Throwing Trustworthiness Out the Window

Culture Rantish

The typing monkeys over at Gawker are incredibly pleased with themselves right now.  What’s the worst they could do, expose a random, publicly-unimportant man’s infidelity for the lulz?  Apparently they felt the need to follow up that piece of journalistic brilliance with a sober, thoughtful reflection on the dynamics of the GOP race which adds something substantial to a complex conversation.

lolno, they started attributing Mussolini quotes to Trump on Twitter in order to convince him to retweet them.

They are dead chuffed to have tricked the candidate with the scariest and most ardent followers into spreading the fascist messages of Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy up to and through (most of) the Second World War.

“let’s trick him into retweeting the rhetoric of an archetypal fascist.  Because we’re children.”

Who in their right mind does that?  Who in their right mind is so proud of that stupidity that they post a gleefully gloating article about it?  Even for a gossip rag, this is disgusting. Every day, people are driving home how dangerous a Trump candidacy would be.

Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea that he means everything he says he does (I don’t), he’s carved out his niche by digging his trenches in the darkest corners of the American psyche.

His supporters include not only white supremacists, ultranationalists, and authoritarians, but a large number of politically-disaffected Americans who hear in Trump an echo of their fears: fears not addressed by the mainstream candidates to their satisfaction.  What is the prudent thing to do?  Talk about how immigrants tend to be more law abiding than the native-born?  Discuss how embracing Syrian refugees would continue in America’s proudest tradition of giving the dispossessed a new hope?  Teach the skeptical that the crushing majority of American Muslims simply want to live in peace and prosperity alongside their neighbours of all faiths?  Nah, let’s trick him into retweeting the rhetoric of an archetypal fascist and pour more fuel on this tire fire.  Because we’re children.

In the course of their delightful little ruse, Gawker’s writers have played right into the hands of Trump and his type: the lefty, out-of-touch media does not have America’s interests at heart, only their conceited and self-serving ends.

In some respects, this just the icing on the cupcake of unprofessional sensationalism that seems more and more common.  During the federal election, Ottawa Citizen writer Glen McGregor started posting dramatic exposés claiming that Conservative Party literature used the wrong type of salmon in a message ad, or that the family in another ad were *gasp* foreigners (and that the child in the ad wasn’t adopted even though it was an ad for an adoption tax credit).  The Tories should be ashamed of using foreign stock photography and should source their stock library from good ol’ Canadian sources exclusively.  The inanity of these pieces were exclusively to generate clicks for his lackluster blog, but generate attention they did.  It was cheap fodder for the anti-Tory crowd who for some reason couldn’t find *anything else* to dislike about a government which had been in power for almost ten years.

Journalists have a sacred responsibility to be dispassionate, professional, and sober so that when we open up a paper we know that they are worthy of our trust.

It’s vitally important to our society that we have a responsible press.  News outlets have broad freedoms to publish what they wish, but just because they have this liberty doesn’t mean they have a moral blank cheque to peddle in nonsense or not do due-diligence in conveying the news to the people.  They have a sacred responsibility to be dispassionate, professional, and sober so that when we open up a paper we know that they are worthy of our trust.[/symple_column]

In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks identified the breakdown of cross-partisan trust and understanding as a chief cause of the ills plaguing America today.  The Tea Party, to him, had turned all opponents into “the enemy” who were to be opposed reflexively and with whom there could be no compromise.  The lack of self-awareness was almost comical; the Times makes a hobby of being condescending and has actively worked to dehumanize backers of movements like the Tea Party.  The failure to recognize the cross-partisan nature of this problem is itself half the problem.  It’s not a Republican problem, it’s not a Democrat problem, it’s an establishment problem.

The Trump phenomenon is, in part, caused by a breakdown in the trust voters have in partisan and social elites. You can’t trust the Mainstream (Lamestream?) Media!  You can’t trust Wall Street!  You can’t trust the GOP!  You can’t trust the DNC!  Trump and Sanders are both animated by the idea that American institutions aren’t working for the citizens they’re supposed to serve.  The American republic, with its gerrymandering and its electoral college and bizarre primaries and all other means of creating a government which is far from representative and accountable, has allowed itself to drift towards a sense of popular disenfranchisement.  The irony of gerrymandering is that it creates a congress which everyone disapproves of while ensuring that individual congressmen are widely supported in their constituencies.  This polarization, accompanied by the continued growth of a regulatory state in which Congress has only a small oversight role and the rise of the Imperial Presidency, means that Americans are realizing that they have a very limited ability to hold the state accountable.  Their only recourse becomes demagogues from outside the “establishment”.

We are lucky in Canada that there is not a similar vein of discontent.  While our media often deserves it, our governments are much more accountable than their American counterparts and trust in the establishment might be a bit too healthy.  In the upcoming Tory leadership race, even Kevin O’Leary – the potential outsider candidate – is pretty sane and sensible (for all his bombast).  The Rebel Media, started by right-wing malcontents, hasn’t gained major traction as anything more than a fringe voice.  We need to guard this social cohesion while allowing room for change.  America’s establishment needs to wake up and behave in a manner fitting their station.  From Gawker all the way to the Presidency, each and every journalist, regulator, politician, and judge needs to recognize that they serve a higher ideal, an ideal worth defending and protecting for generations to come.  It’s that, or squander the legacy of America’s rich history and become just another failed idea.

In other news (perhaps undermining the whole establishment kick behind this post), CBC thought it a great idea to post on this one nationalist who’s glad his ketchup comes from Canada, because heaven forbid we buy things from foreigners.  Because the most important thing to use the glories of the internet for is to promote literally the pettiest form of nationalism I’ve ever seen.  I kinda feel sorry for the guy who was assigned to write this story.  But then kinda not because he wrote it.

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