dear america: a checklist for a post-truth world
Welcome to the Trump Administration—where everything's made up and non-white lives don't matter!
AN OPEN LETTER TO TRUMP'S AMERICA
Well, I suppose this is it.
After a nightmarish 18-month Twilight Zone-esque media circus of an election season, we will witness the finale this Friday when we inaugurate a crude, racist, narcissistic, impulse-tweeting, female-grabbing, quasi-literate, climate change-denying, KKK-endorsed, sociopathic Islamophobe, xenophobe, demagogue and all-around nightmare of a person as the 45th president of the United States.
And do you know what the wildest part of that sentence was? The fact that none of it is petty insults (okay, "sociopathic" was a bit speculative, but if the symptoms match...). They're things that he has actually said and done. But my favorite petty insult ever was probably in response to his England-Scotland mix-up post-Brexit, which I am sharing because it deserves more recognition:
Yes, this stupid piece of fruit with the fragile ego will be the next Commander-in-Chief of arguably the most powerful country in the world. But, hey, at least it's not Hillary!
In case you didn't read my immediate thoughts on the election, here you go. But ironically, that was written at a much more hopeful time. It was written when I, along with the rest of the American public, was attempting to process everything that had just happened. It was back when we thought we should give him a chance. But now it's two months later, and I am considerably more bitter and more cynical of our president-elect, as he has proven our reasonable doubts to be, in fact, very reasonable.
I don't know if the country has really gotten worse in the months following his election, but I can say with absolute certainty that it has not gotten any better. He has the lowest public approval ratings of any president in four decades (also lower than Nixon and Coolidge) before he's even taken office, he has filled our government with conflicts of interest and greedy billionaires, and even white supremacists are concerned that he will not stay on task.
This inauguration is important, even if it doesn't directly affect you (and for most of you, it won't). It is a wake-up call.
TO THE FREE (FOR NOW) PRESS
1. stop f*cking reporting everything he does
For god's sake, stop reporting his every move. I just want one day where I don't see his name on my newsfeed or in my inbox, damn it. You treat him like a celebrity...is it any wonder he thinks he is one? His tweets are not official foreign policy announcements; they are attention-seeking, self-indulgent targeted bullying to distract from real issues, and they have been found to be repeatedly and demonstratively false altogether. I'm surprised all of the parents out there haven't learned by now: if you pick him up when he cries, you'll end up coddling him.
And it's more serious than, "Well, if you don't like it, don't read those articles!" It is indicative of how the news media is actively choosing to frame stories. It is your journalistic obligation to report the truth, not sensationalize it. The standard for "news" lately is shockingly low, and you should be embarrassed.
2. do not normalize his behavior
He is not a normal politician, and he ran his campaign on that promise. It is dangerous to dismiss what he has said, or to downplay the magnitude of the things he has done. The time for sugarcoating is over; we cannot give him the benefit of the doubt any longer.
3. keep fact-checking
As much as I appreciate the whole Arrested Development-style headline commentary, news outlets only started doing it when it looked like our favorite failed businessman actually had a shot at winning. Prior to that, they gleefully jumped on all of his tweeted nonsense during the campaign to generate catchier headlines. And now you're surprised that he won, when you gave him around $5 billion in free advertising? I won't even begin to go into how ridiculous it is that fact-checking the leader of our nation is necessary, but such is life.
TO THE PUBLIC
1. don't be hostile
The Trump campaign was built on hate and aggression, and it feeds on hate and aggression. If you do not respect democracy, you are no better than the people that claimed the election was rigged. You can accept him as our president without respecting him. Respect is earned, not awarded. But hashtagging #notmypresident only serves to undermine the fundamental tenets of our democracy. I believe in what the intelligence community is saying about Russian interference, but we still don't have all of the facts and we don't know to what degree the hacking actually influenced the results (you can read the full report here starting on page 7, or the highlights here and here). For now, until he is impeached (I feel like this is likely, especially if this new defamation lawsuit comes to fruition), assassinated, or simply quits because he doesn't have the stamina for "a bigger job than [he] thought," we need to accept that he is our president, regardless of whether or not we like it.
2. CHECK YOURSELF...
You know how it goes. But this whole outcry of "fake news" has truly astounded me. The only people for whom fake news is actually an issue are those who believe everything they read on social media without question. Forbes reported that 59% of links shared on social media are never even clicked, which means that more than half of the people sharing don't even get past the headline. But it literally takes two seconds to Google and double-check. Communications professor Melissa Zimdars wrote a list of 944 "False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical "News" Sources" for this exact purpose.
It's crucial to remember that no news is ever neutral. When it's written by human reporters and the flow of information is controlled by six major holding companies, it's just not possible to completely eliminate bias. But there are some sources that are acknowledged as more reliable (NPR, PBS, The New York Times, The Economist, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Politico), some good independent and/or foreign news sources (Reuters, ProPublica, WorldNews Network, Watchdog.org, Al Jazeera, BBC, and RT), and many readily-available fact-checking websites (Snopes, FactCheck.org, The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog, and OpenSecrets.org). Do not be satisfied by what is spoon-fed to you.
3. have empathy
Now more than ever, we need to listen to our fellow Americans, even those that we disagree with. Ignoring our privilege is exactly how we got into this mess in the first place. Empathy means the capacity to understand the feelings of other people. You can have empathy for rapists, murderers, and even a "demagoguing bag of candy corn" without agreeing with them. But empathy really is the only way we can start to address the issues that divide our country.
4. stop giving him attention
Don't tweet about him. Don't follow him on Twitter. Don't write Facebook statuses about him. Don't mention his name. Don't make him a trending topic. A spectacle is exactly what he wants. You can complain all you want, but when you retweet him or write angry blog posts about him (and this is the last time I will ever mention him by name on this blog, I promise), you are playing right into his tiny hands. I had a conversation with a Trump supporter, and this is exactly what he said:
Donald Trump actually cares about Americans. If you can not [sic] trust him, trust his desires. What does Trump truly want? His name in lights with people cheering for him. If the people want Trump to do something, or not to do something, and that chanting stops or changes, he will stop and change.
While it's a nice sentiment to think that our president-elect will cater to anything other than his own selfish desires, it highlights a more important point: he wants the prestige. There is a distinct difference between caring about the well-being of the citizens of a country and caring about being adored for your own personal glory, and his actions reflect a complete lack of regard for the people, even those who support him.
Don't watch his inauguration, even if it is just to make fun of him. Let the low ratings be a sign of dissent against our resident reality star.
5. stay woke
But seriously. We cannot continue to pretend that this is normal or treat him like a regular candidate; we cannot afford to dismiss this election as "these things just happen" or "what's done is done." It is crucial that we pay attention, that we continue to be outraged by the awful things that our new supreme leader will undoubtedly do. Our president-elect does not deserve to be congratulated for adhering to the impossibly low standards that this election has set for him.
It's good that people are refusing to attend his inauguration following his insulting John Lewis, but they should have done so from the minute he first used the words "Mexico" and "rapists" in the same sentence. Or after he bragged about sexually assaulting women. Or after he supported a war crime on live TV. Or after he mocked a disabled reporter (and then denied it). The list goes on, but these were the most disgusting ones, the absolute bare minimum of human decency and compassion.
It is absolutely necessary that we understand the current state of our union beyond our own privileged capacities, and recognize that this tyrant is reaping the benefit of a scared electorate. Teen Vogue was praised for its journalistic proficiency when it published a "scorched-earth" editorial comparing the president-elect's campaign to gaslighting. Gaslighting is an actual crime. It's classified as psychological manipulation and abuse and it is illegal.
Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contraction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target.
Sound familiar? We cannot normalize this sociopath. We cannot allow this terrible bully of a man convince us that a lack of sanity is to blame for his wild inconsistencies, that his shocking behavior is any less shocking simply because it is commonplace, or that our "political correctness" is to blame for his inability to control himself, his mouth, or his party. We have always prided ourselves on being a free country, but the way he is acting is a threat to our freedom, our safety, our global alliances, and our human rights.
We should be very careful in these next four years.