Donald Trump’s first days in the White House confirmed the assumptions of many observers that the 45th president’s term would be stormy and contentious. The former television personality and construction magnate organized his first open conflict with the American press a few hours after taking office. During a visit to CIA headquarters, Trump complained about biased press coverage about the size of the crowd gathered in downtown Washington for his inauguration on Friday.
Standing with his back to a wall filled with names of fallen CIA agents, Trump didn’t talk about patriotic duty and honoring heroes. Instead, he petulantly whined about the media. He said they were the most dishonest people in the world, since they didn’t see the phenomenal gathering of “a million, million and a half people” in Washington. Of course, the implication was that politicians are paragons of honesty and good works. Sean Spicer, the new president’s press secretary, supported his boss’s boast: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period.”
The administration didn’t have to wait long for the “dishonest people’s” reply. Reuters published photographs from the same spot on the Washington mall on Jan. 20, 2017 and Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Anyone looking at the photograph would agree that Obama’s inauguration was far better-attended than Trump’s. Tenacious American journalists asked the new U.S. presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway why exactly the administration felt the need to lie about insignificant points when so many important issues lie ahead? Her response was surprising: Conway said that Spicer’s statements weren’t a “falsehood”, but rather “alternative facts.”
You might ask, what does this quibble between the press and a president peeved that they aren’t paying enough attention to him have to do with how Trump will govern? A lot, as it turns out. For instance, it points to the 45th president’s genetic propensity to create an “alternative” reality if real life doesn’t suit him for any reason.
Psychologists are sure to call this sort of reaction a sign of immaturity. And how can we not bring up former Vice President Joe Biden’s wish that the president-elect “grow up” quickly and gain the necessary wisdom and basic competence.
For decades, the American press represented the highest standards of global journalism. It was American journalists who served as an example to their colleagues in other countries of how to demand the truth from those in power, and how to punish them when they lied. Having sworn to defend the Constitution, along with its article about the free press necessary for any democracy, Trump has clearly demonstrated his attitude toward the Fourth Estate.
Now there is no doubt that this line of conflict — “truth vs. alternate reality” — will haunt Trump and his administration for the four or eight years they occupy the White House. Trump proved this thesis on Tuesday at a meeting with leaders of Congress. Having won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes, Trump claimed that the results were falsified. The new U.S. president said that “3-5 million illegals voted,” but gave no evidence.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Trump doesn’t have the time to create propaganda armies like so many other fans of “alternative reality” in power have done. Putin, for example, destroyed the Russian press and replaced it with a stand-in that peddled lies to its fellow citizens about “the crimes of Ukrainian fascism,” “the decay of Queer-rope,” and high-minded “spiritual bonds.”
Speaking of which, sharp-tongued journalists from the White House press pool have already compared Trump’s press secretary to Saddam Hussein’s official representative. The Iraqi president’s press secretary distinguished himself by his passion for heaping one lie upon another. There is no doubt that the press will closely follow every one of the new American administration’s moves. They won’t give Trump a “honeymoon” period for his first 100 days in office.
The 45th U.S. president depends on public opinion and the support of white American voters. He will have plenty of temptations to alter reality. And the press will have plenty of reasons to slam him for it.
If it weren’t for the enemy looming at our gates, we could chuckle good-naturedly at the 70-year old “geezer” Trump’s nonsense and escapades. We could ponder the “paradigm shift.” However, the war waged against our country by another fan of “alternative facts” — the Russian president — means we cannot afford these diversions.
What will this new world be like? What will Ukraine’s place be in it? Is there room for all of us in it?
Trump’s announcements speak to the fact that the new American leader doesn’t see any particular value in supporting the world order of free trade between peoples and nations. This is the world order his own country created over the past 60 years. The only question is, will he embark on the conscious destruction of this world order, which has defended poor planet Earth from new massive bloody wars?
It’s already possible that the house Uncle Sam built will be destroyed, not by an external enemy, but by Uncle Sam (read: Trump) himself. The Economist got it right in its editorial: “From the Oval Office, presidents can do a modest amount of good. Sadly, they can also do immense harm.”
It’s possible that Trump, who has never served in public office in his life, believes that there are simple answers to complex problems. For example, he thinks that removing the country from trade deals and creating defensive protectionists tariffs will make “the little guy” richer; or that weakening the “obsolete” NATO bloc will increase American security; or that supporting centrifugal forces in Europe will make the inhabitants of the Old World — who suffered two world wars in the last century — safer.
Maybe Trump really thinks that applying the business principle of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” is the best solution the richest country in the world has to offer in the 21st century. At the moment, it seems like the “win-win” model is far less likely than “I win, you lose.” History proves that this strategy makes losers of everyone. Of course, sometimes this lesson is learned too late.