About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic



Monday, March 13, 2017

Trump’s war with the press



How the new US president is bursting the Washington bubble and annoying the nation’s hypocrites

For many decades, American journalists have deluded themselves into the belief that they are unelected representatives of the people. They are convinced that their profession places them above politics as impartial, altruistic, compassionate and moral human beings – with the responsibility to hold elected officials to account. The politicians accept this media self-aggrandizement and play (and prey) on it. They massage the journalists’ inflated egos, giving them access. Yet in many ways the politicians control these journalists and shape their career trajectories.

Journalists, especially the Washington press corps, depend on leaks for headlines. To cultivate good sources who leak to them vital information, journalists have to treat those in power with care. If they annoy them, they would be cut off from the leaks. Without leaks, the journalist would have limited access to breaking news and headlines. Media in America do not reward journalists for not producing headlines. They fire them. Thus, journalist and politician in America indulge in a game of mutual deceit that one is holding the other to account. Yet they are part of the same power structure.

America’s political system is controlled by big money and its iniquities are reproduced by the very structures of representative government and “free” media. The propertied classes fund the universities and think tanks that produce “knowledge”, they own/control the media that regurgitate this “knowledge” and they fund the campaigns of politicians to gain public office and then lobby them to placate their interests.

Thus, the academic in the university, the intellectual in a think tank, the journalist in the media and the politician in congress or White House or in the governor’s mansion are all servants of this largely white, propertied patriarchal order. Its major instrument of power is not force but consent achieved through control of education and ownership/control of the weapons of mass propaganda. This has consolidated the concept of “American values” which, apparently, they claim Trump is violating. But what actually are these values and how has Trump violated them?

Is it Trump who exterminated Native Americans while the nation enjoyed a free press, regular elections and “impartial” courts? Is it Trump who enslaved black people for 90 years after independence, then kept them under apartheid for another 100 years and now keeps millions of them in jails? Is it Trump who introduced torture but called it “enhanced interrogation methods”, kidnapped people from different nations and took them to illegal detention facilities around the world but called it “rendition” or is it him who has been murdering innocents in countries America has been bombing and calling it “collateral damage?

Is it Trump who created the perception that black people are criminals so much so that when asked to imagine a criminal 96% of Americans see a black male? Wasn’t this campaign of vilification done by the “free media” in service of power long before Trump came on the scene? Is it Trump who consistently projected Muslims as terrorists even though since 9/11 more Americans have died at the hands of local right wing, largely white, terrorist organisations than they have died at the hands of jihadists? Who, other than the American media, propagated this narrative?

American journalists have been complicit in these evils of the America Empire. Each time America commits atrocities, they claim that these violations are against American values and, therefore, proof of what America is not. Yet when countries like China or Russia commit similar violations, the same journalists present them as proof of who/what these countries are. This jingoism (we are good and the others are bad or evil) has been the bedrock of American media and academic presentation of others.
In fact Trump is the first American president to have the honesty to admit that America kills people and, therefore, lacks the moral authority to judge Russia and its president, Vladmir Putin. It seems to me that the only crime Trump has committed is to refuse to play by Washington’s rulebook of hypocrisy, self-deception and deceit that has characterised the alliance between media and power in America. He has also refused to massage the inflated egos of the Washington press corps and that is why he is under attack.

The America system has come under increasing stress lately because of the inequities the media has for far too long ignored. While America has sustained economic growth, this has only concentrated income at the top. The income of the median household in America has not increased in real terms since 1973. In fact the income of the top one percent is now equal to the income of the bottom 90%. Most Americans have increased consumption through accumulating debt rather than increasing their income.

This disconnect between the claim that America is a prosperous society with the reality of stagnating real incomes of the poor and middle classes and ever growing indebtedness has led to popular anger. In the absence of a counter ideology to challenge the hegemony of unrestrained free market fundamentalism, people are turning to demagogues – and there comes Trump. Ironically, Trump is the ultimate representative of the wealthy, white patriarchal order that rules America. He, therefore, cannot be a threat to it.

Trump has grown his political brand by articulating a narrow-minded nationalism with overt racism and sexism. But he has done exactly what the most successful American politicians have always done i.e. divert the anger of poor white Americans from the system that has impoverished them by inventing pseudo enemies in Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and immigrants. But this has been the practice of Americans politicians both Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative best illustrated by Ian Lopez in his book, `Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middleclass’.

The difference between Trump and other American politicians is that he is not sophisticated in articulating the prejudices of his society. This form, not the substance of his positions, is what has brought him into conflict with the status quo. He has refused to play by the rulebook of coded racial messages American politicians and media employ when dealing with these issues. He has stripped the American system bare by holding a mirror before it; and America doesn’t like the reflection. I think this is the reason everyone is fighting him.

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amwenda@independent.co.ug
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editor@independent.co.ug


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