Which president in the Americas has accused news outlet CNN of distorting the truth, manipulating facts, creating fake news, and has denied them interviews? There are three correct answers, Venezuelan Socialist President, Nicolás Maduro, Communist Cuban President, Raúl Castro and U.S. President Donald Trump. The first two have extended their political tenure by denying free press access to government and not allowing CNN and other news outlets to broadcast in their country. This week Trump followed in their footsteps, calling news media the “enemy of the American people.”
Historians and policy makers alike bristle at the unsettling trend of Trump trying to silence critics, including the press. Last week Trump fired Craig Deare, a senior appointee at the National Security Council, for comments critical of the administration. This comes only a few weeks after he removed Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for refusing to put into place his unlawful Muslim ban. The U.S. Ninth District Court ruling outlawing Trump’s Muslim ban has been symbolic of where his campaign rhetoric has clashed with legal and constitutional reality.
Arizona Senior Senator John McCain has been a nearly singular voice of Republican criticism noting that, “this administration is in disarray” during a conference in the Bavarian region of Germany. McCain continued his criticism on the Sunday political talk show Meet the Press where he said, “The first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”
Trump’s disorganization is showing in appointments of senior advisers and cabinet members. In one week, fast food businessman Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration as Labor Secretary after finding a lack of support because of questionable business practices and Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser after it was discovered he lied about contact with the Russian ambassador. While Puzder’s case may be isolated to his individual actions, questions abound regarding Trump administration contact with the Russian government during and after the presidential campaign. The issue continues to beleaguer the president as the call grows from Congress for an investigation into Trump contact with Russia. Even those cabinet members that did squeak through Senate confirmation have become the subject of demonstrations – Education Secretary and advocate for privatization, Betsy DeVos, was blocked from entering a D.C. public school and has become the rallying cry personified for protesting public educators throughout the country.
New presidents typically enjoy President’s Day as their first national holiday as Commander in Chief, celebrating our troops, accomplishments as a country and the men who have served in the capacity over the years. Instead, Donald Trump spent the day hearing about numerous protests across the country and in the United Kingdom rallying against his policies.
President’s Day quickly turned into “Not My President Day” in Chicago where thousands heard speakers condemning the president’s cabinet, immigration policy and Muslim ban. Protestors in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. all joined the national movement. In New York City, thousands gathered near Trump Tower in loud protest – their action has become a weekly occurrence with signs of gaining steam rather than abating. The number of issues on which Trump is being challenged is unprecedented this early in a presidential term. Still, Republicans have largely remained loyal to the president and the party.
Trump’s missteps are not exclusive to domestic policy. At best, his interactions with world leaders have been awkward and at worst a disastrous display – a Washington D.C. tour for the first lady of Japan without a U.S. first lady in lead, flip-flopping support for Taiwanese independence, a planned then cancelled state visit with Mexican President Nieto, and criticism of European countries for accepting Muslim refugees including Belgium, Germany and Sweden. In a Florida campaign event last week, Trump rallied the faithful with a rancorous rant about Muslim immigrants, “If you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems they never thought possible.” Trump kept fact-checkers busy Friday night because nothing happened in Sweden, especially absent in the Swedish news cycle was any Muslim-related attack or terrorism as implied by the president.
Stockholm native, Emma Karlsson, first heard Trump’s remarks about Sweden while traveling in Western Peru. She would have expected to hear of something important happening in her homeland from friends and family but didn’t hear any important news. Like many others, she looked into it and found no credibility to Trump’s terrorism implications, “I think the scariest part of all this isn’t that fake news outlets exist, but rather that one of the most powerful presidents in the world considers them a valid source of information. Unless you have the intention to spread false information yourself, as a state official, you check your facts. And in the case of Sweden, Donald Trump could have started by contacting the Swedish authorities.”
Karlsson is worried about the Trump effect throughout Europe, “… what a lot of us fear the most is how Donald Trump and his nationalist, protectionist policies will affect the local politics in countries in Europe. A Swedish performance poet made a joke about this dark side of globalization a few years back. He called it “nationalists without borders”. It’s sad but true. These reactive forces fuel each other, and they do so through exactly these false news outlets that the American president is now quoting.” The original “news source” was likely an Eastern European blog outlet compensated for filing false news reports to increase advertising revenue.
UK protestors echoed Karlsson’s fears. In at least 50 cities around the United Kingdom, British immigration proponents have taken to the streets to encourage Prime Minister, Teresa May, to cancel a planned state visit with the U.S. President. Their protest called, “One Day Without Us,” could be heard inside parliament where MPs debated whether the state visit should continue as planned. Over 1.8 million UK residents signed the petition to revoke Trump’s invitation.
Organized by the Stop Trump Coalition, the UK protests used social media to rally supporters, “Trump directly threatens steps towards tackling climate change, fighting discrimination, inequality, peace and disarmament… We oppose this state visit to the UK and commit ourselves to one of the biggest demonstrations in British history, to make very clear to our government, and to the world, this is not in our name.” Members of Parliament, religious organizations, and celebrities like Brian Eno and Bianca Jagger have all backed the effort.
Only a month into a new administration, Trump’s first attempt at running a government has created an unprecedented number of demonstrations on an unprecedented number of issues against a president of the United States. How long resistance movements can be sustained and how long Republicans will stay loyal to Trump’s illegal and/or ill-advised policies remains to be seen.