Opinion Politics

When In Doubt, Undermine

by Caleb Talley

With Donald Trump, there’s very little one can predict. Look up ‘loose cannon’ in the dictionary and you’ll find his bright, orange mug.

Though he’s hard to predict – or understand – Trump is still very prone to themes. You can guarantee that any story he tells will be riddled with hyperbole. He’s always offering us the silver bullet for whatever problem he thinks is most pressing at the time. And he’s downright authoritarian.

But there’s another theme I find quite bothersome. It’s his ability to (successfully) undermine the credibility of anything or anyone that poses him a threat. Just Google “Trump attacks credibility” and you’ll find a list. Michael Flynn, Michael Wolff, Roy Moore accusers, Stormy Daniels, Robert Mueller, the FBI, Democratic lawmakers, the media, etc., etc.

If he’s good at anything, it’s poisoning the well of reality. And he does it every time he’s backed into a corner.

As a politician, this first came to light early in his campaign. The guy has a checkered past. Sure, he’s rich. But he’s got a rich history of being a slime ball, too. And the media rightfully took aim.

They reported on his past, his inability to tell the truth, the fact that he seldom knows what the hell he’s talking about. That’s when Trump reached in his pocket and pulled out a phrase that will live in the lexicon forever: fake news.

When backed into a corner by the media’s truthful reporting of his past and lies, Trump used his adept ability to blur the line between fact and fiction. Any reporter who dared criticize him, or even ask questions he didn’t like, got branded as “fake news.” And his supporters ate it up.

Conservatives have thought themselves the target of a liberal news bias for years – and in some instances, with certain news outlets, their boo-hooing is warranted. But to label any news outlet or any news report that does not directly promote the president and his agenda as fake news is dangerous. For the public to accept those labels as reality is cretinous.

But it worked like a charm. Now, any fault-finding piece of reporting is relegated to the trashcan for half of Americans. From campaign trail to the White House, Trump plays fast and loose with the truth, and pointing it out only emboldens his base. He has even denied doing and saying things when he was recorded doing them.

The media is an adversary because the truth is the enemy. And that’s not changing any time soon, especially given Trump’s close pals at Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group. Every night, unethical boobs like Sean Hannity, who practically has an office in the White House, go to bat for Trump, regardless of what’s real and what isn’t.

Now, Trump’s ally at Sinclair – owner of what will soon be 223 news stations in more than 80 markets – is forcing commentary and coverage on their local stations to help peddle the president’s messaging. Recently, nearly every Sinclair station was caught reading the same script given to them from the top in what was a troubling display of propaganda, all reciting Trump’s shtick about fake news.

In response, Sinclair’s executive chairman came out swinging against print media, saying it is fundamentally untrustworthy, has no credibility and serves no purpose. This, coming from a guy whose reporters read scripts like hostage videos. The printed news media is easily the most credible form of news left in America today. And it’s dying, because our post-truth society isn’t interested.

Having successfully undermined the credibility of the American media, Trump’s taking aim at law enforcement. He’s been under investigation for months, and if recent events are any indication, the justice department is closing in on a pretty convincing case of obstruction of justice.

But the outcome won’t matter, because Trump has successfully undermined the credibility of the FBI, too. The president has consistently lashed out at his own justice department for being corrupt. As he’s did with the media, he’s dragging law enforcers down into the pits of abstract with him. Trump has muddied the water, convincing his base that whatever charge may be brought against him, he’s not deserving of it because the FBI is broken. And so far, it seems to be working.

The credibility-crushers have been hard at work again this week with the release of fired FBI director James Comey’s new book, which details the president’s lies, childish behavior, and average-sized hands. These digs were expected, but they sting regardless. That’s because the public knows that Comey spent a considerable time with the president after he took office, that he’s a lifelong Republican and that he’s been praised by Trump-lovers as an honest, upstanding man.

But Trump’s playbook doesn’t have any new pages. He, with the help of the Republican Party infrastructure, is beginning to roll out an organized campaign to brand Comey as a liar. A conservative man who was once criticized by his peers for being too tethered to truth and tradition is now the target of a Republican crusade to cripple his credibility.

Don’t forget, this crusade is being led by the least credible person ever elected to an office. The same guy who cheated on his third wife with a porn star days after she gave birth to their son. The same guy who pretended to be a VP of finance, lying about his own wealth in order to make Forbes‘s 400 list. And since taking office, Trump has lied literally thousands of times on the record – verifiable, Google-able, objective lies told just because he felt like it.

Trump’s not on top because he’s good at climbing. He’s up there because he’s good at dragging everyone else down below him. We’ll have to wait just a little bit longer to see how well it plays out this time.


In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at ctalley@aymag.com. Read more Cash & Candor here

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