Mueller’s Testimony: Substance Matters

On July 24, 2019, Robert Mueller gave his long-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. It’s been nearly two months since Mueller resigned from his position as Special Counsel from the Department of Justice. During Mueller’s resignation statement, he said if he were called before congress, he would only testify to the content in the Mueller Report. Mueller wasn’t being fictitious –that’s exactly what he did. 

While some in the media were hyping up his testimony, others were more measured in their forecast. Mueller is not –and has never been– one for theatrics or hyperbole. He built his reputation on professionalism, integrity, and objectivity.

As some media analysts foretold, there were no new bombshells that erupted from the congressional hearings. Mueller generally didn’t testify to anything that wasn’t already documented in the Mueller Report. Mueller didn’t stray from the confines he had set for himself. His answers were carefully worded and concise, and his demeanor was unassuming and measured.

As a result of Mueller’s by-the-book and short-winded answers, many members of the media were quick to characterize the hearings as “devastating,” a “disaster,” and some even described his demeanor as “weary.” It’s irresponsible for the media to spin such an important event in this way. This is something to be expected from most right-wing media outlets. Frankly, they were going to attack his testimony, as they’ve attacked his report, one way or the other. However, a fair share of the irresponsible framing of the testimony came from some pundits and analysts from the left-to-center mainstream media. 

We’re living in a unique time in American history. Before becoming President of the United States, most Americans knew Donald Trump from watching him on reality TV. Unfortunately, the manufactured drama and sensationalism of Trump’s reality-TV persona has never gone away. The only thing that changed was the set location: the White House. This kind of hyper-drama has become part of the media’s coverage of this administration. With Trump being loud and bombastic, it’s as if Mueller was expected to put on an act reflective of Trump’s reality TV-esque performances. If Mueller’s testimony is being judged mostly on his performance instead of its substance, then the public is not being adequately informed. 

This was never going to be something out of an episode of a courtroom drama or a scene from A Few Good Men. This is real life and this is serious. The implications of the Mueller Report and Mueller’s testimony –which essentially reiterated and emphasized facts from the report– couldn’t be more serious for our national security, as well as the future of our system of government.

The United States was, and still is being, attacked by the Russian Federation. The Russians are still actively engaged in acts of cyber-warfare against the United States. This is 21st-century warfare: instead of using traditional weapons of war to cause damage, the Russians are attacking us with hackers and sophisticated cyber weapons and assets. These cyber weapons of war are being used to create public discord by amplifying an already polarized political climate. They want Americans to not only distrust the electoral process and democratic institutions, but want to make Americans distrust one another by infecting the hearts and minds of millions of Americans by infiltrating our social media environments. 

This is a national security threat that’s being ignored by the Trump administration, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. The Republican-controlled Senate has continuously dismissed legislation aimed to safeguard us from future cyber attacks. 

During his testimony on Russian interference in our elections, Mueller said “[Russia is] doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.” When he was asked about the Trump campaign accepting support from the Russains and the fact that contacts from a foreign adversary in a political campaign went unreported, he said: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”

There was only a single Republican congressman who even bothered to ask about Russian interference. A foreign adversary interfering in our elections and stoking division amongst Americans shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue. The fact that it is demonstrates that Republicans are putting their own self-interest over the country’s. 

Mueller also reiterated the evidence he uncovered on the part of his report that focused on obstruction of justice (Volume II) committed by Trump. In his report, Mueller found ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Trump and his political supporters have spun the narrative that Mueller exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing. Trump has said repeatedly that he was “totally exonerated” by Mueller. While Mueller never had the power to hold Trump criminally accountable for the crime of obstructing justice, he did emphasize that he was unwilling to clear him of any wrongdoing. Mueller said, “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.” Mueller was also asked if Trump could be prosecuted for crimes when he leaves office, in which he replied “True.”

Mueller did answer a question that wasn’t in the report, such as Trump’s characterization of the Mueller investigation being a “witch hunt.” Trump has been calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” from the beginning. He’s used the “witch hunt” phrase well over a hundred times, all in an attempt to corrupt the integrity of the investigation. When asked about this by a member of the House, Mueller said: “It is not a witch hunt.”

When the day’s long testimony concluded, Trump claimed a false victory. He lied and directly contradicted Mueller’s testimony. He said Mueller totally exonerated him, then later contradicting himself, said Mueller didn’t have the right to exonerate him. Trump was asked by a reporter about Mueller’s testimony pertaining to the fact Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice when he leaves office, Trump lied and said Mueller corrected himself “…later on in the afternoon.” Trump then snapped at the reporter, saying “…you’re fake news. And you’re one of the most.” Trump’s political allies also engaged in this form of gaslighting. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “Didn’t take long for Mueller to once again vindicate President [Trump]. No collusion. No obstruction. And now Mueller all but admits it was all along a total witch hunt.”

This is where we are as a country. The Mueller investigation concluded Russia did in fact interfere in our election, found at least 140 contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and uncovered ten criminal acts of obstruction of justice by Trump. And Mueller reiterated and emphasized the details of his findings during his testimony. It was unfairly framed as a failure because some members of the media expected Mueller to turn into Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. However, if you take a step back and really reflect on the substance of Mueller’s testimony, there were numerous bombshells worthy of a dystopian blockbuster movie.

Russia is a national security threat to the United States. In fact, investigators are finding that their interference in the 2016 presidential election was even worse than previously suspected. In a Senate Intelligence Committee report released just yesterday, investigators determined that Russia targeted election systems in every state in America. This includes hacking into voter registration systems, as well as state voting databases. 

Nonetheless, we have a president who refuses to even accept or acknowledge that the Russians interfered in the lifeblood of our democracy: the electoral process. He has taken the word of Vladimir Putin, a brutal dictator, over our own democratic institutions (intelligence agencies, Department of Justice, congressional investigators, etc). And the Republican Party continues to shamelessly support Trump’s position on Russian interference. They know it helped get him elected, and if the Russian’s want Trump in office, they also want Republicans in congress to support him. They’re allowing a foreign adversary to destroy us from within so they can preserve their own power. If an entire political party is unwilling to address, or even acknowledge, Russia’s interference and continued interference, then the party is rotten at the core. 

The House Democrats should be initiating impeachment proceedings. While it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate will ever even hold a trial if the House passes Articles of Impeachment, that’s not an excuse for not holding Trump accountable for his criminality and accepting the assistance of a foreign adversary. Mueller provided an abundance of evidence –the House needs to put his words into action. There has to come a point where political maneuvering takes a back seat to carrying out their sacred oath of office: to protect and defend the constitution.  

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.  

The Quick Guide for Spotting Fake News

There’s a reason why Dictonary.com named “misinformation” last year’s Word of the Year. It’s because there’s been a dramatic influx of misinformation. Misinformation is defined as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” (Dictionary.com).

The internet is riddled with misinformation. Whether it be a lone individual, Russian shills or bots, political operatives, or politicians themselves: misinformation is everywhere. And with social media, a fake story –pushing the right buttons with the right audience– can quickly go viral.

The 2016 presidential election brought the term “fake news,” a form of misinformation, into the public’s consciousness. Donald Trump began calling any critical story about his campaign or himself, “fake news.” The audacity and irresponsibility of Trump dropping “fake news” into the American lexicon has served no one but himself. It distracts and misdirects the public’s understanding since he labels any critical story as “fake news,” which in and of itself, is fake news.

Strategies for spotting and avoiding fake news


Here are some simple strategies for detecting and avoiding misinformation:

  • Always get your news from trusted sources

There are many well-established news organizations that serve the public by providing fact-based information. The following news organizations are examples of trusted sources: The Associated Press (AP), PBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, Reuters, USA Today, among others.

  • Get your news from more than one source

The best way to consume a news story is to read the story from more than one source. See how different news organizations are framing a story. Using multiple sources is the best way to feel confident that the story you are reading has been effectively investigated, analyzed, and vetted.

  • Understand the difference between news and opinion

In the news media world, there’s news and there’s opinion. The news is objective and based solely on the facts. Opinion pieces are subjective, but base their opinions on the facts.

  • Use fact-checking websites to discern fact from fiction

These sites are dedicated to taking a story and vetting it for factual information. If Donald Trump makes some kind of radical or ridiculous claim, you’re more than likely to find a fact-based analysis of the claim on these sites. They give you a full breakdown of the validity of the claim. They’ll provide you with an analysis of the statement, usually with a truth-scoring system (e.g. true, mostly true, mixed, mostly false, false). Some examples of fact-checking sites are: PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, and FactCheck.org.

  • Be very wary of information on social media

This truth is under assault on social media more than any other place on the internet. You may see a news story on social media with a lot of likes or shares, which may lead some to assume the story is safe. This isn’t always the case. In fact, more often than not, people only read the headlines and like and/or share the story based on how it makes them feel. So, they’re sharing a story without ever reading it for themselves.

Twitter is generally a safer place to consume news since news organizations have their own verified accounts and promote their articles on the platform. Facebook, however, is a much darker place for getting solid information. This is why Facebook was a ripe target for Russia’s cyber attack during the 2016 presidential election, which was uncovered by journalists, American intelligence agencies, and the Mueller Report.

  • If you see a meme or inforgraph from an unknown source, it’s best to disregard it.

Social media is flooded with memes and infographs based on shaky facts if not outright lies. These “picture stories” are usually created in hybrid form of a meme and infograph. Unfortunately, it’s how a lot of social media users become misinformed on these platforms. The problem is compounded by the sharing feature: someone sees a provocative or sensational picture story, then shares it to all of their friends or followers, turning the victim of misinformation into a disseminator of misinformation.

  • Pay attention to the details

If you’re accessing a story from somewhere other than a news organization’s website (e.g. social media, text message, email, etc.), always check the URL. Make sure it’s not a cloned version of a website. If the URL says “.co” instead of “.com”, assume it’s suspect. If something feels off about the website, don’t take the risk. You could always verify the story is coming from a legitimate source by going to the organization’s website on your own.

Conclusions


Fake news is not a trend. It’s something we’ll all be dealing with for the rest of our lives. The genie is out of the bottle and it cannot be put back in. It’s possible to suppress fake news, but it’ll never be eradicated.

The United States House introduced legislation to deploy strategies for combating fake news (e.g. House Resolution 284), but the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t cooperated with the resolution’s authors and it’s unlikely to introduce it to the Senate.

Without any regulation, we’re on our own. It’s therefore the responsibility of the news consumer to be aware of fake news on the internet. If there’s anything worse than ignorance, it’s misinformation. Not knowing a thing is better than being misled. Since fake news is the new normal, citizens must do their due diligence when consuming information. We all must be our own gatekeepers of information.

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.