Siobhan Tolland: Trump is exploiting a genuine media problem - and you should be afraid

CommonSpace columnist Siobhan Tolland warns that US President Donald Trump's rhetoric on the media will not end well for the people

THIS WEEK, the media is taking the brunt of Trump’s warring rhetoric. The lying media is something that certainly resonates here in Scotland, but I am becoming concerned about a tendency for some people to be seduced by the Trump school of media criticism.

I have been seeing this a lot among friends and colleagues. A branch member passionately advocated that Trump was "totally right". My friend gleefully talked about him "shaking the media up". Someone lamented that Sturgeon should take a leaf out of Trump’s book. I have seen one journalist talk about the how the media asked for Trump’s tirade.

It feels like there is some delicious enjoyment that the media are getting their comeuppance. And, actually, this is understandable. Perpetrators of fake news, this description resonates with our own experience here in Scotland and echoes our long struggle against the media.

There is a world of difference between a Trump critique of media and the one that comes from our social democratic movement. We are poles apart, ideologically, philosophically and morally.

But – and it's a very big 'but' - there is a world of difference between a Trump critique of media and the one that comes from our social democratic movement. We are poles apart, ideologically, philosophically and morally.

Because driving this "media are liars" narrative is an agenda that is pretty terrifying. For Trump is building what historian Robert Paxton would class as a central tenet of fascism. Fascism needs a demonised enemy, he suggests, as well as a justification of violence against this enemy.

Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is particularly intensive, reflecting very much a demonised enemy. Trump has surrounded himself with many who believe in a christian/muslim war and their consistent connection of Muslims with terrorism reflects this warring vision.

Their actions have reflected this vision through their initial (unconstitutional) ban on muslims entering the country, and their ever continuous push to ban muslims in an attempt to protect America from terrorism, they said.

This discourse has led to a spread of anti-muslim hatred. The Southern Poverty Law Centre recorded an almost 200 per cent increase in anti-muslim hate organisations as well as a 67 per cent increase in anti-muslim hate crimes.

Driving this "media are liars" narrative is an agenda that is pretty terrifying. For Trump is building what historian Robert Paxton would class as a central tenet of fascism.

Trump is seen as the largest contributory factor in this, having "electrified" these groups, they noted. Trump has emboldened white supremacy and violence across the country.

And Trump is moving to legitimise this violence by, firstly, refusing to denounce the fascist terrorist attack in Canada (done in his name) and by trying to remove white supremacist violence from being a terrorist act. These acts, by the most powerful man in America, only serve to legitimise white supremacist violence.

The Guardian’s article about a neo-fascist meeting in North Carolina brings these issues forcefully home. Someone asked "can’t we just not kill [the muslim brotherhood supporters]?" and was told that they were "not quite there yet". Seeing Trump as their liberator, their meeting left the muslim community "traumatised" and with maximum fear.

If this doesn’t send a chill of fear and horror down your spine then there is, perhaps, not much point in reading any further. But if you, like me, feel sick to the stomach that this is happening, then we need to step back and think very carefully about how we react to Trump and his rhetoric.

Trump’s agenda is a white supremacist one, and he is using people’s general distrust of the media to prevent them and anyone from questioning this agenda. His aggressive and warring tones reflects a forceful suppression of the media that is taking hold.

Trump’s agenda is a white supremacist one, and he is using people’s general distrust of the media to prevent them and anyone from questioning this agenda.

Ex-Breitbart editor and now Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told the media to "keep its mouth shut" in what can only be seen as an attempt to threaten and intimidate the media. More insidiously, Trump has said, twice, that the media is "the enemy of the people": initiating a war against the media in an attempt to whip up even more distrust and anger against it.

This suppression of the media started over the weekend with Trump threatening to ban the use of anonymous sources in journalism as well as banning specific media outlets from their press conference over the weekend - both unprecedented moves in American politics.

Banning the anonymous source should not be underestimated. It is important to note that Trump’s ally General Flynn (known for his anti-muslim war rhetoric) was forced to resign as a result of a Washington Post expose: seen to be the nine anonymous sources Trump denounced at his CPAC conference speech.

And that is the key: anonymous sources are often used to out high level corruption or secrets within business, government or other powerful institutions. Banning the sources will effectively protect the Trump administration from investigation by the media.

Taking this action in context, then, we have an alt-rightwing government electrifying white supremacists who seek to suppress strategies of journalism that can challenge their power – which has challenged their power.

We cannot deny there is truth in Trump’s narrative that the "media are liars". But, if you find yourself nodding along in agreement with Trump’s truth, please consider that this is not a neutral observation. 

We cannot deny there is truth in Trump’s narrative that the "media are liars". But, if you find yourself nodding along in agreement with Trump’s truth, please consider that this is not a neutral observation. 

Rather it is a tool to push forward his development of a fascism that leaves minorities hounded, bullied and terrified. We need to always qualify Trump’s 'truth' against that white supremacist discourse. 

If we don’t, we run the risk of, unintentionally, giving him space and volume to promote a very dangerous agenda.

Picture courtesy of Gage Skidmore

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