Editorial: Trump’s ‘truth’ is a danger to democracy 

  • President Donald Trump points to a member of the media as he takes questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 16.  AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/22/2017 8:01:42 PM

After a month of Donald Trump on the world stage, outside his bubble of fans and sycophants, the reviewers of our new president’s performance mostly give him a B, for “baffling.”

The president’s fans will no doubt take that as a good thing. We beg to differ, because the befuddlement he engenders in our allies and perhaps two-thirds of Americans stems from the president’s extremely tenuous grasp of facts and truth.

How can this be a good thing?

In recent days, our new secretaries of state and defense and the vice president have had to travel to Europe to reassure our Western allies that America will stand by them as we have in the decades since World War II, even though the president has said NATO is “obsolete.” And although Trump has since walked back that comment, European leaders remain skeptical of whether Vice President Mike Pence and the U.S. secretaries of state and defense actually speak for the president, or that what he says today is what he will tweet tomorrow.

It’s a sad state of affairs when three of the nation’s top foreign affairs leaders can’t quite convince our friends that assurances of support and solidarity won’t be swept away at the whim of the mercurial American president who derives his world view not from nuanced and in-depth intelligence briefings, but from slanted Fox media accounts.

How do we explain to the Swedes that our president didn’t really mean to imply to his fans at a Florida rally that “even Sweden” had experienced a terrorist attack the day before because it had welcomed immigrants. What actually happened the day before was Trump had watched a Fox News interview suggesting immigrants were responsible for rising crime rates.

Trump was roundly ridiculed by the Swedish press and leaders, which no doubt will reinforce the view of the extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists inside the president’s Steve Bannon bubble. It was eerily similar to Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway’s reference to a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never occurred.

The president’s bizarre behavior and comments were in full display at last Thursday’s stream-of-consciousness press conference — a performance that David Brooks, a Republican columnist for the New York Times, called beyond unhinged.

Trump, true to form, spent much of his time in front of the cameras bullying the press who were there to do their job, covering him for the rest of us. The president could not refrain from using the F(ake)-word.

It got so bad that even Fox News anchor Shepard Smith later called out Trump.

“It is crazy what we are watching every day. It is absolutely crazy,” Smith said. “He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we are some kind of fools for asking the question.”

Meanwhile, concern and questions persist in Congress and in the world at large about Trump’s relationship with Russia. Trump last week was pressured to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn following revelations that he misled the vice president about contacts with Russia. The next day, The New York Times reported that multiple Trump advisers were in touch with Russian intelligence advisers during the election campaign.

Trump said he had “nothing to do with Russia” and “to the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does,” he added, a lawyerly answer that gives him wiggle room. Are there any Russian rubles in the president’s tax returns? If there are no Russian bombshells in his campaign or business dealings, why not show America the returns and have a full, independent congressional inquiry into the Russian connection? Let the truth be known.

After his weird press conference performance, Trump tweeted that the free press was not just his adversary, which many presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama have felt, but that it was the “enemy of the American people” — a statement so outrageous that even conservative Republican Sen. John McCain warned that dictators get started by suppressing the press, and respected Fox journalist Chris Wallace said on air that Trump had gone too far, that the free press is essential for democracies to work.

Here’s what Wallace told the president’s chief of staff Reince Priebus: “I don’t have any problem with you complaining about an individual story ... I don’t have any problem with you complaining about bias. But the president went a lot further than that. He said that the ‘fake media,’ not certain stories, the ‘fake media,’ are an enemy to the country. We don’t have a state-run media in this country. That’s what they have in dictatorships.”

He later added, “You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I got to say, he never said we were an enemy of the people.”

The First Amendment to our Constitution, the one that protects freedom of religion, in the same breath says Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The framers like Thomas Jefferson knew what our current president does not understand or would trash, that the free exchange of ideas and truthful information in the media is the oxygen that our democracy breathes.

Jefferson famously said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And this from a president who took his share of abuse by the media of his day.

Another famous president, Abraham Lincoln, who also understood the value of truth, justice and one America, once said, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”

Maybe we need to get him on Fox News for that truth to get through to our current president.

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