Trumped-Up Charges: Donald Trump’s Attack on the Media

By Megan Evershed

Pathetic fallacy is a literary device used to express human emotion through nature, like the weather. And what a miserable day we had today.

There are many bones to pick with Donald Trump – hell, there are enough bones to fill a cemetery – but the specific bone I want to focus on is his blatant attack on the media.

Trump and his campaign have successfully labeled the media as liars, as biased, as corrupt. No matter how many of his scandals were reported on, how many of the xenophobic or discriminatory remarks were analyzed, because his campaign had declared the media rigged, voters could write off negative media coverage as typical elitist backlash. I never really considered Donald Trump clever, but in this strategic ploy, he tapped into gold. The New York Times wrote editorials decrying a Trump presidency. So did The New Yorker. So did The Washington Post. But the thing is, voters didn’t care. It’s the same concept we saw with Brexit – ordinary people “have had enough of experts” (thank you Michael Gove). They’ve also had enough of “elitist” media sources. They want someone – preferably old and white and male – barking at them, criticizing the establishment and trumpeting (excuse the pun) the racism and sexism that they had come to believe they weren’t allowed to express anymore because of this pesky little thing called “political correctness.”

We thought sharing Trump’s outrageous speeches and ridiculous “policy” plans – if you can call systematically excluding Mexicans and Muslims from entering the US a “policy” – would eventually cause the demagogue to topple. But you know what they say, all publicity is good publicity, and nothing diminished either his ego or the frenzied admiration of his supporters.

And now we have a new President of the United States, even though I said it couldn’t happen. But then again, that’s what I said before Brexit. Now, feeling alienated by the two countries I call home, I am seemingly rootless. Fortunately, it’s possible to construct a home in writing. The United Kingdom no longer holds my citizenship, the United States no longer holds my house. I am now a citizen of the written word and the freedom of expression is my new address. Trump can build his wall and spew his racist rhetoric, but there will always be journalists watching him, noting down his comments, analyzing his expressions.

The media is a bastion of accountability and – hopefully – honesty. A free media is one of the markers of a functioning civil society, a lighthouse that illuminates the shadows. The media is a source of truth and so therefore to discredit and delegitimize the media is to discredit and delegitimize a quest for transparency and for honesty.

Never have I felt this more than in the past week as The Sundial edited and shared opinion pieces and coverage of the recent rumors and protests encircling Mr. Ruchet’s termination as head of the Euro-American program. Having the power as students to keep the administration accountable through student journalism has been an extraordinary experience of empowerment and growth, and has proved to me that there is no greater vehicle of transparency than honest reporting.

But what if journalism was discredited as rigged?

What if honest media coverage was painted as corrupt and elitist?

What if Donald Trump became president?

We no longer live in a world of what ifs.

The Psychology of Big Data

By Kateryna Gordiychuk

It is November 7th, 2016, and the American Presidential Election results are just around the corner. Most American voters have made up their minds about who they want to represent them, or at least there is an expectation that they have.

But there are also polling agencies that use statistical methods and big data such as trend line adjustment to predict the way in which the election will turn out. Nate Silver, a renowned poll analyst and an Editor-in-Chief of FiveThirtyEight.com, does exactly that. Using historical probabilities of election polls since 1972 and correlating errors, the project claims that, as of 6 p.m., Hilary Clinton has a 68.5% chance of winning the Election, while Donald Trump is lagging behind with only 31.5%.

“It’s all based on history,” Silver said in a TV interview with the ABC news on November 6th. “People have different ways to interpret history.”

It has been known for decades that using statistics to back up one’s claims boosts one’s trustworthiness and credibility. The question is: does Silver’s big data impact Americans’ voting decisions?

After the American Election in 2008, the Yale Scientific published an article on the role of psychology in the elections. Voters may think that they are immune to subtle manipulations by the authorities and poll-makers, while, in reality, this is not the case.

One of such psychological manipulations is a tactic called “push polling.” It is a technique of brief surveys during which voters are misled about a candidate by means of a hypothetical question. Social psychologists argue that this trick can, in fact, change voters’ minds about their preferable candidates, even though the questions are only hypothetical.

Can it be the case that Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has the opposite effect? While Silver’s numbers are just probabilities, the voters could be influenced by Clinton’s lead and be primed to vote for her. Or could Silver’s analysis intensify the anti-establishment rhetoric even more? After seeing the complex calculations, the voters who give their preference to Trump choose to beat the odds with their determination to “make America great again” by voting Republican.

In either case, a subliminal impact that online interactive maps and live forecasts have on voters shouldn’t be under-estimated. Nate Silver might have failed to predict Donald Trump’s rise on the horizon, but he sure was able to foresee how the people in 49 out of 50 states would vote in 2008 and how the people in all 50 of them would in 2012. In the end, it’s up to the voters to uncover the psychological effects of the statistical prognosis and, more importantly, use their sensibility in this page-turning election.

Atheism in Donald Trump’s America

By Jimmy Quinn

Twenty years from now, students in high school politics classes across America will learn about this election primarily through the lens of a historic party realignment. They’ll learn that we only realized this year that the “Trump coalition” of white, working class voters truly replaced the alliance of social and fiscal conservatives who used to make up the base of the Republican party; that the pro-business party of Lincoln and Reagan became a populist party in the mold of Andrew Jackson’s Democrats; that the ideological diversity of Clinton 42’s Democratic Party finished its transition to a progressive-liberal monolith under Clinton 45.

But only some students will be taught how the historic presidential election of 2016 revealed the American politics we know to be a farce.

On November 9, provided no civil war or insurrection has consumed the United States, every American will do some soul-searching and participate in what is sure to be the largest ever political “autopsy” in U.S. history. We will attempt to decipher what happened not just the night before, but also in the months leading up to the election, how a dangerous demagogue almost made it to the presidency. Understanding the spectacular rise and fall of Donald J. Trump will be the lifetime work of academics, the rhetorical fodder of pundits and columnists for decades, and the perpetual hangover of some conservative elected officials for the next couple of election cycles. Eventually, though, life will go on, and our system of government will endure.

The same, however, cannot reliably be said about our politics. The contrast that has been most invoked this year is that between establishment and disrupter, elite and relatable. It’s more pronounced this year, but certainly not new; non-incumbents have used this narrative wedge since the advent of the first democracies. But Trump’s refusal to submit to traditional American political rhetoric is different, blunt, jarring.

He is an atheist in a body politic that worships American civic religion.

Anyone aspiring to higher office, in his or her own way, pays homage to this mighty pantheon of liberal democratic virtue. Some candidates claim to be a living embodiment of the American Dream, others extol the exceptional quality of American democracy, while still others invoke their military service as proof of their duty to their nation’s founding principles. They recite the same lines about liberty, or equality, or upward social mobility, and invoke the same motifs of American exceptionalism with uncanny similarity.

In the past, candidates have disagreed about what precisely makes America so special.  But without exception every candidate seeking the White House has believed that the ultimate aim of politics is higher than just winning the next election or advancing his party’s policy priorities. Each knew that politics is about bettering the human condition and promoting the set of values that makes America unique.

This is a haughty goal, to be sure. I doubt that Romney and Obama woke up every day of the 2012 campaign thinking about improving the lives of their countrymen; the day-to-day struggles of a race for the presidency leave such a consideration by the wayside. It is because of this that the benevolent end of politics is maintained only by conscious effort to remember and honor it through the icons of American civic religion: Plymouth Rock, Ellis Island, and the American melting pot; the constitution and the freedoms that it enshrines; triumph over slavery and Jim Crow, and the ongoing battle against prejudice; Stonewall and the fight for the freedom to love.

Running for president used to mean that you believed in America as an imperfect city upon a hill, blighted sometimes by historical inequalities, but shining bright as an example to the rest of the world as the closest to perfect a form of government and a society could ever be. America could lead, because nobody else would. It meant that you had faith in this beacon of hope, and to have faith you must hold belief that can weather any storm, be it world war or war of secession, constitutional crisis or crisis of confidence.

But because the rhetoric of American civic religion is constructed so deliberately to create a single common identity, it is fragile and can ring hollow to Americans in such times of crisis. And today there is a crisis in Donald Trump’s America.

During the Republican primaries the counties that supported him the most were those hit hardest by the opening of trade relations with China. They were also, shockingly but not surprisingly, the counties in which middle-aged whites are dying at increasing rates.

The latter correlation is shocking because while the mortality rate of most groups has declined over the past decade and a half, that of middle-aged whites without a college education has increased drastically. In Donald Trump’s America, there is an epidemic of alcohol abuse, suicide, and notably, opioid abuse. Donald Trump’s America is not only out of work, it’s also dying.

The real estate mogul has made it this close to the presidency by tapping into the desperation resulting from this prognosis of death. Why vote for a mythical founding narrative when you can vote for the man who says he’ll save you and your family? He replaced the ideological talk about freedom that usually occupies the political right with vows to bring order and prosperity to his people. Rural, white working class Americans don’t want dogma; they want results–at any cost.

There’s no doubt that Trump’s policy proposals are fuzzy at best, but to his supporters they feel more concrete than Hillary Clinton’s talk of glass ceilings and realizing the potential of every American. In speaking directly to the voters left behind by Clinton’s America–characterized by diversity of race, religious affiliation, and level of education–he has revealed American civic religion, and thus the fundamental premise of American politics, to be hollow.

To these voters it feels as though faith in this political tradition has not fixed a thing. Yet it is exactly what they need.

Today White America doesn’t want to worship, but rather prosecutes its case against the people under whom it thinks it is subjugated. Today’s populism is nativist and anti-globalist; it is ugly, resentful, and cynical. It embraces a zero-sum perversion of American civic religion where the United States loses when it works with others and inducts new members into the American family.

Donald Trump proved that electoral victory is possible for any demagogue capable of tapping into this militant victimhood, provided they have less baggage and more discipline. We could say that Trump’s crassness and ignorance is the most unfortunate part of this election, but I think that’s only part of the problem. The truly sad thing is that disaffected White America needs a seat at the table but is instead being deceived by a charlatan.

On November 8,  the populist demagogue who sought to disprove American civic religion will put a few million cracks in White America’s own glass ceiling. In 20 years, students in high school politics classes across the United States will learn whether a sincere and constructive populist movement was able to re-embrace this political tradition to guide its aspirations through a rigorous contest of ideas.

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

By Mark Narusov

The 2nd presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was to a large extent focused on their respective personality traits. It was anything but surprising given that last week saw the public release of now-infamous footage from 2005 of Donald Trump’s sexual machismo and – putting it as fairly as possible – inconsiderate seduction techniques. It would not be unfair to state as a matter of fact, however, that the Republican candidate has a history of abusing his power to sexually assault the opposite sex. Trying to counterattack Clinton by talking about and giving a platform to women who are allegedly victims of the same offense perpetrated by Bill Clinton, does not seem to have been effective — the Democratic nominee is now leading by 14% nationally, according to a poll released on Monday. Moreover, a number of prominent Republicans have rescinded their support of Trump.

But the important issue here is not the tape itself, or even Trump’s misogyny. It’s that the mentioned Republicans and heretofore undecided voters had not been appalled by previous statements Trump has made, which are made even more heinous and worrying considering the office the person in question is aspiring to occupy. Apparently it is not against the deeply held beliefs of Republican officials and electorate alike to support a man who has explicitly called perpetrating war crimes “going after [terrorists’] families”, has  aligned his foreign policy positions with the interests of the enemy in the new Cold War the United States got pulled into through no fault of its own, has shown no concern whatsoever about nuclear proliferation, and has promised to not respect the United States’ commitments to its allies. If not constrained by the traditional members within the GOP, President Trump would halt a tradition of American internationalism that has manifested itself since at least James Monroe. It’s always good to be reminded that more than half of the American electorate has some basic human decency and is outraged about the tapes, but at the same time, it is profoundly disturbing that a significant minority within the hegemonic superpower doesn’t know or — perhaps even worse — doesn’t care about the basic facts of the current situation on the world stage, much less acknowledges the responsibility bestowed upon the U.S. before the international community due to its military and economic might, as well as the privilege of prosperity and political freedom.

If there was one utterance from the second debate that had to be recognized as the most important and indicative, it would have almost certainly been the following, conveyed by Trump: “And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor”.

If such a proposal were put forward by any other candidate, we could’ve given the person the benefit of the doubt, but since it’s coming from Donald Trump, one is obliged to acknowledge the authoritarian nature of this suggestion, in light of what we know about Trump’s attitude towards critique. “I love the old days, do you know what they used to do to the guys like that when they were at a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks”, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell you” — said Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas with regards to a protester. “I’ll pay for the legal fees, I promise” — he uttered on another occasion, talking about how he’d protect those who would physically assault people coming to his rallies to display discontent. That Trump has an appetite for violence against dissenters is a safe conclusion to derive.

The de-facto two-party system in the United States was for a long time a solid insurance against electing extremist elements that would jeopardize domestic stability, but apparently even this setup could not prevent the country from succumbing to the rise of authoritarian populist movements across the West on the basis of anxiety, insecurity and both real and perceived grievances of the working class in response to globalisation.

As was recently illustrated in Russia, Turkey and Poland, the constitutional order can be threatened or broken down completely by a party or a leader with a mandate from the people. The American president is, by the constitution and its legal interpretation, one of the most institutionally powerful among liberal democracies, as well as the most powerful in practice because of the power of the American state. Be it due to realization of his incompetence and authoritarianism or disgust at a petty tape from 2005, everyone should be glad that Trump is getting further away from holding the highest office of the land day by day. A challenge to the democratic regime at home or the world order abroad is not exactly what the United States or the international community needs at this moment in history, if ever.

Why Words Won’t Work

By Zak Vescera

The first presidential debate went exactly as we expected it would. The former real-estate tycoon did his usual performance of wild (and debunked) statements about his tax reports, dubious endorsements, and his opponent. The former Secretary of State served her usual fare of awkward laughing, reaching for the minority vote, and statements actually relevant to the election. There were no real shockers, even from an election season characterized by chaos. If this debate was remarkable, it is only in how unequivocally unremarkable it was. Both sides claimed victory, and Hillary was declared a winner by anyone who actually watched the debate.

But does it even matter?

In this election cycle, words have fallen consistently on deaf ears. In the past 4 months, the New Yorker has released nearly 400 articles referencing Donald Trump, with naught a kind word in them; this has done little to harm him in the polls. Expert upon expert has exposed Trump publicly for his lies, whether it’s his claim that Barack Obama founded ISIS (he didn’t), that he, Trump, didn’t support the Iraq War (he did), or that he can’t release his tax returns (he can, and his not doing so makes him the first candidate in the past 72 years to refuse). The New York Times has pledged full-frontal war on Trump, slamming him in a recent editorial page. As of the writing of this piece, that paper has released 74 articles referencing Trump, none of them favourable to his character; but how many former-Trump supporters have you heard swear off their orange-haired demagogue because of a New York Times article? For that matter, have you ever heard of a Trump supporter being converted— ever?

The debate, despite its direct involvement of the two candidates, is organized, publicized, and reviewed by the media. In a typical election, the support and positive review of the media would be the foundation of a successful campaign. This is not a typical election. Trump and his camp aren’t playing ball with the media; they’re instead painting it as intrinsically biased against them, unfair, and dominated entirely by Hillary’s camp. Never mind that multiple traditionally Republican media sources (The Arizona Republic, the Dallas Star) have endorsed Hillary; clearly, they’re corrupt too. Never mind, as well, that many Republicans— among them former President George Bush— have denounced Trump. The Trump camp is like a flopping soccer player or a petulant 4th grader, claiming any game they lose has been systematically rigged against them, because them losing is supposedly impossible. It’s a frightening scale of ego. More than that, it’s a frightening proof of just how permeating Trump’s rhetoric is. A white, educated, male billionaire in American politics has somehow managed to paint himself as an underdog, and the most frightening thing is that it’s working. Trump’s support base is fervently convinced that the media are collectively some kind of James Bond-esque axis of evil, plotting to brainwash the public against Trump. They’re so convicted of this that there’s little evidence to suggest that they will ever change their decision, no matter the evidence or testimony brought before them.

Debates, like well-written articles, are based on well-organized facts. They are fought and won with facts. Trump doesn’t have many of consequence. But debates don’t win elections; votes do. And debates don’t seem to be winning votes. Even if Clinton and Tim Kaine continue to dominate over their Republican homologues, mere truth is not enough to create a significant change in an election dominated by populism. Most voters have already picked their candidate, and few seem willing to explore change. If the debates are to be made relevant, it will only be with a knockout blow; Ronald Reagan’s famous 1980 quip of « are you better off than you were 4 years ago? ». Clinton’s « maestro » domination of H.W Bush in 1992. The candidates landed little jabs and stabs, but nothing resembling the kind of Olympian uppercut needed to make the debate count.