Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Editorial | Why Donald Trump is dangerous

Published:Thursday | August 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

He didn't address the issue with the contextual breadth it deserved, and we are uneasy with some of his vocabulary. Nonetheless, Prime Minister (PM) Andrew Holness' affirmation of the importance of Jamaica's media as critical pursuers of truth was significant and timely.

For his remark admits to the press' role as an essential partner in the process of democracy and democratic governance. That ought to resonate not only in Jamaica, but in countries where the media, if not facing existential threats, are being stressed and strained by leaders who would prefer the press' voice to be muted and its spotlight shone not so brightly, and certainly not on them. One such country, surprisingly, is the United States of America, in the age of Donald Trump.

On Monday night, in an address to the 49th annual conference of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, Prime Minister Holness, lamenting what he said was "fake news and alternative facts" pervading social media, said, "We need the free presses more than ever."

Added Mr Holness: "The best protection from the dangers of social media is to have a press that is strong in ferreting out the truth. I depend on our press to ensure that whatever false information is spread in social media, that they, at some point in time, will use their editorial abilities (and) their research abilities to correct false narrative spread on social media."

 

'Fake news'

 

Even as this newspaper welcomes the PM's endorsement of traditional media, with their professional reporting and rigorous checks and balance, we cringe at the phrase "fake news" for its association with Mr Trump's agenda against a free and probing press and its past employment by Mr Holness against domestic media against which he had complaints.

To be fair to Mr Holness, neither he nor his government, more broadly, has engaged any sustained attempt to delegitimise the free media and, thereby, an attack on an institution of democracy. Indeed, on this year's World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, Jamaica ranked sixth among 180 countries, up two places from the previous year.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the United States where, today, more than 200 newspapers across the country felt compelled, in coordinated fashion, to warn Americans about the immediate dangers, as well as longer-term corrosiveness, posed by Donald Trump's behaviour.

A self-aggrandising narcissist honed in an intellectual vacuum, Mr Trump came to the presidency without an obvious appreciation of, or affinity to, America's history and institutions or the tenets upon which their great democracy was founded. He would be hard-pressed to fathom the essence of Jefferson's remarks about what would be his preference were it between newspapers or government.

 

Pervasive narrative

 

Mr Trump, though, is possessed of charisma, a brutish cunning, and a feral instinct for survival. In the absence of a moral or intellectual basis for the presidency, Mr Trump sees legitimacy only in himself, which is sustainable only by establishing a pervasive narrative of Donald Trump and diminishing anyone, or anything, who might challenge that sketch of himself. In that sense, Donald Trump is like most of the world's authoritarians, present and past, except that he exists in an environment of institutional checks on his authority.

It is in that context that we have to understand Donald Trump, having neutered his party, his attacks on America's mainstream media, as conduits of information and ideas to the American people and as a centre for their debate. He accuses media of perpetrating "fake news", brands journalists "enemies of the people" and against whom he all but incites violence at his rallies. At some point, violence may actually occur, and as with anti-fascist protestors at Charlottesville, reporters might die.

But there is a greater danger in Mr Trump's actions. He is corrupting America's institutions and all that makes it a beacon to the world. Donald Trump, of course, will pass. But the institutions he besmirches will require sterilising and may take longer to repair. That is bad not only for the United States, but for all of us. And it is why we stand in solidarity with America's press.