The media is holding Donald Trump accountable, but his angry response to scrutiny, highlights troubling aspects of the man who wants to be president. His attacks on the institution of the press shows a man who doesn’t like being held accountable, and he has rallied many of his followers to support him without regard to the facts.
The latest controversy, which bring forth the implications, concerns donations to veterans charities Trump bragged about having made. Four months after Trump claimed to have donated $1 million himself, Trump finally did so on May 23, after facing scrutiny from the press. On May 21, the Washington Post published an investigation that quoted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as saying Trump had raised $4.5 million, about $1.5 million less than the more than $6 million Trump claimed to have raised. On the day of the fundraiser, however, Trump said that they had “cracked” $6 million and (in third-person), “Donald Trump gave $1 million.”
Press Scrutiny Caused Trump to Donate
Thus Donald Trump didn’t actually give $1 million until after the press held him to account (and found him to be lacking). It was an important story for the public to know about, as Trump had made a big deal about his fundraising. After having decided to skip the January 28, Fox News debate, Trump decided to hold a fundraiser during the debate, so as to claim he had a reason for skipping the debate besides his previously-stated dislike for moderator Megyn Kelly.
As the record shows, Trump had already announced he was considering boycotting the debate on January 24, and he had cited Megyn Kelly as the reason:
Based on @MegynKelly's conflict of interest and bias she should not be allowed to be a moderator of the next debate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2016
Later, Trump used the fundraiser as a pretense for skipping the debate. (One could ask why Trump hadn’t held fundraisers before and during other time slots.) Since the Post has gotten Trump to (belatedly) live up to one of his promises, it should be commended for doing a public service. As the “Fourth Estate,” the press is supposed to function as a watchdog on power. Without a healthy press scrutinizing politicians, politicians could get away with anything.
A War on Watchdogs
However, Trump doesn’t want scrutiny, and his supporters don’t want to see their hero challenged. At a press conference, Trump personally attacked reporters, calling one “a sleaze” and another “a real beauty.” He said the reporters were all “unbelievably dishonest.”
This kind of viciousness against reporters just for doing their job is something journalists have gotten used to now. During his months-long war on Megyn Kelly, he called her a “bimbo” and said she “had blood coming out of her wherever.” His attacks started after she asked him a question about vitriolic statements he had made publicly about various women in the past.
The press isn’t the only institution of accountability that Trump has attacked. He also aimed his shotgun mouth at the courts, personally attacking the judge who is hearing the fraud case against Trump University. He called the judge, Gonzalo Curiel (whose name Trump makes sure to mention), “a Trump hater” and a “Mexican.” More than just verbal smears, Trump even called for changing libel laws to diminish protections for journalists who face the kind of frivolous lawsuits Trump routinely files against critics. (B+D: Trump’s War on Free Speech)
As a cursory search of Twitter reveals, many of his followers also oppose the press and the courts keeping a watchdog on politicians and businessmen like Trump.
Anti-Semetic slurs are hurled at Jewish journalists.
A Cult of Personality
When liberal artist Shepard Fairey made the slobbering “Hope” image of then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, conservatives were concerned with what they saw a kind of cult forming around Obama, whom Oprah called “The One.” Now conservatives are sharing Cultural Revolution style propaganda art of Trump.
The Lapdog Press
The cult of Trump even has brought some self-styled journalists into the fold. Republican-supporting media figures are loathe to hold Trump accountable. Many pundits at Fox News even seem to function as arms of his publicity team. Sean Hannity has given Trump a number of one-hour specials with softball interview questions.
After the story of Trump’s personal donations was resolved, Lou Dobbs tweeted Trump’s quote, “The press should be ashamed of themselves,” (for holding Trump accountable). Rather than holding the politician to the account, Fox News hosts use their positions of influence to defend Trump (and, to a lesser degree, other Republicans) from being held to account.
When analysts, such as Robert Kagan, raise the specter of fascism, these are the kinds of troubling developments that come to mind. A tyrannical leader can abuse power when the public gives up reasoned thinking and lines up behind a leader instead. When the public supports, without question, anything a leader says and does, then there is nothing to stop that leader from abusing power and doing anything he wants.
Allegiance to a Man, Not to His Ideas
We are seeing it now on issues of policy. Trump, after having campaigned on a platform of deporting everyone and banning Muslims, is contradicting himself and trying to walk back some of those positions. Many of the same voters who lauded Trump for the fact that he “wasn’t beholden to anyone” since he “self-funded” his primary campaign are cheering the fact that he has reportedly received a $100 million pledge from a fellow casino mogul:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
— Diane Toucan (@DianeToucan) May 15, 2016
That his followers can excuse and support a man for taking entirely contradictory positions shows they support the man and not his positions.
“Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.”
Those who have not already fallen under Trump’s spell should take his warning to heart.