MANY words could be used to describe Donald Trump but ‘neophyte’ isn’t the first one to spring from my dictionary. I know the word but looked it up anyway: “Someone who has recently become involved in an activity and is still learning about it.”
A new boy, an innocent, a layman – is that how we should still regard Trump?
Reports this morning suggest that Trump’s wild allegations that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama during last year’s presidential campaign have found little support among leading Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said he had no seen any evidence to back up a series of unsubstantiated tweets made by the president last Saturday.
Devin Nunes – is that a name or an anagram? – is the chairman of the House intelligence committee, and he also could offer no proof of Trump’s allegations, although he did say to members of the press: “As you know, the president is a neophyte in politics. And I think a lot of the things he says you guys sometimes take literally.”
Trump may be relatively new to politics – and certainly new to the operational grind of politics, as opposed to the spouting-off side – but it is a grave mistake to regard him as any sort of an innocent whose tweets shouldn’t be taken seriously. For his ‘big lies’ are a calculated tactic rather than simply the unfiltered thoughts of a man sounding off on Twitter.
Just think of the way he put his money and weight behind the ‘birther movement’ theory that Obama wasn’t American – he surely knew this was bullshit, but kept plugging away at it because the louder a lie is shouted, the more people get to hear it.
This is also in keeping with his constant attacks on the media, as in his now infamous press conference when he gathered together members of the world’s press and called them liars. “The press, honestly, is out of control,” he said. “The public doesn’t believe you any more.” He described CNN as “very fake news… story after story is bad” and said the BBC was “another beauty”.
All of this could be the petulance of a pampered egomaniac. And perhaps it is. But in truth it is much more calculating than that: Trump attacks the media constantly with the aim of weakening an opponent. In line with right-wing movements of recent times, he wants to diminish traditional media to make room for media more of his choosing.
In simple terms, this means Twitter, where he can talk directly to people without having to go through journalists.
In darker terms, it means he wants to encourage the rise of media outlets or companies that report the news the way he likes to see it, such as Breitbart News. And that company may have ‘news’ in its title, but it’s not really interested in the news at all, as suggested by Hope Not Hate’s new report, ‘Breitbart: A right-wing plot to shape Europe’s future’.
As the charitable trust declares: “Breitbart is a political project, with a specific political agenda, staffed by willing propagandists. It distorts and fabricates news to deliberately incite anger in its supporters and fear in others. It pollutes the political space and demonises and vilifies its opponents.”
So, it’s not merely news told from a partial perspective; it’s basically propaganda pretending to be news. And that’s scary. Much scarier, say, even than the Daily Mail, that patron saint to offended liberals everywhere.
The man behind Breitbart, Steve Bannon, is now at the heart of Trump’s administration. So, he has moved from right-wing propagandist to becoming one of the most powerful men in the world.
Spinning lies can be a successful tactic – just look at the mystifying rise of Nigel Farage, a man who has swallowed more urban myths than I have porridge.
The Leave campaign basically ran on lies and exaggerations – that whopper about all the post-Brexit money that would come to the NHS was disowned almost before the paint was dry on the bus.
The Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr wrote a fascinating, if terrifying, feature the other week profiling Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge-fund mogul, who has put his money and his computer smarts behind Farage and Trump, and helped the Leave campaign. He it is who seems to be behind many of the attacks on mainstream media – and he is engaged in secretive ‘information wars’ to disable mainstream media
I don’t have the time to elaborate, but you’ll find the article online. A long read but an important one…