Gaslighting

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast. This week we watched the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump adjourn, and he is still President. Getting the Republican majority to do anything but acquit him was an impossibility, really, especially since convicting him would have required a super-majority two-thirds vote.

But the senators voting against the head of their party would have maligned them against their caucus, as well as the RNC, a significant campaign funding source that they heavily rely on. The challenge is that although senators took an oath to be impartial in their deliberation, or consideration, during the trial, their bias hung heavily over them.

However, freshman Senator Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, made history just before the vote, when he became the first Senator of the same party as the president to vote against him. Romney’s vote of “guilty” for one of the two counts did not change the end result, but his action was instantly and vocally attacked by Trump supporters. Even members of the Utah state legislature are considering a bill to censure and possibly remove Romney from office as a result.

But I am so proud of Senator Romney for “following the dictates of his conscience,” the phrase he used in his sincere and well-drafted speech, which was a quote from the Eleventh Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney is a member of the church, also known as the Mormons, and so am I. I respect his vote because it aligns with my detailed understanding of the evidence against President Trump, and in addition, I admire his loyalty to God and his commitment to the truth and to facts – even when it means facing extreme scrutiny.

Senator Romney explained his religious convictions in an emotional speech before the Senate. “As a senator-juror,” he said, “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.” Romney’s speech was on the front page of every newspaper in the nation this week because his convictions gave him the courage to adhere to moral principles instead of peer pressure.

I identify with Romney in terms of my personal religious devotion, which comes from a place deep in my heart, the real foundation of which began with my fervent and frequent prayer as a young teenager that developed into a loving and personal relationship with God. Despite personal trials over the years, my commitment to God continues to stand the tests of time.

I am grateful for Senator Romney’s example, which was a surprising turn of events that day. I understand that among the four senators who were on the floor to hear Romney’s speech in person, three of them were moved to tears, including Senators Patrick Leahy, Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy.

Senator Murphy spoke to Chris Hayes on MSNBC later that day, explaining that he had spoken on the floor just before Mitt Romney’s speech. He had put himself in the shoes of his Republican colleagues, saying that he didn’t know if he could do what the Democrats had been asking Republicans to do. But Romney’s speech reconfirmed his faith in the Senate body. “He provided the answer that it is possible for senators of good conscience to put the nation before their partisan interests,” Senator Murphy said.

“… The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfill our duty,” Romney said in his 8-minute speech. “The grave question the Constitution tasked senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did,” Romney confirmed.

President Trump’s attacks on Romney in response have been loud and frequent. At the National Prayer Breakfast the next day, Trump unjustly attacked Romney’s religion. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so,” Trump said.

But Trump has a way of twisting things – Romney did the complete opposite of what Trump suggested – Romney used his faith as justification for doing what he knew was right. And President Trump, who lies all the time to suit his every whim, wouldn’t have a clue what it’s like to even be devoutly religious.

It is this very twisting that I would like to talk about today. The concept is called gaslighting. I will confess that I was not familiar with the term until the Trump administration, but apparently it is widely known among political scientists, psychologists, and, oddly, among more recent veterans who often receive it from their higher-ups. My niece, who served in Afghanistan, recently explained to me that being able to recognize the signs of gaslighting apparently helps vets deal with PTSD.

OK, so the term “gaslighting” comes from an old British movie by the same name about an abusive husband who manipulated his wife by messing with her reality. For example, he would hide a personal item of his and then accuse his wife of misplacing or stealing it. They would have arguments every night where he would blame her for things, and over time, she would get confused, scared and feel so misunderstood that it would bring her to tears all the time. Her community thought she was mentally ill and had compassion on the husband when she would act out in public at his probing, while secretly, she was victim.

Gaslighting is a dishonest method of gaining more power over someone or a group of people.  Trump uses it all of the time to influence his base, and if you aren’t aware of what it is, you should be. An article in “Psychology Today” by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., lists 11 types of gaslighting, and at least half of them apply to President Trump’s tweets and his ad hoc talks to the press. The following are just some gaslighting tactics that Dr. Sarkis talks about, which I have identified as Trump classics.

1. They tell blatant lies.
Once someone tells you a blatant lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. In the case of President Trump, he, or his administration’s narrative, which is then repeated by Republican congressmen, offers – air-quotes – “alternative facts” that seem as preposterous as his actual behavior. Reality is stranger than fiction in the Trump administration, and as a result, people don’t know what is true and what is a big, fat lie.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
President Trump has done this time and time again. When his close relationship with Michael Cohen, his attorney and fixer, became inconvenient, Trump claimed he hardly knew him, even though Cohen has Trump on tape instructing him how to handle the payoff of a former Playboy model.

More recently, Trump has distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani, his new attorney. Trump now claims that Giuliani’s work in the Ukraine may have been related to one of his other clients instead of Trump himself, when we know that the opposite is true. In the summary that Trump released of his July 25 phone conference with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump encourages Zelensky more than once to get in touch with Giuliani, who he praises as his attorney, as well as the former mayor of New York City.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
President Trump’s base is very patriotic. Whether they are more patriotic than other Americans is questionable, but Trump identifies himself as the country itself, which, of course, is a fallacy. He may be narcissistic, yes, but there is another reason he uses this tactic.

For example, last year President Trump said that CNN’s Jim Acosta was –quote– “bad for the country” after CNN sued Trump for taking away his press pass when Acosta challenged the President on his characterization of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico as a –quote– “invasion.” Acosta’s persistence in the press conference simply brought to light that Trump’s focus on the caravan was out of proportion and discriminatory. Therefore, Acosta wasn’t bad for the country – he was bad for Trump.

President Trump has also said that the Mueller investigation and the impeachment hearings were also “bad for the country,” when both are constitutional and legal processes. Although the impeachment hearings may have actually been bad for the country because of the polarization we have experienced as a result, I will argue that it would have been worse for the country if we didn’t proceed with this process.

Even though Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he was impeached by the House, and that will remain. Nevertheless, Trump has been empowered by getting away with the things he has been accused of doing, and without question, we will see him commit more misdeeds, likely more blatantly than ever before. In addition, the actions by Congress have set a precedent that will likely embolden future POTUSes.

OK. Back to Dr. Sarkis’ list.

4. They know confusion weakens people.
Dr. Sarkis says that “gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy.” Gaslighters seek to challenge this stability by getting you to question everything. Then the gaslighter appears to offer you the stability and normalcy that you seek.

President Trump has self-described himself as “the storm.” The famous Photographer Platon (Plă-tŏn) told the story on his “Brief But Spectacular” moment on PBS Newshour about when he photographed President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. He acknowledged this chaos and frenetic energy that always seemed to surround Trump. Platon asked him, “Donald, how do you weather the storm?” He responded, “I am the storm.” Platon came to the realization that the chaos around President Trump is easy for him to navigate because he created it.

You would think that evangelicals, which make up a large portion of President Trump’s base, would oppose his personal misgivings, including former affairs and multiple accusations of sexual assault. But Trump’s base is willing to look the other way when he promises them economic prosperity. However, we’ll see how long people believe Trump’s promises when the economy tanks. His bully tariffs are hurting multiple job sectors, not just abroad but right here in the states, including farmers in the Midwest.

The war with Iran that Trump almost started in January when he ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is another example of how Trump thought he could create a “minor” conflict with Iran and then quickly get things under control and be the hero. We are indebted to Iran for not attacking us more forthrightly than they did, but still, soldiers received head injuries when the U.S. base in Iraq was bombed. And unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, Iran accidentally shot down a commercial aircraft taking off from the Tehran airport, killing all 176 souls on board, including several Iranian and Canadian students returning to college after the holidays. And the conflict did nothing positive for our NATO relations, some who indicated that they were not willing to back us up in the conflict that Trump had created.

OK. Number 5.

5. They project.
It seems like President Trump is constantly dishing out criticisms about other people that best describe himself. During the House impeachment hearings, Trump called Chairman Adam Schiff –quote– “a deranged human being.” Trump said, “I think he grew up with a complex for reasons that are obvious. I think he is a very sick man, and he lies.” Lawrence O’Donnell, on MSNBC, interviewed Psychiatrist Lance Dodes about it, whose professional opinion is that Trump has an early childhood block which leaves him extremely self-centered and unable to have empathy for others.

But President Trump also uses projection to distract us. He creates a media frenzy, such as his beefs in 2018 with LeBron James, Maxine Waters, and the NFL players that knelt for the National Anthem, to draw attention away from himself when an item in the media paints him in a bad light.

6. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
Fake news. Need I say more? If an article paints Trump in a bad light, it is automatically fake news.  And Trump’s use of repetition with the phrase evokes almost a Pavlov-like response by his base, as though they don’t even need to think but just rely on him to tell them what is true and what is fake. Trump also uses repetition with his terms “witch hunt” and “no collusion” for the same effect. Of course, Fox News and other right-wing media play an important role in re-enforcing Trump’s narrative.

I will give it to President Trump: if there is one thing he is good at, it is the smoke-in-mirrors, shady business dealings that he perfected in his real estate business. I just hope people realize it before it is too late.

Too late, you ask? Senator Romney appears to have been fearful of something much worse than the wrath of President Trump. What some Christians call the Rapture – or their transport to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ – may not be such smooth sailing. As the Bible says, “no man knoweth” when Christ will return, but it seems that some evangelicals want to jumpstart it. They believe that supporting Trump and letting him loose to do his chaos is a way that it will come to pass.

A battle described in Ezekiel of the Old Testament between Gog and Magog is a “type,” or a mirrored foreshadowing, of a battle that will occur in what evangelicals call the End Times. Senator Romney and other members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ like me recognize that we are in the Last Days, where we must prepare ourselves temporally and spiritually for the Second Coming. But we don’t want the blood on our hands associated with unleashing such wickedness, and I believe Romney agrees.

As Romney explained in his speech this week, “…[M]y promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside,” he said. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Very well said. The truth about Trump’s deep corruption will be revealed, and it will happen sooner rather than later. Too many people were in on the conspiracy regarding the Ukraine for it to stay in the shadows. Further, Trump is guaranteed to do something like this again. Will we be among the centurions like Senator Romney and finally be able to say, enough is enough?

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References
Roche, Lisa Riley and Katie McKellar. “Romney returns to Utah to explain vote as lawmakers talk censure of senator,” Deseret News, February 6, 2020. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/2/6/21126433/mitt-romney-president-trump-utah-recall-censure-recall-vote-convict

ChurchofJesusChrist.org. “Article of Faith 11,” Gospel Media. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/meme-articles-faith-eleventh-1567827?lang=eng

The New York Times. “Full Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Speech Announcing Vote to Convict Trump.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html

Hayes, Chris. “‘That speech will stand up for centuries:’ Sen. Murphy on Romney’s condemnation of Trump.” All In, MSNBC, February 5, 2020. https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/-that-speech-will-stand-up-for-centuries-sen-murphy-on-romney-s-condemnation-of-trump-78201413965

Sarkis, Stephanie A. “11 Warning signs of gaslighting: Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power, and it works too well.” Psychology Today, January 22, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

Cuomo, Chris; Kara Scannell; and Eli Watkins. “Exclusive: CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen tape.” CNN, July 25, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/politics/michael-cohen-donald-trump-tape/index.html

Westwood, Sarah and Maegan Vasquez. “Trump slams Democrats and Romney at prayer breakfast as Pelosi looks on,” CNN, February 6, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/06/politics/donald-trump-national-prayer-breakfast-nancy-pelosi-impeachment/index.html

Arciga, Julia. “Trump denies Giuliani acted on his behalf in Ukaine: ‘Rudy has other clients,’” The Daily Beast, November 26, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-denies-giuliani-acted-on-his-behalf-in-ukraine-rudy-has-other-clients

NBC News. “Read Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president: full text,” September 25, 2019.  https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/read-full-transcript-trump-s-conversation-ukraine-s-president-n1058581

Gonzales, Richard. “White House revokes press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta,” NPR, November 7, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/07/665497382/white-house-revokes-press-pass-of-cnns-jim-acosta

Steinbuch, Yaron. “Rudy Giuliani: Mueller probe was ‘bad’ for the country,” New York Post, March 25, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/03/25/rudy-giuliani-mueller-probe-was-bad-for-the-country/

NBC News. “Trump claims an impeachment inquiry would be bad for the country,” September 24, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/video/trump-claims-an-impeachment-inquiry-would-be-bad-for-the-country-69785157629

Woodruff, Judy. “How photographer Platon gets up close to capture a person’s truth,” Brief But Spectacular, PBS Newshour, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/211981/platon

Fassihi, Farnaz. “Anatomy of a Lie: How Iran Covered Up the Downing of an Airliner,” The New York Times, January 26, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/world/middleeast/iran-plane-crash-coverup.html

O’Donnell, Lawrence. “Psychiatrist: Trump’s project on Chairman Schiff is ‘primitive,” The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” MSNBC, December 3, 2019. https://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/psychiatrist-trump-s-projection-on-chairman-schiff-is-primitive-74462277699

Schwartz, Nick. “10 times LeBron James stood up to Donald Trump,” USA Today, August 4, 2018. https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/08/10-times-lebron-james-stood-up-to-donald-trump

Wagner, John and Avi Selk. “‘Be careful what you wish for Max!’ Trump takes aim at Waters after she calls for public harassment of his Cabinet,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/06/25/democratic-congresswoman-maxine-waters-calls-for-harassment-of-trump-officials/

Walsh, Kelsey. “Trump blasts NFL players for kneeling during anthem: ‘Stand proudly …. Or be suspended without pay,’” ABC News, August 10, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-blasts-nfl-players-kneeling-national-anthem-suspended/story?id=57131857

Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Copyright 2013 by Intellectual Reserve. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/nt/matt/24?lang=eng

Mencimer, Stephanie. “Evangelicals Love Donald Trump for Many Reasons, but One of them Is Especially Terrifying,” Mother Jones, January 23, 2020. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/01/evangelicals-are-anticipating-the-end-of-the-world-and-trump-is-listening/

Critical Request: Pay Attention to the News

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. Recently, I have been watching the first season of the award-winning TV drama “Line of Separation” on PBS. Also called “Tannbach,” it is a German mini-series that first aired in 2015, and I recommend it – if you can handle watching subtitles. The series is a marvelous account of how Germany transitioned from Hitler’s fascism to a Russian-owned, communist state at the end of World War II.

The story, which follows the format of Russian literature greats such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, takes place in a rural town located on the east side of what had become the border between East and West Germany. Traditionally comprised of land-owning nobles who employed local peasants, the town’s nobles were stripped of their land deeds by Russian communists that had taken control. The Russians then separated the land into smaller plots and awarded it to the peasants.

In addition, many of the landowners were put in prison for being members of the Nazi party. These wealthy nobles were the loyalists who had enabled Hitler’s Reich. When they joined the Nazis in the mid-1930s, most could not comprehend the violence and human rights abuses that would ensue, and many did not know until the end of the war of the fate of the Jews, who had been forced onto trains out of their communities and killed in concentration camps. Some, upon realization of the truth, sadly ended their lives when they realized the fate of their beloved country, a destruction that would take generations to heal.

I do not consider myself to be an alarmist – and I understand the gravity of comparing modern-day leaders to the Nazis and communist Russia – but I am stunned to see the similarities between the conflict in “Line of Separation” and our current national affairs in the United States of America. I, for one, agree with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who refers to the holding facilities on our border with Mexico as concentration camps.

AOC has been criticized by some for saying it, because of the genocide component experienced by the Jews in World War II concentration camps. Gratefully, the present operations at the Mexican border have not come to that, but people simply seeking asylum in the U.S., and who have not broken any laws, have been separated from their children and placed behind chain link fences in terribly overcrowded, stiflingly hot, inhumane conditions. Many have inadequate food and water and have suffered greatly.

These people in U.S. custody have been dying of disease, neglect and malnutrition on our watch. The government didn’t initially establish a tracking system to use when parents and children are separated, and only some have been able to reunite once the parents are deported. I am not able to sufficiently express my horror and outrage about the situation on the border. It has not gotten as much press attention for several months, but we know conditions there are still acute with hardship. These stories are not fun to dwell on, but what is happening to some should affect us all, especially when it is being done in the name of our country using taxpayer dollars. As they say, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

However, just recently, their story returned to the media when we learned – again – of extreme white nationalism and racism in the Trump administration. Several hundred emails sent from Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller to Breitbart, an ultra-conservative news network, were leaked from a former Breitbart employee. In the emails, Miller offered hundreds of suggestions for adding white nationalist and racist content. Stephen Miller is credited with much of the administration’s current immigration policy, and as such, many democratic congressmen and women feel Miller’s racism is a conflict of interest, and have called for his resignation.

In college, I studied books about the holocaust like “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom and “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and I saw Spielberg’s “Shindler’s List.” I also studied Russian literature, much of which discusses the Russian revolution in the mid-1800s to early 1900s, including “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy and a play called “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov. Those works testify of the intense upheaval that these revolutions caused, including the break-up of families and the loss of whole cultures and dialects. Unfortunately, we know that many countries have experienced similar revolutions in the 20th century, such as China, North Korea, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Venezuela – to name a few.

The United States has been an inspiration to those who do not enjoy our freedoms. We are “the city on a hill” and “an ensign to the nations,” as referenced in the Bible. But do we as citizens even know what that means? I get emotional at the part in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” when Gandalf tasks Pippin to light the beacon in the city of Minas Tirith in Gondor. It acts as a distress signal to teams stationed on mountaintops, which light their beacons in a chain that extends for miles upon miles.

The distress call is successful is reaching Rohan, Gondor’s sister country. But so much could have gone wrong, as there are so many moving parts in the process. Each mountain station plays a critical role in transmitting the alert until it could be successfully received. Each station had to be constantly at the ready with these gigantic wood piles prepared with fuel properly distributed in order to respond within a moment’s notice. The exchange is such an act of solidarity, of organization and order. That’s the way it is supposed to be, despite the lack of leadership by the maligned Denethor, Gondor’s temporary ruler until the king could return.

Recently we watched as President Trump abruptly removed support for the Kurds in Syria. He did so upon the request of Erdogan, the president of Turkey, who intended to attack our partners, the Kurds, a minority religious group that differed from them in ideology. The Kurds had been helping us fight ISIS as boots on the ground for the last several years. The effort was critical to our national security after ISIS had caused multiple terrorist attacks on American soil and had threatened many others. The Kurds were loyal to our cause and fought valiantly, so leaving them behind so abruptly was a shocking turn of events for much of our military.

U.S. troops were initially instructed to leave immediately, and upon such short notice, they were forced to bomb our U.S. base there in order to prevent it from getting into the hands of the Turks, Syrians, ISIS or other threats. Many of our ISIS detainees were also able to escape in the chaos. We know that Trump reversed course and maintained troops in Syria anyway – but only to protect the oil reserves there and to claim them as property of the United States. We basically kicked the Kurds to the curb, and many are asking how this will affect future relations with our allies in places like Afghanistan or Iraq. Will they even trust us to be good as our word?

President Trump made a spontaneous, rash decision to remove these troops, and he did so without seeking counsel from the State Department or leaders at the Pentagon. He did not consider the delicate arrangement we had there or the consequences that an abrupt action could present. For example, without the U.S. there, Hezbollah, a militant group based in Iran, has been able to establish a base in Syria, the consequences of which remain to be seen. But more importantly, the Kurds were forced to move somewhere else. And we know that, for their protection against the Turks, they have now been forced to ally with Syria’s leadership, which has been the Kurds’ enemy in a civil war for generations.

Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, was likely the culprit of the illegal use of sarin gas in a chemical attack upon its own people, and the death toll was estimated in the thousands. Sarin is highly poisonous, and exposure to it results in a terrible, painful death. From a U.N. investigation, it is believed that Bashar al-Assad, who is allied with Russia, directed contracted militants to carry out the attack with the intent of blaming their opposition for it.

An additional complication to all of this is that Turkey appears to be allied with Russia also, despite its NATO membership. So Russia is aligned with both sides of this fight, not to mention their alliance with Iran, as well, which gives them tremendous control of the area now. And many are asking, how did moving the troops out of Syria benefit the United States at all? Didn’t our adversaries benefit more?

So why do we even care about things happening half a world away and that are so complicated? I will reiterate that we got in this fight because ISIS was causing terrorist attacks on American soil, and as such, they continued to be a national security threat.

President Trump chalked up his action of removing U.S. troops in Syria to that of fulfilling a campaign promise, but even Republicans have been in shock. They agree that Trump should have handled the situation more delicately in order to achieve better diplomatic results. Efforts after the fact by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to clean up the mess have been completely ineffective – the five-day cease-fire that they supposedly established with Turkey didn’t even last one day, and more Kurds have been killed as a result. Some critics have identified Trump’s action in Syria as additional evidence that he, as well, is likely personally aligned with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Somehow the media has stopped paying as much attention to what is going on in Syria now that the House’s impeachment investigation has gone full-throttle, but things are still a mess there – just like on the Mexican border – and it is just one more example of Trump’s many ill-advised and haphazard actions during his Presidency. Trump’s dealings in the Ukraine is presently the subject of the impeachment investigation. But the results of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference of the 2016 presidential election still beg to be acted upon. And certain House committees likely still have plans to continue their inquiries regarding Trump’s knowledge and involvement in Russia’s interference, not only in 2016, but in the 2020 election, as well. So Russia continues to be an ongoing threat to one of our most sacred democratic functions – the voting of our citizens. And just recently, the British parliament released a report detailing Russia’s meddling in their 2018 election that decided on Brexit, or the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

Can you can see why I pay so much attention to the news right now? There is so much happening, and I am particularly concerned with how these bits of news connect with other previously reported events. To keep track of things, I have been tempted to make a war board on my living room wall, complete with lines of string and thumbtacks, but the effort would be futile. We will spend the next century analyzing things that are happening before our eyes right now, and in 40 years, we will be the witnesses from this time who will tell the next generations what we experienced.

In the movie “The Post,” Meryl Streep’s character Katharine Graham, is the publisher of “The Washington Post” during its release and analysis of the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s. She says, “You know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first draft of history.”  The media, often referred to as the fourth branch of government, plays an important role in documenting history. They don’t always get it right the first time, but they often do, and in that capacity, they hold people accountable by shining light on their acts.

The consequences surrounding the release and analysis of the Pentagon Papers by the news media is certainly included in most college curriculum in the communications field. The associated Supreme Court decision in The New York Times vs. the United States was a landmark decision that set the course for journalism in the United States regarding what latitude is given for freedom of the press. Yes, it is mentioned in the First Amendment of the Constitution, but this Supreme Courts decision permitted journalists to be critical of the United States’ government.

In one of my favorite quotes ever, Justice Hugo Black states the following in his concurring opinion in the decision: “The founding fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

However, some conservatives disagree with the Court’s findings and believe that our government leaders should be afforded certain protections from the media, and they consider such as an act of patriotism. But should our leaders be given such blind obedience when, more than ever, the media is legitimately unearthing serious corruption? And why is it fair for conservatives to support investigations of liberal politicians and not of conservative ones?

For example, Republican congressmen and women are doing everything they can to discredit the Ukraine investigation and Impeachment hearings, even though Congress is following much the same format as established by former Speaker of the House John Boehner. The format was used in the very partisan Benghazi investigation, where Hillary Clinton was believed – but was never proven – to have helped facilitate the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of having a double standard regarding whether they credit or discredit another politician’s statements or platform. Often a congressman will base their opinion on what side of the aisle that the politician sits, and not on anything related to truth versus falsehood. Instead of honesty and integrity, politicians stick to their party narrative in fear that any deviation could leave them without monetary support in the next election.

Party loyalty among Republicans, in particular, has gotten very extreme during the Trump administration. But is maintaining party control worth the health of our country and global status? With President Trump as the current head of the Republican party, congressmen are practically being held hostage with the charge to look past blatant evidence of Trump’s misgivings and inadequacies, all in the name of appearing patriotic.

It is almost a given that President Trump will be impeached by the Democrat-managed House of Representatives, and in quick order – likely before Christmas. But once it is passed to the Republican-controlled Senate for the trial, will Republicans, despite ample evidence of guilt, continue to follow blindly and absolve Trump of his constitutional offenses?

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References:
“Line of Separation,” PBS. German mini-series, also known as Tannbach, 2015-2018.

All In with Chris Hayes, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Guest: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Merriam-Webster.com. “Concentration Camp, definition.”

Narea, Nicole. “Stephen Miller promoted white supremacist, anti-immigrant articles in private emails to Breitbart,” Vox.com.

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. “Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds,” The New York Times, July 2, 2019.

Ten Boom, Corrie, Sherrill, Elizabeth and John Sherrill. “The Hiding Place,” copyright 1971 and 1984.

Wiesel, Elie and Wiesel, Marion. “Night.” 1956.

“Shindler’s List,” directed by Steven Spielberg, 1994.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” 1886.

Chekhov, Anton. “The Cherry Orchard.” 1904.

“The Bible, King James Version,” specifically:
            “the city on a hill” – Matthew 5:14
            “an ensign to the nations” – Isaiah 5:26 and Isaiah11:12

Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King,” Book 5, Ch. 1. 1955.

Kristian, Bonnie. “Does Trump really want to get us out of Syria? Apparently, not so much.” Op-ed, USA Today, Nov. 14, 2019.

Gilsinan, Kathy. “The U.S. Moves Out, and Turkey Moves In,” The Atlantic, October 9, 2019.

DeYoung, Karen, Cunningham, Erin and Fahim, Kareem. “Trump declares victory in northeastern Syria as Russian troops move in,” The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 2019.

“The Post,” directed by Steven Spielberg. 2017.

New York Times v. United States, The Supreme Court, Concurrence, Justice Hugo Black.

Navigating the News Media

in the Age of Trump

“I believe the manipulation of the news media plays a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.”

Hello, and welcome to the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. My name is Emily Olsen, and – I feel like this is kind of like a session of Alcoholics Anonymous here, but I will confess – have an addiction to the news.

Now, I have a degree in journalism and I have training and experience in writing and reporting. I was trained to interpret the news, to identify accurate sources and to recognize a bias or slant. I have always been interested in the news – more so than your average person, but ever since 2016, I have made it my mission to absorb as much national news as possible and, in particular, to observe a press conference or congressional hearing in the raw – before a cable news channel has developed summary sound bites or added their spin to what has occurred. My goal by keeping up with the day-to-day news has been to maintain an informed perspective on what is happening in Washington D.C. right now.

But, especially in the last month or so, the frequent, major breaking news has just been overwhelming. Huge things are happening before our eyes every day, and sometimes every hour – very consequential things that are changing our world, literally. I mean, like a lot of people, I have been dealing with all kinds of anxiety. I’ve had friends and co-workers tell me to stop watching, that it’s not good for me and that I should focus my attention instead on things that give me peace, etc, etc.

But if I stop watching, the news won’t just go away. Instead, the news will continue to get worse and worse and I will just be – uninformed. After all, what you don’t know can hurt you and I believe it is my civic duty to witness and understand what our national leaders are doing. In addition, as a trained journalist, I believe that I should share my observations and help my friends and family understand my informed perspectives. Now, more than ever, I believe that people are being lied to and taken advantage of because they may not be keeping up with the news. We are getting hit with some tremendous political techniques right now, especially from the Right, and I worry very much that those I love are relying on wolves in sheep’s clothing to tell them how to interpret the news and what to think.

I will admit, talking about politics and other controversial topics – in the podcast format for all to hear – is scary to me, but I am compelled to do so. In time, I hope to develop a better sound booth and equipment, but what I have right now is an outpouring of thoughts and ideas that I need to put out there.

I hope that the Liberty and Justice For All podcast can be the start of a respectful conversation among friends from throughout the liberal-conservative spectrum. What is happening in the White House right now is going way past partisan politics, and I support Nancy Pelosi’s viewpoint, that the impeachment process currently underway and what Congress is fighting against, will very much shape the future of our democracy.  In listening to this podcast, I simply ask that you keep an open mind and have a desire to know the truth. I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything, but I hope you can learn a few things along the way and develop your own informed opinions about the news.

Most of us are not exactly – taught in school – how to interpret the news, and I actually think it should be a section in a civics, social studies or English class because it is such an important part of how we understand the world. I mean, if you are relying on links from Facebook to get your news, then I can imagine how confused you must be right now. A lot of people ignore national news completely because they can’t distinguish between what is true and – what isn’t. Now, I don’t have a beef with Facebook – I actually rely on them for many things – but their ability to publish accurate news is presently – questionable – at best. If you are going to get your news from Facebook, however, I encourage you to also choose at least two other reliable news sources to check in with on a regular basis. I give kudos to Twitter for banning | political ads and encourage Facebook to do the same, as neither are able to monitor their accuracy.

In this podcast, I want you to know who I am, where I get my news from, and why I trust my news sources. I want to explain some journalism concepts to you, and I also want to share my personal ethics and perspectives that influence my opinion-making processes.

I will begin by telling you | that I was raised in a very conservative, religious family. The first time I became conflicted about politics was when I attended high school in central California in the early 1990s. My parents were avid Rush Limbaugh fans, but my high school journalism teacher, who is still my good friend, was very left-leaning in everything from social issues to the environment. One day after school I sincerely asked her how she could be a liberal and be so nice. That was the start of a valuable conversation. She explained to me that generally, at their core, conservatives and liberals both have the same end goals of improving society, but they just have different methods of reaching those goals.

I was a registered Republican until 2017 when I changed to the dark side and became more politically active with my husband on a local basis. I will go into this transition in more detail in a future podcast.

But I have observed that liberal-minded people are very compassionate, sympathetic, and accepting of everyone despite their race, religion, sexual preference or socio-economic status. Although conservatives may also have some of those qualities, they are more focused politically on preserving their own rights, property and way of life. Both perspectives are needed in our society, but liberals and conservatives can only co-exist if they can provide a balance, a Yin and Yang, to keep Washington politics in check.

Unfortunately, both sides have lost a mutual respect for one another. There has always been conflict between them, but there has been a notable deterioration over the last couple of decades. I believe that the manipulation of the news media has played a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.

Actually, biased news is nothing new in our country. It was rampant prior to and during the Civil War – newspapers published what they wanted their constituents to believe. One newspaper would publish something, and a newspaper across town would publish a completely opposite perspective. Unfortunately, we seem to be right back to this tradition, although much has happened in the last 150 years to establish modern reporting techniques, such as requiring that articles cite multiple, credible sources.

You know, most people don’t even notice if there are any sources at all in an article or news broadcast – you know, attribution, quotes, citations? Instead people seem to base an article’s credibility on whether it has included the appropriate buzz words. We seem to have forgotten that the news should be based on facts – you know, like truth-telling.

When you read an article on the internet, do you know if they have cited enough sources? Do you know how to tell if a source is reliable and credible? Actually, for the most part, we really don’t. We have to trust the reporter and publication to do that work for us. Whether we trust them is based on the reputation of a publication, how long it has been in operation and whether they’ve won any awards. However, there are some clues we can look for to help us discern accuracy for ourselves.

Were you aware that news publications, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, go through several steps to vet an article’s accuracy? They have a separate team to verify facts, and an editor can pull an article at any stage of the editing process if it is missing information or needs clarification.

News professionals go through tedious methods to assess credibility, and even then, an article’s accuracy is only as good as its source material. But I have a glass half-full mentality and believe that professional journalists do their very best to report the truth and have a strong desire to accurately inform the public. I rely on news publications that go through this tedious vetting process, something that has become more and more challenging for them as we experience breaking news at an ever-increasing rate. And I admire those that make sincere corrections when they have published something that was inaccurate.

Oh – did you think that the reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post | evilly conspire to develop wild theories to mislead the public and discredit conservative elected officials? Have you accepted that well-established main-stream publications like these are simply fake news at face value because that has been ingrained in you by Trump supporters? Have you considered that conservative elected officials may have an ulterior motive to keep you in the dark and to control your interpretation of the news? After all, it is in their best interest to keep Trump in office in order to satisfy their corporate campaign donors and super PACs. Unfortunately, the news media is not making it easy for us to know what is really going on in Washington and elsewhere, and that means it is more work for us to decipher what is true and what is the real fake news.

As a journalist, I will tell you that it’s imperative for you to trust publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post – now more than ever. I trust their vetting processes, and I believe they genuinely want to get the news correct, despite how conservative media discredit them. At minimum, choose news sources that distinguish between the news and commentary. Commentary is editorializing and adding opinion based on a political perspective or other viewpoint. Broadcast news stations like to intertwine commentary with the news because it provides entertainment value – it sucks you in – and that improves their ratings, which ultimately pays their bills.

Like the Nirvana song, “Here we are now, entertain us!” I think it is good to take a step back and ask yourself if you simply want to be entertained by the news or if you really want to know what is going on. However, a lot of us want to be entertained more than informed, and if that gets people to watch the news, so be it. I accept that commentary alongside news is a necessary evil. I will note that commentary – is not always a bad thing, but you need to know the difference between it and the news.

The news is simply a collection of facts and events that have occurred, and commentary provides a spin or opinion on that news. Commentary is different than news analysis, where a cable news station like MSNBC or CNN will ask an expert in a relevant field, or a reporter who has been reporting on a particular topic, to provide additional information or perspective based on their extended knowledge of that topic. But be aware that experts, including me, often mix news analysis and commentary. I like to know what experts think and I often value their opinions, but I don’t always agree with everything I hear. That is my right, as it is yours.

But there is much more we need to know to better interpret the news these days. Unfortunately, we need to know how to identify propaganda techniques including gaslighting, which I will talk about in the next episode of Liberty and Justice For All.

It is amazing how differently my family understands news events than I do. They get an entirely different rendition of the news because they consume conservative media including Fox News, and I watch MSNBC and CNN. Now, I am here to tell you that there are no such things as alternative facts, as Kelly Ann Conway would have you believe. Truth is universal even in politics. It’s not just from the spin that they give – conservative media and conservative politicians alike are actually spreading misinformation – lies and half-truths – all in the name of protecting President Trump. How is it possible that they could pull the wool over our eyes so much? It’s because money and power are at stake.

Conservatives, just as liberals and everyone in between – want to give homage to the President of the United States. But I have observed that Trump’s base follow him to the extreme as though he were a religious leader. But I choose to separate church and state. My patriotism sides with the Constitution and with all of the people of this great nation, not just 33%.

More of us need to pay attention to the real news before it’s too late. Gratefully, I believe that people are waking up to the realities of the Trump administration. That gives me courage to pursue this podcast now. I am empowered by the fact that Congress is now pursuing an impeachment investigation into President Trump’s dealings with the Ukraine. I believe that the Democrats’ taking Virginia’s state congress and the close results in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race this month are also an indication that more and more people are tired of the drama and the corruption.

President Trump is wreaking havoc on this country. If you don’t believe me, just look at his White House and cabinet, which have experienced an 80% turnover rate. Some of the White House staff stay because they feel an obligation to quietly keep this country running amidst the chaos there, but it is becoming more and more difficult for them when honest, loyal ambassadors are getting in the way of Trump’s ulterior, self-serving agendas. Trump is impossible to work for because he will turn on anyone who becomes an obstacle to his rhetoric, and doesn’t care about existing laws or statutes unless they serve him personally. And he lies constantly and makes others lie for him. Some of his closest associates have gone to prison for him, and it is my belief that others will follow, unfortunately.

We should want our President to be truthful, but I know that many of us have become jaded as we see even our favorite politicians be accused of conflicts of interest or personal indiscretions. We have come to think that no one is Washington is honest anymore, but I will tell you that Trump is worse than you can even imagine. He makes even Nixon look like a saint compared to what he’s involved with. I mean, at least Nixon had a conscience and resigned when all was said and done.

I am old enough to remember 9/11. The world was a different place before Al-Qaeda operatives hi-jacked four different commercial jets simultaneously. As we know, two of those jets were crashed into the twin towers of the former Trade Center in New York City. One was crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth, destined for the White House, was stopped by brave and patriotic passengers who gave their lives to protect | what many view as a sacred edifice. The world was a different place before 9/11, and it has been said that our intelligence sources didn’t see it coming because we lacked the imagination to believe that there are men wicked enough to do such a thing.

Perhaps Trump followers lack the imagination to believe that President Trump could really be as corrupt as mainstream media depict. But history is full of wicked leaders whose followers believed they were Saviors.

How can we tell the difference between those qualified to lead, who desire to protect, versus those who would do us harm? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Beware of leaders who just seek to represent their base instead of all of America.
  2. Beware of leaders who denigrate women and men, are racist, and/or discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. By their fruits ye shall know them. No matter what your personal religious views are regarding these things, the Constitution protects all of these groups, and we, and our leaders, should treat them as our equals.
  3. Beware of leaders who seek to please wealthy donors – to the extent that they pass legislation or develop policies in favor of their donors – especially to the detriment of others.
  4. Beware of leaders who are cruel to immigrants and the poor.

I am sure there are other pointers, but these four will get us started. The United States of America was founded on universal Christian principles such as the golden rule, loving thy neighbor, balanced stewardship of this world and its resources, and taking care of the poor, sick or elderly. I have a lot to say about how the Republican Party has strayed from its fundamental associations with these Christian principles, and how these principles, which are my personal values, have come to align more with the democrats. Look for future episodes of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast.

————
The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References:
Ferris, Sarah and Heather Caygle. “Pelosi offers somber reflection on impeachment, with one eye on her agenda,” Politico.com, Nov. 13, 2019.

Feiner, Lauren. “Twitter bans political ads after Facebook refused to do so,” CNBC.com, Oct. 30, 2019.

MacKowski, Chris. “Outraged about “media bias?” Read a Civil War newspaper,” Emerging Civil War blog, Aug. 29, 2017.

“Mistakes, Misinformation and Media Accuracy and Balance,” Newspaper in Education: A Classroom Resource, The Washington Post. 2015

Loker, Kevin. “Confusion about what’s news and what’s opinion is a big problem, but journalists can help solve it,” American Press Institute. Sep. 19, 2018.

Calvert, Scott and Jon Kamp. “Election results 2019: Democrats Take Control of Virginia Legislature,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 6, 2019.

The 9/11 Commission Report. 2004.