls “fake news writers” “the enemy” so often, why he dubbed, specifically, CNN, the New York Times, ABC and CBS as “the enemy of the American people!” That’s the authentic Trump alright. Indeed he might be asked why he once joked about new organisations: “I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people, it’s true”.

If journalism is about truth, then it is no wonder that Trump wants to dismiss so much of it as “fake news”. Put “fake news” and Trump in Google and you come back with 48 million results. It tells you something about how the notion has started to infect public life. As someone once remarked, ironically enough, if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.

There are many, far too many, people willing to believe in Trump’s conspiracy theories, a perversion of the understandable wish to believe what their head of state is saying. Trump makes Nixon and Clinton look like mere amateurs in the great game of deceit. At the height of Watergate, Nixon once told a press conference full of reporters that their “frantic”, “distorted” reporting was beneath his contempt: “Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger – one can only be angry with those he respects.” Rude enough, and didn’t make that much sense, but even he had nothing on Trump’s persecution complex. Trumpism – it deserves an “-ism” – is poisoning democracy. It is making people hate. It is making some feel violent.

Annapolis shooting: 'Multiple casualties' at Capital Gazette newspaper building in Maryland

You should never use the word lightly, but there is much in Trump's attitude that appears to be fascistic. If you don’t agree with him then you are against him and an enemy and he will go on the attack, using all means at his disposal. He cannot, or perhaps does not wish to, “get” the function of a free press, which is to question those in power, whichever party they happen to belong to, if any.

The media as such is not anti-Trump; it is entitled to ask questions of him (and expect answers), and it is entitled to voice opinions about him favourable or not. It is not there to tear him down, and neither is it there to build him up.

All of that would matter even if there wasn’t a single gun owned privately in the United States. It becomes a more lethal culture in a nation where, thanks to Trump, there are far too many and far too easy to obtain perfectly legally, with only a few extra controls imposed since he took office. In Trumpworld the problem with guns is that there aren’t enough of them, and that if school teachers were fully armed and ready then there’d be fewer fatalities from shooting incidents, because the “good guys” can fire back at the “bad guy”.

It is logical to conclude that Trump probably thinks the dead journalists became victims because they were armed with nothing more dangerous than their keyboards. That’s how Trump's mind works. Maybe, on reflection, it’s just as well he didn’t open his big mouth this time.

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