Trump’s Trickle-Down Hatred

The United States is in a state of distress and turmoil. The country experienced two more mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH within 24 hours of one another. The mass shooting in El Paso resulted in the deaths of 22 people and an additional 9 deaths in Dayton, among many more who’ve been injured. There have been 255 mass shootings in the United States in 2019. Mass shootings, in frequency and scope, are a uniquely American problem. As the number of radical hate groups rise, so have the mass shootings. The El Paso murderer was specifically targeting “hispanics.” 

These mass shootings have been happening long before Donald Trump became president, yet it’s now a grim reality that the President of the United States is culpable for at least some of them –provoking far-right extremists to commit mass murder based on his own rhetoric. He’s had a long, documented history of racism and discrimination. Trump’s rhetoric has been steeped in fear mongering, racism, and xenophobia since he announced his candidacy for president at Trump Tower in the summer of 2015. He generalized an entire group of people as “criminals” and “rapists,” then adding as if it was an afterthought, that he assumes “some” are good people. 

Since becoming president, his malice-filled tone hasn’t changed; in fact, it’s become more extreme. We’ve consistently witnessed the actions of a president who can rightfully be characterized as a white supremacist. One of his first actions as president was a Muslim ban by executive order. The courts were quick to dissolve the executive order, but the presidential tone had been set.

There was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, NC, which resulted in the death of a young woman peacefully protesting against the anti-Semitic and racist ideologies being flaunted. Trump responded by saying there were “fine people on both sides” of the protest. There were white supremacists and then people protesting against them, yet he considered the white supremacists to be “fine people.” The white supremacists were thrilled with his response, while the rest of the country watched in shock.

As the 2018 midterm elections were approaching, Trump used his racist rhetoric and fear mongering to help Republican congressional candidates, as well as a ploy to get funds for his border wall. He started using the word “invasion” to describe the migrants attempting to enter the United States from the southern border. He manufactured a crisis by relentlessly spewing the word “invasion.” The word “invasion” was used with a militaristic spin, which therefore implied that the country was under attack. They spoke of caravans of tens of thousands of migrants coming to the border, with right-wing media personalities supplementing Trump’s propaganda by reporting these were violent, military-age men. Trump declared a national emergency and sent thousands of soldiers to the border to thwart off the so-called invasion. After the midterm elections were over, most of the troops were recalled. There was never an attempted invasion. It was propaganda used to instill fear in the public with the intent of influencing the midterm elections. 

The real crisis at the border started coming to light in the past few months. The Trump administration has intentionally been bottlenecking the asylum process at the border, which ensured to minimize the number of migrants being considered for asylum. This administration started an inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the border. This was not being used as a child-protection measure, it was being used as a deterrent.

Then came reports of a humanitarian crisis: human beings were being treated worse than animals. Children were forced to sleep on concrete floors with aluminum blankets. These children were packed into caged-off areas that were originally designed to hold adults. And they were designed to hold a fraction of the number of people they were packing in. When the media and members of Congress started looking into the crisis, Trump became combative, saying it was fake news. He also lied and said it wasn’t him but President Obama who started separating families. 

Then there’s the wave of racist rhetoric coming from Trump’s mouth and Twitter account. He attacked four congresswomen of color. He told them to go back to their own countries. These are four American citizens, duly-elected to Congress. Three of them were born in America and one became a naturalized citizen decades ago. This kind of rhetoric, “go back to…” goes back to the Jim Crow south. When schools were being integrated, it was common for the racist white protestors to yell out “go back to Africa,” which like Trump’s racist remarks, doesn’t make logical sense since they were born in America. During a rally held shortly after the tweets, Trump targeted his attack on one of the four congresswomen, Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In response to the attack, the MAGA crowd disturbingly began chanting “Send her back!” repeatedly. Trump stood there with a smile on his face, basking in the hatred. Trump’s actions caused such an outrage that the House, for the first time in over 100 years, voted to formally condemn the president.  

Just before the massacre, Trump started targeting the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings (D-MD). He used racially-inflammatory language calling Cummings’ district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human would want to live.” Based on logical reasoning, Trump is calling the people living in Cummings’ district subhuman. Since “no human would want to live there,” the people living there aren’t fully human. This is clearly a racist attack on not only a respected and distinguished member of Congress, but on an entire community. This further exemplifies his white supremacist ideology, as well as demonstrates the argument made in a previous article that Trump is not president for all Americans, he’s president for his supporters. Trump’s attack against Cummings came after Mueller’s testimony before two House committees. He didn’t choose to attack the white chairmen of the other committees investigating him, he targeted the black chairmen. 

This is the same racist pattern as the attack on the four congresswomen of color. Part of his reasoning for the attack was that they’re socialists. Yet Bernie Sanders, the only member of Congress who’s a self-declared socialist and a major critic of Trump, was never told to go back to his country. In fact, he’s never told any white member of Congress to go back to their own country.  

These are all just some of the examples of the racist, amoral, and hate-filled rhetoric Trump has been spewing out of his mouth and Twitter account for years now. As President of the United States, his perceived authority gives significant weight to his rhetoric. Amongst his supporters, he’s normalized hate speech. For example, just a few months ago during a campaign rally in Florida, he continuously used the word “invasion” when referring to immigrants. When he asked the crude MAGA crowd what he should do about it, someone yelled out “shoot them.” Trump smiled and joked, “only in the panhandle [can you get away with that].” Well, just last week, someone did “shoot them.”

The mass murderer in El Paso specifically targeted the city because he wanted to kill “hispanics.” We know this because he wrote it in his so-called manifesto. In the manifesto, the mass murderer used the word “invasion” numerous times to justify the massacre. The manifesto also featured some of the same talking points used by Trump and right-wing media personalities like Tucker Carlson. 

There’s a serious problem in this country when you can’t readily tell the difference between a mass murdering white supremacist’s manifesto and the Twitter account of the President of the United States. Trump didn’t physically pull the trigger, but his racist, hateful, and divisive rhetoric undoubtedly made pulling the trigger easier for the El Paso mass murderer. Any reasonably-minded person can conclude that Trump is culpable in this mass murder. The proverbial blood is on his hands.  

After the weekend of mass shootings, Trump addressed the country. He was in full Trump-teleprompter mode, coldly reading words off a screen with no emotion or sincerity. He did denounce white supremacy, but it was utterly unconvincing, which makes sense since he is a racist and a majority of Americans agree. He went on to blame “violent video games” and “mental illness” for the attack, which are lies. There’s no evidence that violent video games cause mass shootings. Moreover, statistically, people suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it. 

When an Islamic terrorist commits a mass murder, the blame is quickly attributed to their extremist ideology of hate. However, when an American commits an act of domestic terrorism, excuses like “violent video games” and “mental health” are used. The only difference between foreign terrorists and domestic terrorists is their specific brand of extremist ideology. They’re two sides of the same sadistic coin. It’s time domestic terrorism is treated with the same attention and resolve as foreign terrorism. Americans are far more likely to be killed by a domestic terrorist than a foreign terrorist, so it’s an urgent matter of national security that laws are enacted to curtail the domestic threat.

On the Monday following the mass murders, Trump went to El Paso and Dayton to meet with and console the victims’ families. The mass shootings are a national tragedy. Trump himself ordered flags across the country to be flown at half mast. And yet, in a time of tragedy, he spent the day attacking political opponents and bragging about the reception he received on his visit. His administration produced a video, which was posted on social media, of Trump visiting the two cities. The video had the tone and production value of a campaign ad. It depicted people waving and smiling at Trump. To say the video was in poor taste would be a gross understatement. 

The most disturbing moment of his one-day “consolation” tour was a photo taken in El Paso, which is the photo featured in this article. A 2-month old baby was a victim of the El Paso mass shooting. The baby is now orphaned after both parents were killed shielding the child. The baby broke a few fingers and was discharged from the hospital by the time Trump showed up. However, the baby was brought back to the hospital to see Trump. In the photo, you can see Trump grinning and giving a thumbs-up. Melania Trump has a chilling smile on her face as well. The wildly inappropriate and disturbing photo was posted on one of Melania’s social media accounts the same day. An orphaned child being used as a prop while Trump and his wife’s faces are gleeful is not only aloof but dark. The essence of his consolation tour is summed up in that photo. 

This is one of the darkest and most volatile times this country has ever experienced on the domestic front. There’s been more mass shootings this year than there have been days in the year; we’re averaging more than one per day. The rise of white supremacy is directly correlated with the rise of Trump and the MAGA movement. This isn’t just about a president who engages in criminal conduct, it’s about a president who is himself a national security risk. It’s never been more apparent that having a president devoid of any sense of morality endangers not only American democracy and American values, but is literally endangering Americans. There is no moral relativism when it comes to supporting this president: if you support a racist then you’re part of the problem. The time for being on the sidelines has passed. It’s time to choose sides in this defining battle for the soul of America. 

Putin, Trump, and Moscow Mitch: An Unholy Alliance

The United States is and has been under attack by Putin’s Russian Federation. This isn’t news to informed citizens; it’s been in the public domain for years now. However, as time passes and more investigations unearth the vast scale and severity of Putin’s hostile acts against this nation, the national security apparatus has never been more sure of what the Russians did in 2016, what they’re doing now, and what they intend to do during the 2020 presidential election.

The Russian threat


Putin has plotted and deployed a cyberwar on two fronts against the United States. The first front involves infiltrating our electoral systems to gather intelligence on American voters, and probing for vulnerabilities in the technical infrastructure that facilitates electoral regulation and administration. If the Russians find just a single exploit in a single state, they’ll have the ability to sabotage the outcome of the 2020 election.    

The second front is an insidious and highly-targeted campaign to influence the election by infecting the very fabric of our society. This is dispensed mostly through social media. There’s literally an army of cyber soldiers –manifested by humans and artificial intelligence– whose task is to corrupt the hearts and minds of American voters. This is carried out by fake news campaigns: attacking candidates unfavorable to Russian interests while promoting candidates favorable to Russian interests. 

An example of this type of interference is the 2016 hack on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) network. They stole tens of thousands of emails from the DNC. Some of these emails were released via DCLeaks in the summer of 2016. However, what’s most revealing about their intentions was the timing of their release. They saved nearly 20,000 emails mined from the personal gmail account of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These emails were systematically released in October 7, 2016, just 30 minutes after news outlets began running Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, which featured Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. At the time, the Access Hollywood tape was widely thought –even from within the Trump campaign– to ruin Trump’s bid for the presidency. However, the release of Podesta’s emails served as a timely distraction which saved Trump’s candidacy. And for the rest of the month, to keep the attention on the emails and off the Access Hollywood tape, Wikileaks portioned out daily email releases until the end of October, nearly a week before Election Day. Wikileaks accomplished this feat by working with a hacker, at the time, only known as “Gucifer 2.0.” During the Mueller investigation, it was revealed that the Gucifer 2.0 persona was actually an operation carried out by Russia’s modern-day KGB, the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. 

The Russians manufacture propaganda and disperse it on social media platforms. Their propaganda is spread by unwitting Americans, thinking they’re viewing factual news based in reality. They also paid for advertisements on these platforms to ensure their propaganda reaches a wider audience. 

The Russians, as seen in 2016, are especially interested in targeting swing districts. These are districts that are especially unpredictable since the political party affiliations amongst the electorate are neck and neck. Flipping swing districts, one district at a time, would have the most significant overall impact on a state’s Electoral College votes. 

After the 2016 presidential election, every single one of our intelligence agencies investigated, concluded, and concurred that Russia interfered in the election. The Mueller investigation not only corroborated what the intelligence agencies found, but compounded on it. The Mueller team was able to convict 26 Russian nationals, as well as three Russian companies who conspired to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller dedicated an entire volume of his report –nearly 200 pages– to Russian Interference, and as the report concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” 

And over 2 ½ years later, investigators are still uncovering just how large a web the Russian’s managed to weave. The Senate Intelligence Committee, just a little over a week ago, released a bipartisan report that concluded the Russians targeted the electoral infrastructure, as well as voter registration databases, in every single state in America.

Why Trump and McConnell refuse to protect American elections


Putin attacked the lifeblood of American democracy –the electoral process– in 2016. The evidence is not only overwhelming, it’s indisputable. It was the first major cyberattack perpetrated against the United States during a presidential election, and it wasn’t a singular event. They are intent on striking again in 2020. However, the two most powerful men in the country, Trump and McConnell, are refusing to act, which is a clear and present threat to national security.

The problem starts with Trump. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that proves Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he still refuses to even acknowledge it. In fact, he’s continuously sided with Putin over the 2016 election interference. He’s literally taken the word of a brutal dictator over the word of the democratic institutions in his own country. It’s not only the disturbing fact of taking the word of a hostile foreign power over our entire national security apparatus, he values Putin’s word over some members of his own administration. 

Just this week, Trump had a phone conversation with Putin. On Thursday, a reporter posed the question to Trump, “Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Putin?” Trump responded, “You don’t really believe this, do you?” The reporter retorted, “He said it last week. Did you raise it?” Trump then said, “We didn’t talk about it.” Trump then went on to lie about Mueller’s testimony and made crude comments about Mueller’s acuity during his testimony. 

Trump’s unwillingness to acknowledge Russian interference isn’t out of ignorance. It’s due to two main reasons: pride and greed. His fragile ego can’t accept the fact he didn’t win solely based on his electability. Therefore, any inference of election interference implies he’s quite possibly an illegitimate president. 

Then there’s greed. He knows the Russian’s gave him, at the very least, an edge in an already tight election –an election in which he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Since being elected, Trump’s highest approval rating was 46% and his average approval rating is 40% (Gallup). By all metrics, he’s an unpopular president amongst the majority of the American people. It’s reasonable to assume Trump doesn’t think he could be reelected without Russian interference. And therefore, he’s willing to betray the sanctity of American democracy in order to get himself reelected. There are other unconfirmed factors that may also be at play. He has a long, documented history of having financial and business ties to Russia. During the 2016 campaign, he was actively trying to close a deal with the Russian government (i.e. Putin) to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. There’s also the possibility of the Russian’s having compromising material against him.

Enter Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He’s ruled over the Senate like a dictator –continuously blocking bills from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. This is especially true when it comes to the election security bills: he’s blocked nine over the past two years. On July 25th, he blocked two election security bills in a single day.

McConnell’s refusal to allow duly-elected members of the U.S. Senate to vote on an election security bill has branded him with a moniker that’s unlikely to fade away: Moscow Mitch. McConnell hasn’t been happy with his new nickname, which prompted him to justify his decision to block the bills by saying, “I’m not going to let Democrats and their water carriers in the media to use Russia’s attack on our democracy as a Trojan horse for a partisan wish list of items.” 

These so-called partisan “wish-list items” include making paper ballots a requirement, the protection to audit elections to ensure no indications of sabotage were present, ensuring states and local governments have the resources needed to update and maintain the integrity of electoral infrastructure, among other protections. These items aren’t ideological, they’re common-sense protections against the foreign interference that’s already happened. 

The only conclusion that can be made is McConnell understands Putin wants Trump and Trump-supporting members of Congress in power. Therefore, allowing these protections to be put to a vote and likely passed as law, has the real potential to damage GOP electoral prospects in 2020. There’s only one conclusion to be made: McConnell is open to Russian interference as long as it benefits his party.

After McConnell’s most recent election security bill block, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “Russia’s biggest ally in its quest to infiltrate elections again is Mitch McConnell.” He also added, “I believe foreign, hostile actors are going to make what happened in 2016 look like small potatoes compared to 2016.” 

Justin Amash (I-MI), who was a lifelong Republican up until a little over a month ago when he began speaking out against Trump’s obstruction of justice as documented in the Mueller Report. Amash was the only Republican member of the House to speak out against Trump’s criminality. He was outcast for doing so, and feeling dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s complacency with Trump’s behavior, he left the GOP and became an Independent. Amash tweeted about the McConnell situation, “There was a time when the GOP establishment hated Donald Trump. They then realized they could use a man like this—unprincipled, transactional, shameless—to push their agenda. McConnell and McCarthy are giddy about Trump. Conservatives in Congress are the ones privately horrified.” 

The Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, called out McConnell’s obstructive conduct in a piece entitled, Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset. In the piece, Milbank wrote, “[McConnell is] arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”

Conclusions


It’s a seriously dangerous prospect that the two most powerful men in the country are willing to look the other way while a hostile foreign power ramps up their election-interference machine. This is not being done for any misguided political ideology, it’s being done to maintain power. The promise of democracy is that power is vested in the people, and it’s the people who have the power to elect our leaders into positions of power, as granted by the constitution. 

This is beyond McConnell choosing party over country; he’s choosing power over the integrity of our democracy. Trump and McConnell are, in one way or the other, in bed with Putin, and our national security is at risk because of it. They can hug the flag and wear their American-flag lapel pins, but it’s merely a facade. These men aren’t patriots, they’re treacherous politicians willing to win at all costs –even if it means selling out their country to a foreign adversary.

As George Washington once warned, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence … the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Trump, White Nationalism, and American Peril

This past week the country has experienced the most racially-inflammatory event since Charlottesville. The sitting President of the United States sent out a tweet, telling four congresswomen of color to go back to their country. Since then, the country has been in an uproar with most of the country rightfully outraged by the overt bigotry and racism promoted by the defunct leader of the free world. 

Over the past few years, it’s been commonplace for Trump to say something that violates our most basic societal norms and values. And saying it as the President of the United States makes it that much more disturbing. While most people weren’t shocked by the tweets –Trump has a long, consistent, and documented history of racism— it nonetheless sparked outrage due to the tweet’s blatant and unabashed racist rhetoric.

The tweets were directed at four charismatic, impassioned, and powerful freshmen members of the House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). All four women are American citizens and duly-elected members of the House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib were all born in this country. Omar is a naturalized American citizen, immigrating to the United States as a young child.  

Trump’s basis for his racist attack was cited as “all they do is complain,” “in my opinion, they hate this country,” which led to him saying they should go back to their own countries. This is especially hypocritical since Trump, well before becoming president, has been one of the loudest critics of America. The use of the phrase “go back to their own countries” is the crux of the vile racism in these tweets. 

They are all American citizens –this is their country. The logic doesn’t even hold for three of the congresswomen since they were born in this country. And for Representative Omar, she immigrated to this country as a child and became a United States citizen at the age of seventeen, nearly twenty years ago. 

The language used by Trump is not only racist, but it’s also a disinformation tactic. None of the congresswomen ever said they hated America. They, like any well-meaning public servant, joined Congress to serve their country. They joined to make the country a better place for their constituents, as well as all Americans. Trump, and the rest of the GOP, have branded them as radical socialists, which just so happened to be the featured topic for last week’s article. The GOP as a whole has been trying to manipulate uninformed Americans into associating Democrats with Socialists. And, as we’ve seen through history, if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it. 

Trump is infamous for attacking any person or organization that is critical of him or his policies. However, part of his alleged cause for attacking the four congresswomen was because they’re “socialists.” Senator Bernie Sanders is the only member of Congress who identifies as a Democratic Socialist. The four congresswomen are Democrats. Sanders has been one of Trump’s fiercest critics, yet Trump has never told him to go back to his country. In fact, Trump has never told any white person to go back to their country. 

This kind of language has been used by racist Americans for decades. In the 1960s, when schools in the south began integrating, those brave and courageous first African-American students had to walk through a gauntlet of bigoted southerners, shouting racist slurs. Among those racist slurs was “go back to your own country” and “go back to Africa.” It was racist then and it’s racist now. 

Trump has since not apologized for his bigoted tweets. In fact, he’s doubled-down on them. When asked by reporters if Trump was concerned by the “go back to your own country” part of his tweets, he replied with “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. A lot of people love it, by the way.”

For most of the week, GOP lawmakers either rode to Trump’s defense or remained silent. Virtually all of the Trump’s legion of enablers refused to concede that the tweets were even racist. Some even tried spinning the nature of the tweets, like Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, saying “I believe this is about ideology. This is about socialism versus freedom.” 

A few days after posting the tweets, House Democrats made a decision to formally reprimand Trump for his racist rhetoric. For the first time in over 100 years, the House voted to condemn the conduct of a sitting president. The vote passed largely along party lines. Out of the 197 Republicans in the House, only four voted to condemn the racist language used by Trump –that’s only 2% of House Republicans. Representative Justin Amash, who recently left the Republican Party due to the GOP’s unwillingness to check the president’s misconduct described in the Mueller Report, is now an Independent and voted in favor of the reprimand. 

Trump’s iron-clad grip over the Republican Party was once again confirmed when the overwhelming majority of Republicans refused to condemn his tweets. The MAGA movement has finalized their hostile takeover of the Republican Party. The GOP once proudly called themselves the party of values, but they’re now they party of white nationalism. It’s not hyperbolic to characterize them this way. If lawmakers are willing to defend and stand by a president who uses racist language against their own colleagues, then they’re just as guilty of bigotry as Trump. 

A couple of days ago, Trump held a campaign rally in North Carolina. Trump tripled-down, attacking the four congresswomen once again, particularly Representative Omar. This led to a chilling chant from the MAGA crowd: “Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!” Trump didn’t stop the vileness, he stood there with his head raised, embracing the hate-filled energy in the arena. His rallies are infamous for being heinous, but they’ve descended to a much deeper level of depravity and malice. It was effectually a clan rally being held by the President of the United States in 2019. This is trickle-down hatred coming from the most powerful man in the country. It’s not some amoral campaign strategy, it’s dangerous.

White nationalist groups have praised the president’s conduct since he’s been in office. Whether it be the dozens of instances of race-baiting or holding white supremacists in the same esteem as Americans protesting racism (as Trump did after Charlottesville), the white supremacists in this country have their man in the White House. This week’s abhorrent conduct did not disappoint these bigots. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, said, “Man, President Trump’s Twitter account has been pure fire lately. This might be the funniest thing he’s ever tweeted. This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for.” 

The country is in a dangerous place. We need to accept the fact that Trump is a white nationalist, playing the racist chords that resonate with like-minded citizens. The four congresswomen are being used as scapegoats for all of Trump’s problems –or as Trump would see it, all of the country’s problems. There’s no limit to the deplorable nature of this president. With over two-dozen investigations taking place throughout the country, many of which are criminal in scope, he’s a wanted man on deferment. Since a sitting president cannot be indicted, his own freedom depends on maintaining power. Therefore, he’ll do anything to maintain it, even if it means burning the country to the ground to save himself.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. For the first time in human history, men walked on the moon. It was an incredible achievement for the United States and for the entire world. For a brief moment, all Americans were united in their pride, joy, and awe. 

While all Americans should pay homage to our greatest achievement as a country, it also needs to be contrasted with where we are fifty years later. The country has never been as divided as it is today. It’s a sad and frightening fact that the president is the one sowing of the seeds of division and discord. And the Republican Party have been complicit in this manufactured disunity. 

This is where America is in the summer of 2019. The proverbial dog whistle for politicians to communicate with racists has been exchanged for a megaphone. This racist conduct cannot go unanswered. It’s never been more important for Americans to express their condemnation against the hateful and racist rhetoric of the president and all those who support him. This is especially true for white Americans. Our friends, families, and neighbors of color need to know we are on their side and are willing to defend them at all costs. Remaining silent or being apathetic is no different than giving consent to the amoral ideology of white nationalism.

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Socialism in America: Separating Fact from Fiction

The word “socialism” has increasingly been used as a way to discredit and vilify the Democratic Party. Trump has been using it as a way of inducing fear in the minds of his misinformed supporters. This misinformation campaign is being deployed on all fronts: Trump, the GOP, as well as the right-wing media. As a result, it’s important that people know what socialism actually is and why, in the context of America, it’s not the diabolical social theory that they make it out to be.   

What is socialism?


Socialism, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.” 

Socialism, in its ideal form, is about fairness. The ideology was developed as a reaction to the lack of opportunity and resources in societies that had class systems, which made the prospect of improving one’s station in life virtually impossible.   

While the definition provides a solid description of the underlying idea behind socialism, the trouble is socialism takes on many forms; such as, economic and political socialism. As with most socioeconomic ideologies and systems, socialism doesn’t have to exist in an absolute –all or nothing– form. It exists on a spectrum. There are varying degrees of socialism in every developed country in the modern world. 

Socialism’s most extreme form is communism. Dictionary.com defines it as, “a system of social organization in which all economic, political, and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.” This is an absolute form of socialism, which is applied to every aspect of a country. The government has complete control over the policies and legislation in a communist state. These states, in theory, have people working assigned jobs, which contribute to the society as a whole. The production of these jobs isn’t controlled by private companies or individuals, it’s controlled by the state. The distribution of artificial or natural resources are distributed equally amongst the people. 

It can be argued, however, that there has never been a true communist state. For example, in Soviet Russia, there was most certainly a class system. A small portion of the population benefited greatly, usually based on their political station, while the rest were subjected to harsh labor conditions with limited resources being distributed. 

Democracy, capitalism, and socialism in America


The United States isn’t a socialist state: it was founded as a democratic republic. When referring to our government, we rarely use the term “democratic republic,” it’s almost always referred to as a “democracy.” However, that term can be misleading, especially if taken literally. For example, a pure democracy is a system of government in which every political decision is made at the voting booth. This form of government isn’t practical, which is why the founders didn’t model our system of government on it. 

There are, however, aspects of a pure democracy in America at the state and local level. More than half of the states in the union have voting initiatives or veto referendums. This gives citizens in these states the power to vote for or against legislative propositions. There’s also the non-binding “popular vote” used in national elections. As we’ve seen, especially in modern-day America, winning the popular vote doesn’t result in an electoral win. It’s the Electoral College that’s binding. 

America’s system of economics is capitalism. The government doesn’t control the means of production, corporations and private businesses do. America became the greatest superpower the world has ever seen due in large part to capitalism. In a capitalist system, companies are competing against one another. This naturally drives innovation: creating a better product or service than a competitor, which will in turn attract more business and thus gain more profit, which is the motivating force behind any business. 

Though, just as we don’t live in a pure democracy, we don’t have a pure capitalist system of economics. A pure democracy is impractical and a pure capitalist system leads to various problems, which has a negative effect on the people. For example, if a company becomes too powerful and eliminates all other competitors you get a monopoly. If the consumers don’t have a choice, their only option is to do business with the monopolistic company. If there are no competitors, there’s no incentive to innovate and no need to keep their prices competitive. And it’s for this reason that we have federal regulations, which is essentially applying socialist principles to a capitalist system. 

There are countless examples in American history of unregulated industries causing harm to their employees, consumers, the environment, as well as the entire economy as a whole. While there were numerous causes for the Great Depression, the breaking point was due to banks making risky stock investments with the money deposited by their customers. Their deposits weren’t guaranteed, so when the stock market crashed in 1929 it caused widespread panic, leading people to rush to the bank to withdraw their money. This set off a chain of reactions, which led to years of economic depression for the entire country. So, having federal regulations in place are a safeguard for not only the individual, but for the economy, as well. 

America has numerous social programs designed to provide a social safety net, as well as opportunities for people who need them. Here’s some of the social programs hundreds of millions of Americans benefit from at one time or another in their life: Social Security Income (for “old-age” Americans, as well as the disabled), Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment benefits, numerous housing programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Family Medical Leave, the GI Bill, Veterans Affairs, financial aid for higher education, small business loans backed by federally-guaranteed loans, etc. On a non-federal level, there’s public schools, fire departments, police departments, among many other community services. 

All of these programs are paid for by American tax dollars. Americans pay their share of taxes and are eligible to benefit from these programs if or when they need them. They’re so ingrained into society that most of them are rarely thought of as being a form of socialism. America is still a capitalist system, but has regulations and supplemental social programs to ensure that citizens are protected. 

Why they want to brand Democrats as socialists


Throughout American history, the word “socialist” has had a negative connotation. When people hear “socialism” they think of communism. America has had a long, cold, and bloody history with communism. There was a significant fear about communism. Proxy wars between America and the Soviet Union unfolded for decades. The world was on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which at its core, was based on the conflicting political ideologies of America and the Soviet Union.

When other people hear “socialist,” they think of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (i.e. the Nazi Party). Nazi Germany wasn’t a socialist nation, it was a totalitarian dictatorship. They used “socialist” and “worker” in the name of their party as propaganda. 

In modern-day America, there’s rampant economic inequality. This is an economic indicator that’s never discussed by the Trump Administration. When the stock market has a good day, he promotes it. When a positive jobs report is published, he promotes it. Trump, however, never mentions the 10,000-pound elephant in the room: economic inequality. It’s the economic indicator that has the greatest effect on most Americans and reflects how the country is doing as a whole. 

This is a country where the richest 1% percent of American households own 40% of the country’s wealth, and the richest 20% of American households own 90% of the country’s wealth. Therefore, the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. It needs to be repeated: the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. (Household Wealth Trends in the United States)

Whether his supporters are aware of it or not, it’s the economic inequality in this country that’s significantly oppressing the economic prosperity of most Americans. The American Dream is an antiquated concept. It’s based on social mobility, which the United States is near the bottom of the list for developed countries. 

So, as Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential Candidates talk about solutions to put an end to economic inequality and seek to form better social programs (e.g. more affordable healthcare), they are smeared as socialists. 

The only people in this country who have anything to lose from such programs are the ultra-wealthy. By attacking these policy initiatives, the vast majority of Trump supporters are acting against their own self-interest without even realizing it. This is a phenomenon known as “false consciousness,” which is defined as “a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social or economic situation” (New Oxford American Dictionary). 

This false consciousness is being drilled into the minds of people who watch Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. Fox propaganda hosts are millionaires paid by billionaires to misinform, rile up, and instill manufactured fear into the minds of their viewers. They use distraction, deflection, and divisiveness as tools of their trade. If their viewers are misinformed and sidetracked, they’re incapable of making informed decisions. And those decisions not only affect their lives, but the lives of all Americans. 

Socialism in America has become a new dog whistle used by the Trump-GOP-Fox propaganda machine with the goal of making Americans vote against their best interests. The swamp isn’t being drained, it’s overflowing and slowly drowning all of us. 

Trump: A Racist Then and Now (Part I)

Donald Trump has a long, documented history of being a racist. His racism, prejudice, and discrimination against minorities started long before his presidency, his 2016 presidential campaign, and before he was a household name.

The following instances are based on documented examples of Trump’s vile regard toward minorities. He’s used his power in real estate, his power of notoriety, and the power of the presidency to disenfranchise, vilify, and scapegoat minorities.

This article, however, will focus on Trump’s racist transgressions prior to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Racially-motivated housing discrimination


In 1973, the federal government sued Trump for racial discrimination against black New Yorkers who were seeking residence in his New York properties. Community groups were the first to raise flags on the discriminatory practices of the Trump Management Corporation. The federal investigation found evidence of a culture of discrimination at the corporation.

The feds discovered that black applicants had a “C” written on their applications, indicating they were a person of color. This was used as an internal indicator to turn down the applicant. However, most of the time, there wasn’t even an opportunity to fill out an application. Trump’s company would lie to black New Yorkers inquiring about properties, telling them their were units were unavailable.

Trump received a slap on the wrist for his amoral business practices. He was told to no longer discriminate against minorities seeking housing at his properties. He was also never required to admit to his discrimination.

Trump and his notorious lawyer Roy Cohn –infamous for working with Senator Joseph McCarthy during his communist inquisition and representing mobsters–  turned around and sued the federal government for $100M, claiming he was unjustly being investigated. Trump’s attempt at a countersuit failed. He eventually settled for not having to accept people who were on welfare as tenants.

However, while on a break from one of the countersuit depositions, Trump in private unabashedly told one of the federal lawyers, Elyse Goldweber, “You know, you don’t want to live with them either.”

Trump’s treatment of black casino employees


When Trump was involved in the casino business, he made racist comments about, and even segregate, black casino employees.

Based on reporting from The Guardian, John O’Donnell, a former president of Trump’s Plaza Casino, shed some light on Trump’s views of black people. Trump told O’Donnell, “Black people counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys who wear yamakas every day.”

We also have the word of Kip Brown, a black man who worked at one of Trump’s casinos. Brown told a journalist from The New Yorker, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Brown and the other black employees were confined to “the back” when Trump visited.

The Central Park Five


In April 1989, five teenagers –four black and one latino– were accused and charged with raping a white female jogger in Central Park. This ignited a social firestorm in New York City. Trump threw gasoline on the fire by publicly attacking the teenagers. He took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, with the heading “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE.” The teenagers hadn’t even stood trial at the time the ad was published, but Trump used the incident to promote his public profile at the expense of the accused. By taking out such an ad, he was promoting the public execution of the teenagers before they even stood trial.

As depicted in Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five, the young teenagers were coerced into submitting false confessions. There was no physical evidence, no DNA linking any of them to the crime, and they repeatedly maintained their innocence after the initial false confessions.

Years later in 2001, the actual attacker, a serial rapist, confessed to the crime. His DNA matched the DNA found at the scene and confirmed he acted alone.

In 2002, the New York Supreme Court ruled to have their convictions vacated. As a result of their false imprisonment and the injustice they endured, they were awarded a record settlement of $41M.

To this day, Trump refuses to apologize for his public attacks against the then teenagers and the ad he took out calling for their execution. With the June 2019 release of the Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries about the case, Trump was asked as recently as June 18, 2019, about whether he regrets going after the teenagers. Trump said, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt.”

This from the same man whose publicly supported convicted felons from his 2016 presidential campaign, such as Paul Manafort, who essentially engaged in treason against the United States. Manafort refused to cooperate in the Mueller investigation, so Trump floated the possibility of pardoning Manafort of his federal crimes. When Manafort was going to be moved to Rikers Island –the same abominable jail one of the Central Park Five teenagers was sent to– Trump’s Department of Justice, in an unprecedented act, intervened to ensure Manafort wasn’t sent to one of the country’s most notorious jails.

Birtherism


After President Barack Obama was elected to office in 2008, a racist conspiracy theory started to surface from the deplorable underbelly of American society. It purported that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and therefore had a false claim to the presidency [Article II, Section III of the United States Constitution states only a “natural born Citizen” is eligible for the presidency].

Trump was the most vocal supporter of birtherism. He’d constantly call for Obama to submit his birth certificate. He also spread misinformation on Twitter, claiming he had an “extremely credible source” telling him Obama wasn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen. He made the rounds on right-wing media programs, reinforcing the racially-motivated conspiracy theory. He even called on hackers to check his “place of birth.”

The truth is Obama released his short-form birth certificate in 2008, but it didn’t stop Trump from relentlessly pursuing Obama’s origin of birth. Before Obama, no other president was ever accused of being born in a foreign country. The only thing that separates Obama from the previous 43 presidents is the color of his skin.

There’s no doubt that birtherism was born out of racism, and Trump was the public figure leading the movement. Birtherism was the seed that grew into Trump’s campaign for the 2016 presidential election.

The hypocrisy of Trump calling for Obama to release his [already released] birth certificate surfaced during his 2016 presidential campaign. While there’s no tradition for president’s releasing their birth certificate, there is a long-standing tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump refused to release his tax returns –something presidential candidates have been doing since Richard Nixon. Trump claimed he was under an IRS audit and therefore was unable to release them. However, there’s no way of knowing if he was actually under audit at the time. Moreover, there’s no law stating a presidential candidate cannot release their tax returns while under audit.

To this day, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. In April 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee formally asked the Treasury Department to turn over the last decade’s worth of Trump’s tax returns. Congress, by law, has the right to request the tax returns of any U.S. taxpayer. However, after stalling for a month, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, refused to turn them over, saying it “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” which is one of a myriad of examples of the Trump administration actively obstructing justice by defying Congress.

Conclusions


These are just a few documented examples of Trump’s pre-2016 history of racism toward minorities. While there are those who try to underplay Trump’s race-baiting behavior as him simply blowing the proverbial dog whistle to American bigots, it’s simply not true. Trump doesn’t just appeal to the racist sensibilities of bigots, he is and has been a bigot all along.  

Propagandist-in-Chief

Last week’s article, Weapons of Propaganda, laid out the differences between disinformation and misinformation and its negative consequences on our democratic society. This week, Donald Trump has put the ideas and words of last week’s article into action. This isn’t something new; Trump engages in propaganda on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. However, it’s important to take note of these deceptions as they’re happening.

The Winds of Impeachment


The winds of impeachment have been picking up in the Democratic Party, specifically in the House since it’s the House that must initiate the impeachment process. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has been wary of starting the impeachment process. She hasn’t ruled it out, but has been reluctant to move too quickly. It’s not that she thinks Trump shouldn’t be subjected to the impeachment process, it’s the political calculus involved with an impeachment that she’s concerned about.

“If you come at the king, you best not miss,” is a quote from Omar Little, a character from David Simon’s masterpiece HBO series, The Wire. The substance of the quote is something that’s been at the forefront of Pelosi’s mind for awhile now. She’s aware that impeachment will be divisive for the country. She fears the possibility that impeachment hearings could garner public sympathy for Trump, as we’ve seen during the Bill Clinton impeachment process. This could have a negative effect on not only the 2020 presidential election, but also the 2020 congressional races.

However, the idea of Trump being viewed as a sympathetic figure by the American public has been disputed by many experts and analysts. Clinton’s Articles of Impeachment were founded on an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. Most of the public viewed the Clinton impeachment as a political overreach. The case for Trump’s impeachment is much different both in substance and scope.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report, which laid out nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice committed by Trump, there’s been an increase in congressional investigations in the House. The House has been trying to perform their oversight responsibilities, yet the Trump administration has been in a state of open rebellion against the legislative branch. They ignored attempts by House congressional committees to have access to pertinent persons and documents, and when they were left to resort to issuing subpoenas, the administration defied them.

All of these acts of defiance have put enormous pressure on Pelosi. She’s been lobbied by her own Democratic colleagues to initiate impeachment proceedings. In response to the lobbying efforts, on the morning of May 22, 2019, she met with the House Democratic Caucus to discuss their strategy for moving forward. It was ultimately decided they wouldn’t start impeachment hearings yet. She was able to convince her colleagues to be patient and wait for more facts to emerge from the many ongoing investigations.

After the meeting, Pelosi was asked by the press how they planned to proceed. She stuck with her stance on waiting for the investigations to churn up more facts, but made a weighty statement in three points, saying:

“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts.”

“We believe that no one is above the law.”

“…and we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a coverup.”

The Democratic leadership from the House and Senate were scheduled to meet with the president later on that day. They’ve been engaged in back-channel discussions with Trump for the past few weeks in order to broker an infrastructure deal. The Democratic leaders said Trump implied he was open to working on the deal. He stipulated he wanted to see their infrastructure plan, so the Democrats prepared a document with a proposed strategy and budget.

When the Democratic leaders from the House and Senate arrived at the White House, it became clear they weren’t going to be discussing infrastructure. The curtains in the meeting room were drawn and there was no seat at the head of the table for the president, implying the meeting would be short and one-sided. When Trump entered the room he went off on a tirade, according to the Democrats who were present. Since he intentionally didn’t have a seat, he was in a literal position to speak down to the Democrats. The takeaway from the short meeting was Trump saying he would no longer be working with the Democrats while they were investigating him.

Meltdown in the Rose Garden


Directly after the meeting, Trump arranged for a press conference to be held in the Rose Garden. As the press waited for the president to walk out, it was clear to everyone there wasn’t going to be any announcement on an infrastructure deal. The pre-printed Mueller Report-related sign on the podium made his intentions clear: the sign, in part, read “No Collusion. No Obstruction.”

It’s obvious that the meeting with the Democratic leadership and the Rose Garden address that followed was never intended to be about infrastructure. Trump planned to go on the offensive all along (or on the defensive, depending on how you look at it). Why would there be a sign about the Mueller Report on the podium when the address was meant to be about infrastructure?

The Rose Garden address quickly turned into a tirade against all of Trump’s political opponents, both real and perceived. He went from one person and topic to the next, barely speaking a single sentence that wasn’t at least a partial lie.

Some Examples of the Disinformation Spread During the Rose Garden Address

  • “18 Angry Democrats,” as displayed on the the pre-printed podium sign. He made false claims about the Mueller team, saying they were all angry Democrats and were Hillary Clinton supporters. While it is true that a few members of the investigation had made financial contributions to the Clinton campaign, the claim that all members of the team were Democrats looking to take him down is disinformation. Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. The official who appointed Mueller as special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, another registered Republican. Moreover, the “No Obstruction” part of the sign on the podium is disinformation. Mueller uncovered nearly a dozen acts of possible obstruction of justice.
  • “I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of the country,” Trump claimed. Trump is the least transparent president in the modern era, if not in history. He broke the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns in order to be transparent with the public, showing where their money comes from and whom they owe money to. Trump also declined to be interviewed by the Mueller team. Instead, he submitted carefully-prepared answers to Mueller’s questions, which were carefully constructed and combed through by his legal team. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has reached a historic low when it comes to holding press conferences. Press briefings are the main apparatus for demonstrating transparency between the White House and the public. As of today, there hasn’t been a press briefing in 45 days. There’s literally dust covering the podium in the Press Briefing Room.
  • Trump claimed, “I respect the courts. I respect Congress…” Since we’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis that’s currently being sorted out in the courts, this is another lie. He even contradicted himself in the same address when he said he would no longer be working with Congress while he’s being investigated. Most presidents, to one degree or another, have been under investigation, and it’s never stopped them from governing. In modern history, both Nixon and Clinton still worked with Congress when they were being investigated and even when Articles of Impeachment were being drawn up.
  • “I don’t speak to Russia about campaigns… it’s a hoax,” Trump insisted. This is another blatant lie. When Trump was on the campaign trail, he called on Russia during a campaign speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Well, they were listening because on that same day, Russian operatives made their first attempt at hacking Clinton’s personal email server. Moreover, in the Mueller Report, it was uncovered that there were at least 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.
  • “I don’t do coverups. You people probably know that better than anybody.” One coverup most of the country is aware of is Trump’s efforts to buy the silence of the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, whom Trump had an affair with. When the Trump campaign received word that she intended to go public, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, brokered a deal on behalf of Trump to pay her $130,000 to keep quiet. Cohen is currently in federal prison, in part, since he violated campaign finance law by making the hush money payments on behalf of Trump. Cohen initially told investigators he paid Daniels off with his own money, which is partly true. However, it was arranged from the start that Trump would reimburse Cohen in installments of $35,000. During Cohen’s last public testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen produced copies of the $35,000 checks, signed by Trump, some of which when he was President of the United States.

Propagandist-in-Chief


Since the events of May 22, 2019, Trump has been publicly attacking Pelosi. He called her “Crazy Nancy,” but then said he didn’t want to share nicknames, since he calls Bernie Sanders, “Crazy Bernie.”

Trump tweeted out a doctored video of a segment of one of Pelosi’s addresses this week, which made Pelosi appear to sound intoxicated or unwell. Trump tweeted the video out to his millions of followers with the caption, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”

When fact checkers pulled up the original video from C-SPAN, it was obvious the video had been slowed down to make it appear as though there was something wrong with Pelosi. The video went viral, being sent out en masse amongst MAGA supporters and right-wing figures. Rudy Giuliani also tweeted out the video, but deleted it once it became apparent it was doctored. Trump, however, has not deleted his tweet.

The person who created the doctored video of Pelosi was engaging in disinformation. Trump engaged in misinformation by tweeting the video out. In this case, his intentions were nefarious either way since his intention was to discredit Pelosi. This fact was sealed when he chose not to delete it from his Twitter feed after learning the truth. Therefore, this is an act of propaganda against Pelosi. The President of the United States openly engaging in propaganda against the Speaker of the House, the second in the line of succession.

Using the word “propaganda” is not hyperbole. It’s literally a dictionary definition of the word, which Dictionary.com defines as, “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”

Trump uses a particular tactic in his dissemination of propaganda, using one-sided statements like “everybody knows,” “you people probably know better than anyone,” “you all agree.” He qualifies his lies with these false confirmations of consensus. In the example of the Rose Garden address, he’s largely speaking to members of the press –they don’t have the means to respond– it’s a one-way exchange of information, yet he creates the illusion that everyone is in agreement with him.

As the investigations continue and the possibility of impeachment hearings is becoming more and more likely, Trump will become more unhinged and more brazen. It’s critical that we don’t let these abuses of power to become normalized.

This week the courts have ruled to uphold both cases in which the congressional subpoenas were contested by the Trump administration. There are more subpoenas awaiting judicial review, as well as an appeal to one of the cases already ruled upon. This is how the system is supposed to work: checks and balances between the three branches of government. However, if the Trump administration defies the court rulings, then we’ll have entered uncharted territory. This constitutional crisis will turn into a constitutional calamity. Our form of government will no longer be a democratic republic; it’ll be a banana republic ruled by a tyrant.

The Weapons of Propaganda

For as long as our species has been exchanging information, propaganda has been a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the people in order to push a particular agenda. The advent of the internet has been both a blessing and a curse to those subjected to propaganda campaigns. The Information Age spawned out of the worldwide adoption of the internet has given ideal platforms to peddlers of propaganda, but on the flip side has also given people a means to distinguish fact from fiction –people have the ability to do their own fact-checking if they’re willing to take the extra step.

Disinformation and Misinformation


At its core, propaganda is founded on the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation. In common language, disinformation and misinformation are often used interchangeably, as if they’re synonyms. While they both stem from the spread of inaccurate or misleading information, the difference between the two lies in the intent of the person or entity spreading it.

Disinformation

The basis of a propaganda campaign is founded on disinformation. Dictionary.com defines disinformation as, “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”

Disinformation is intended to deceive the public in order to strengthen or weaken a person, institution, or issue. The intent is malignant and the objective is nefarious. Disinformation can be completely fictitious or a fabrication (e.g. mixing factual information with false information).

Misinformation

While disinformation and misinformation are two sides of the same coin, misinformation is different since it isn’t necessarily spread with malicious intent. Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2018 was granted to the word “misinformation,” which is a testament to the times we’re living in. They define it as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

Misinformation could be something as innocent as a journalist making an honest mistake about something they reported in a story. They may have gotten a date or detail wrong, but since that information is inaccurate, it can still be considered misinformation. However, once the journalist or editor realizes the information isn’t accurate, reputable news organizations will immediately post a redaction or correction.

The act of spreading misinformation also comes to fruition on smaller scales. The average citizen may be explaining a subject to someone, but their explanation is inaccurate. The person spreading the misinformation doesn’t think it’s misinformation; they think it’s fact-based information. Their intent wasn’t to misinform, but the result of the exchange was misinformation, nonetheless. We’ve all been guilty of spreading misinformation in one way or another.

The Impact of Spreading Misinformation


There’s undoubtedly a dark side to misinformation: when a person is subjected to disinformation and they absorb it as factual information. When that person spreads the disinformation to others, they’ve unwittingly become a vehicle for disinformation. If their intent is sincere –they believe the information to be accurate– they’re spreading misinformation. However, they’re nonetheless carrying out the objective of the propagandist who peddled the disinformation for nefarious reasons.

It’s similar to the way contagious diseases are spread. A virus (i.e. disinformation) has infected a person, and then that person begins unwittingly spreading the virus to other people (i.e. misinformation). Therefore, a sneeze or a cough is akin to a tweet or a post on social media. This is how any kind of information is spread. It’s why we say a story or video has gone “viral” when it has reached a critical mass of shares or views, allowing it to quickly spread across the internet.

The Russian government waged a “sweeping and systematic” (as described in the Mueller Report) attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election. A part of that attack was posting fake news stories on social media platforms. They posted these stories from imposter accounts. They concealed their true identities by creating accounts that, on the surface, seemed like it was just another American sharing a news story. The profiles were carefully created to resemble the profile of an American citizen. Some of these accounts were controlled by actual Russian operatives (e.g. shills), others were autonomous (i.e. Russian bots).

Depending on the group they were infiltrating, they would modify the profile accordingly. For example, if they wanted to spread a fake story that once Hillary Clinton took office, she secretly planned to sign an executive action that would take firearms away from all Americans, the Russian propagandist’s profile would reflect the profile of the average NRA-affiliated American. If they took the story at face value, they would more than likely share the story with all of their friends or followers. So, in this case, the Russian propagandist was spreading disinformation; the unwitting American reader was then spreading misinformation.

The Russian propagandist planting a seed of disinformation in the right social media habitat could yield a massive harvest for the propagandist. Once the disinformation has been planted, it’s the unsuspecting Americans who share the information to their network of friends and followers –and so on, and so on.

In a research study commissioned by the Knight Foundation, an American non-profit organization, it was discovered that more Americans spread Russian disinformation than the Russians themselves. They found that Americans spread millions of tweets and posts containing misinformation, all of which originated from Russian disinformation campaigns.

Where We Are Now


The Russians succeeded in their disinformation campaigns. The Russian attack was insidious since it used American social media companies and American citizens to do most of the work for them. They understood the power of social media as a near-perfect vehicle to spread disinformation. Their objective was to sow the seeds of discord amongst Americans, amplifying an already polarized society. The Russians played a significant role in dividing us and therefore weakening our democracy.

The Russian’s other objective was to interfere in the political discourse in the country by using their disinformation tactics. Putin had contempt for Hillary Clinton and thought Trump would serve Russia’s interests better than Clinton. A significant portion of the disinformation spread by the Russians was to strengthen the Trump campaign while also weakening the Clinton campaign.

The term “fake news” entered the American lexicon with the rise of Donald Trump. Fake news is a real thing, however Trump re-coined the term for his own benefit. Instead of using its true meaning –news stories drenched in disinformation– he applied it to any news story that wasn’t favorable to his own self interests. In doing so, it discredited the free press in the minds of his supporters and has created confusion amongst the general population.

In calling the free press “the enemy of the people,” it has led his supporters to distrust reporting from some of the most well-established and most-respected news organizations in the country. This is dangerous because if Americans don’t have access to factual information, they’ve been robbed of the ability to make informed decisions.

Russia’s attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election wasn’t a singular event. Their disinformation campaigns have never stopped. They’re still engaged in spreading disinformation through social media. The Trump administration, however, has been silent on the issue, which leaves us vulnerable to continued efforts to crumble our democracy from the inside out.

The fate of our democracy, in respect to the disinformation flooding social media feeds, has essentially been left for the social media companies to figure out. Most of them have taken measures to prevent, as well as to identify and remove disinformation from their sites, but it’s not enough. The Russians, and other foreign adversaries, are simply adapting to their countermeasures. They need a central governing body to consult and assist them. There needs to be a combined public and private effort to subdue Russia’s cyber war against us.

The most unsettling facts concerning Russia’s attack on our democracy is the fact that Trump has refused to meaningfully acknowledge it’s even happened and is happening.

When Trump spoke privately with Putin during a summit in Helsinki in July 2018, Trump, responding to a question from the press on Russia meddling, said he “doesn’t see any reason” for Russia to have meddled in our election. He went on to say, “I have great confidence in my Intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

In early May 2019, Trump had an hour-long phone conversation with Putin. When he was asked by the press if he warned Putin about interfering in future elections, he said, “We didn’t discuss that.”

Final Thoughts


Disinformation and misinformation are toxic to any democracy. We all depend on reliable information to give us the facts we need to form our own opinions and make informed decisions that affect our lives. When the information being spread is false or misleading, it inevitably leads us to make decisions that aren’t in our best interest.

It’s a fact that Putin’s Russia engaged –and is still engaged– in a widespread social media campaign to sow discord and misinform Americans. Yet, the person sworn to protect and defend us from all enemies has treated Putin with adulation, and in his mind, has turned our adversary on the world stage into his personal ally.

This raises puzzling and concerning questions. Why is Trump so fond of Putin? Why hasn’t Trump initiated a strategic plan to protect us from the ongoing attacks from Russia? What does Trump have to gain or lose by siding with Putin against the interests of his own country? What’s his motive for remaining silent and refusing to take action?

There will come a time when we have a true understanding of Trump’s motivations. Until then, we’re left to fend off the rotten fruits of Putin’s nefarious labor on our own. We must be our own guardians against the Russian government.