President Donald Trump is a liar. Trump lies so much that journalists have debated what to call his lies. (Is a lie still a lie if the liar believes it to be true on some level?)
Liars like Trump fear the news media because they know that hard facts and dissenting voices can slowly destroy them and their narratives about the world. Trump’s increasingly wild attacks on the media and his branding of news coverage he dislikes as “fake” constitute a transparent attempt to protect his lie-fueled authoritarian power grab by intentionally blurring the facts.
At a rally during Trump’s campaign, “alt-right” Trump supporters were recorded shouting the anti-media slur “Lügenpresse” (lying press) first popularized by the Nazi regime, an early sign that Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the media had a fascist resonance.
Both Trump’s falsehoods and his ongoing attacks on the media continued on full display this Monday as he delivered a speech at Fort Drum in New York. Flanked by US Army troops, the president said that 4 million jobs had been created since his election, and that’s a number “the media in the back” would have never admitted could be possible during his campaign.
“I’m so proud of myself; I didn’t call them the ‘fake-news media,'” Trump continued, to scattered applause. “I said to myself, ‘I will not today, in front of our great armed forces, call them fake news.’ We know the real truth, but we won’t say it today.”
Of course, Trump did say “fake news.” He said it twice. Never mind that Trump’s boasts about the economy failed to mention that the average minimum-wage worker cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. Within a few breaths, Trump applauded himself for keeping his war on the media out of his speech to the nation’s troops, and then contradicted himself by stoking the “fake news” flames once again. He teed up a lie and sank a hole in one.
As critics and activists have been pointing out for months, Trump’s war on the media is unprecedented and dangerous. Other politicians, fearful of the news media’s influence over public opinion, would have changed their behavior by now. Not Trump. He has doubled down in apparent hope that he can cast enough doubt about the unflattering headlines spinning around his administration to maintain allies in the Republican Party and a coalition of nativist, right-wing voters.
Trump recently declared that the news media are “the enemy of the people” and that journalists are “dangerous and sick.” Journalists in the United States have a strong tradition of working independently from the government to keep its power in check. These are the words of a man who would rather be king than president.
Truthout and other dissident and independent outlets have been sounding the alarm about Trump’s authoritarianism since he was a candidate. Following his election, we’ve turned our unflinching attention toward documenting and exposing the violence his administration has committed against immigrants and those marginalized by capitalism. Along with other Republicans, Trump has consistently attacked health care and the social safety net. The administration’s shameful “zero-tolerance” immigration policies that recently created a humanitarian crisis on the southern border naturally followed from the president’s racist rhetoric about immigrants.
And we’ve amplified the voices of activists working to resist these attacks. Since Trump has taken office, we’ve provided a platform for undocumented and Latinx activists challenging immigration jails and deportations, women fighting for reproductive justice, environmental justice activists and the direct action wing of the disabilities movement. We’ve chronicled a growing anti-fascist movement as it confronts white supremacists emboldened by Trump’s presidency in the streets.
As an independent media outlet focused on revealing systemic injustice and challenging rights abuses, exploitation and structural violence, it’s part of our everyday mission to push back against the harms inflicted on our society by powerful people like Trump. Now that Trump has put the free press in his crosshairs, we must also fight for the survival of an independent media capable of exposing corporate wrongdoing and abuses of power in government.
Newspapers and media organizations of all stripes are joining this effort and defending the journalists who work every day to keep the public informed about society and its institutions. Today, hundreds of publications are answering the Boston Globe’s call to run editorials denouncing Trump’s war on the media. It’s a rare show of solidarity in a highly competitive and political business. It’s also proof that there is a widespread consensus about Trump’s authoritarian project. Trump’s threat to the press is so great that diverse news outlets across the US are banding together to call out the president for acting like a dictator.
Unfortunately, Trump is not acting alone. He is supported by many among the rich and powerful, not to mention a reactionary chunk of the electorate that is motivated by anger and fear. The Trump coalition is currently damaging our society, and as reports of children torn from their parents on the southern US border revealed in real time, the most vulnerable among us are harmed first.
Luckily, in his quest to silence the dissent around him, Trump has revealed that his greatest vulnerability is to cold, hard facts. He fears facts that reporters like me gather every day, the kind that make up news stories regardless of their angle or political bias. These are the weapons journalists have always used to confront injustice, but they can be picked up and hurled like stones at the walls of power by anyone with a social media account. This is a battle we can fight together.
Trump must obfuscate the truth to maintain his power, because he is working for himself and the rich and powerful, not for the rest of us. His authoritarian attitude and willingness to expand state violence against marginalized people makes him particularly dangerous. As we have seen with our own eyes, real lives are on the line.
Truth is the liar’s kryptonite. Let’s shout it from the rooftops until the halls of power have been emptied of Trump and his ilk.