Fake News Is Not New News

Everyone is now decrying “fake news.” As if it’s a new phenomenon. I’m a historian; I can testify that fake news is nothing new.

Three decades ago, while working on my doctorate, I was immersed in fake news—from the 1790s. Newspapers of the era were sponsored by either Federalists or the Democrat-Republicans. The “news” in some of those papers was sometimes pure speculation, often made up just to undermine the political opposition. My subject of study was Noah Webster, who was editor of a New York City newspaper at the time. He stood out as one of the few who refused to succumb to the fake news temptation.

Read all the commentary on Abraham Lincoln during his presidency, then tell me that fake news has only popped up in the last campaign. I recall scurrilous stories about Ronald Reagan when he took office. He supposedly hated minorities; he sought to throw old people out in the streets; Nancy was taking taxpayer money to buy china for the White House (that’s “china” as in plates, not the country).

I hate to be the one to break this “news”—human beings lie, cheat, and slander other human beings all the time. It’s something called sin.

The latest example, apparently, is the report of a dossier about Russia that purports to show Donald Trump is pretty much owned by the Russians. Beyond that, there were hints of sexual improprieties. Those were only hints until a liberal organization called Buzzfeed decided to open the sewer.

Is everything in this dossier untrue? We don’t know. Is anything true? We don’t know. Why? Nothing has been substantiated. It was unethical in the extreme for Buzzfeed to feed the controversy without proof of the allegations.

Unfortunately for Trump, he has not done himself any favors by seeming to be almost buddy-buddy with Putin. He has made a number of statements that show admiration for the Russian dictator. He is the one who has created that impression, so if it’s not really how he feels, he needs to correct that impression as soon as possible:

Maybe Putin can do his part to help:

There also has been pushback against Trump in the arts. Some performance artists have decided to use the liberty this country provides to decline to perform at Trump’s inauguration (it’s a good thing they aren’t Christian bakers or photographers, for whom that liberty doesn’t exist). Well, who needs them? I’m sure Trump’s people can find substitutes:

Meryl Streep, at the Golden Globes, where Hollywood pats itself on the back each year, gave a short speech that, while not mentioning Trump by name, made it clear that she had contempt for him. Hollywood wants to think it is somehow the conscience of the nation.

Streep didn’t say anything unusual; these award ceremonies are always politically liberal. It’s just expected. Yet because Trump is going to be the president with the thinnest skin since Andrew Jackson, he couldn’t help himself—he had to immediately tweet that Streep is an “overrated” actress.

Now, while I disagree with everything Streep said, there is no way she is an overrated actress. When I know Streep is in a film, I know at least one thing about that film: the character she portrays will be handled wonderfully. She is an excellent actress.

Trump continues to hit back at anyone who insults him. Streep is only the latest in a long line of individuals and/or organizations to be called overrated, losers, etc. What if even the pope were to give him advice he doesn’t like, advice he considered insulting?

Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

The new Congress is now seated and ready for business. Already the Republicans have moved forward with repealing Obamacare. They put that provision inside a budget bill that doesn’t allow a filibuster. Maybe they are finally learning how to govern.

The Democrats find themselves in an unusual situation after this past election:

Democrat leadership is at a historic low, and prospects for the future are not the greatest:

With electoral devastation all around him, President Obama seems oblivious to the carnage:

He’s giving indications he will not go away quietly. He plans to live in Washington and speak out whenever he thinks the country needs his “wisdom.” It could make for an interesting next four years:

My concerns about a Trump presidency remain. He has made some good choices for his cabinet, seems poised to approve the repeal-and-replace strategy on Obamacare, and I’m grateful for his solidarity with Israel.

The big question for me will always be his character. One never knows what to expect from him. We could be in for a surreal ride:

Yet haven’t the past eight years been a sort of Twilight Zone as well? If Trump follows through and reverses Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders and actually puts a good person on the Supreme Court to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat, some of my concerns will be lessened.

Now, if only he will see that Vladimir Putin is not really a man to be admired . . .

That’s very good advice. Will he take it?

Those Closest to Trump

Last week, I gave an overview of some of Trump’s picks for his cabinet, both the solid ones and ones I consider questionable. I omitted a few (hard to cover them all), but I should mention in passing the choice of Rick Perry for energy secretary (very good) and Elaine Chao for the Department of Transportation.

There are mixed reviews on Chao: she served as secretary of labor previously, where some said she did very well, but there is criticism that choosing the wife of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not exactly a prime example for the drain-the-swamp battle cry.

Many Trump supporters have high hopes for what he will accomplish, for sure:

That would be nice, but I’ll wait to see what kind of results we get.

Some of the jobs closest to Trump don’t require Senate confirmation. They tell you the most about who Trump trusts.

First on that list would be Stephen Bannon, formerly of the Breitbart website. All kinds of opinions have been offered about Bannon. My view of him is somewhere in between those who view him as the devil incarnate and those who see him as the policy savior.

With the lofty title of chief strategist, Bannon will apparently be responsible for guiding Trump in his decisions on what policies to push for and how to get the job done. Bannon is hard-driving, which can be good for such a position, but he also can alienate people very quickly.

My first acquaintance with Bannon was positive. He was one the writers/producers of a video that I use in my course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism.

That video, In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, details Reagan’s decades-long fight against communism and the strategy he used to take down the Soviet Union. It is a powerful video, one that offers a clear corrective to the liberal interpretation of events that led to the Soviet downfall.

The quality of the video is outstanding, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it.

Bannon’s latest position at Breitbart, though, gives me pause. I don’t accept the cry of “racist” that some would level at him. I am concerned, though, that he allowed that site to be a provocative place where the so-called “alt-right” felt comfortable. I want nothing to do with them, as they are far too close to neo-nazism for me.

Bannon is no racist or Nazi, but when you play footsie with those who are, you tarnish yourself. Just so you know, I used to be a contributor to Breitbart’s Big Government site, so I have no axe to grind here. During the election, though, I stopped reading anything from Breitbart, as I saw it devolve into a Trump propaganda mouthpiece, willing to smear other candidates in its devotion to Trump.

I’m definitely wait-and-see with Bannon.

Another controversial appointment is former general Mike Flynn to serve as Trump’s national security advisor. I’ve watched Flynn being interviewed on news programs, and again, I’m a little torn.

Flynn’s positive is that he understands the Islamist threat. His negatives are that he is potentially too emotional, too open to conspiracy theories (like his boss), and perhaps far too friendly to Russia, which I continue to see as a threat to our national security, not an ally.

As with all of Trump’s questionable choices, I simply hope and pray for the best.

Finally, there is the very first decision on personnel that Trump made: installing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. That decision was probably wise, as Trump needs someone who can work well with the Republican party overall.

Priebus, as chair of the Republican National Committee over the past years, has shown himself to be someone who can navigate the perils of politics. I’ve not always been a big fan of his, especially when he seemed to jump on Trump’s train much too soon and shut down any opposition to Trump at the national convention.

Yet if Trump is to succeed working with the party he so recently joined, he needs someone like Priebus to act as a guide.

I believe I’ve covered most of the key players in the upcoming Trump presidency. I hope the good ones can have a positive influence on him and his policies; I hope the questionable ones are either denied confirmation or will not detract too much from what this administration needs to be to reverse the political course of the nation.

Let me add this, though: reversing the political course is not enough; it’s the spiritual/moral foundation that is in need of the greatest repair, and that will never come through politics. Christian influence on the culture remains the top priority.

Trump’s Questionable Picks

My previous post was full of praise for a good number of Trump’s cabinet nominations. Proper analysis, though, requires honest scrutiny of picks who may not be as praiseworthy. There are a few.

It took a while for Trump to make a choice for secretary of state, and everyone was waiting for that crucial decision. The job is always considered one of the most significant, as it bears the responsibility of representing the administration to other countries.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been chosen to be the next secretary of state. That nomination, though, has already come under fire. The biggest concern for many is the close ties Tillerson has developed with Vladimir Putin.

Russia, in the Putin era, has not been America’s friend. It is an ally of Iran, which has lately reconfirmed its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Russia also has been the most visible backer of Syria’s despotic leader Bashar Assad.

With accusations of Russia’s attempted interference in our presidential election (pretty well established, but not necessarily something that influenced the outcome), Tillerson is a controversial pick.

I have that concern as well. Yet my concerns run deeper.

As head of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson led the charge to open the organization not only to boys who claim to be homosexual but to homosexual leaders, thereby changing the entire direction of the Boy Scouts. ExxonMobil also is a prominent donor to Planned Parenthood, apparently unfazed by the 300,000-plus babies who are murdered each year with the help of that organization.

I was gratified to see Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, come out firmly opposed to Tillerson’s nomination. Perkins had visibly lined up the FRC in favor of Trump during the election.

Some will say that those criticisms shouldn’t be part of this process, that the job of secretary of state won’t get Tillerson involved in those issues. That’s not necessarily so. When dealing with other nations, all kinds of policies may be on the table. I don’t want someone with Tillerson’s views representing this nation.

Less controversial, but also questionable, are the nominations of Steve Mnuchin for secretary of the treasury and Wilbur Ross for secretary of commerce.

Mnuchin was Trump’s national finance director for the campaign. He is a lifelong Democrat who spent seventeen years at Goldman Sachs, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.

What’s amazing to me is that for many of Trump’s most fervent backers, Goldman Sachs is the epitome of all evil. Trump himself attacked the firm during the campaign and loved to link Ted Cruz to it because Cruz’s wife, Heidi, used to work there.

Yet I hear crickets now from those who think Goldman Sachs is the focus of evil in the modern world. Trump wants a former Goldman Sachs partner running the treasury department and no one who vilified the firm earlier has publicly criticized the move.

Let’s be honest. Trump never really believed Goldman Sachs was all that bad. He was merely manufacturing outrage to get votes.

What bothers me most about this is the propensity of the most dedicated Trump backers to give him a pass for things they would loudly condemn if others did them. This is close to a cult of personality. Haven’t we had enough of that these past eight years?

Mnuchin may be a fine secretary of the treasury. I will give the benefit of the doubt, but his record certainly bears scrutiny.

Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce designee, is another lifelong Democrat who is an outspoken critic of free trade, which is Trump’s position also. Personally, I favor free trade, so I’m at odds with Trump’s views on that from the start.

As someone who has spent his career buying up and restructuring failing companies, Ross does have vital experience to offer if he truly knows how to bolster commerce in that way. But Trump has another reason for choosing him.

Trump owes Ross a lot. His relationship with Trump goes back decades. Ross helped Trump keep control of his failing Taj Mahal casino in the 1990s by persuading investors not to push out the real estate mogul.

What? Trump, the expert businessman who is great at all he does, needed to be bailed out? Balloon punctured.

Those are the most questionable of Trump’s cabinet picks. All of the ones I’ve highlighted, both positive and negative, over these last two posts, require Senate confirmation. Tillerson, in particular, may face some rough sledding, but Senate Republicans may feel like they have to give Trump what he wants at this point.

There are other appointments Trump has made that don’t have go through the Senate confirmation process. I will deal with those in another post.

Trump’s Good Picks

Now that most of Donald Trump’s nominees for significant positions in his administration have been chosen—most still needing Senate confirmation—I can say I’m pleased with a number of them. My goal today is to highlight the picks that I think are positive, the ones that offer some hope of wise counsel and prudent policies.

jeff-sessionsSen. Jeff Sessions has been tapped to be the next attorney general, the job that requires enforcing federal laws and prosecuting those who break them.

Sessions was the first senator to support Trump in the primaries, so this is his reward. From everything I know about him, he is an excellent choice for this particular task. Some have attempted to paint him as a racist, apparently because he’s a southern senator. That’s getting old, especially for someone who, as attorney general of Alabama, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan.

betsy-devosBetsy DeVos, a proponent of education reform, school choice, and champion of parental rights in education, is slated to be the next secretary of education.

DeVos is a solid pick, someone who understands just how awful the education system has become. From what I can determine, she doesn’t believe the government is the answer for fixing it. At one point, she supported Common Core, but when she realized its true nature, she withdrew her support.

As long as there is an education department (for which there is no constitutional authority), I am glad, at least, that someone with her perspective will be in charge of it. If allowed to follow her beliefs, Christian schools and homeschoolers will have an ally.

It would be great if everyone grasped this truth:

source-of-problems

tom-priceGeorgia congressman Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who has consistently opposed Obamacare and has offered his own substitution for it year after year in Congress, is, hopefully, the next secretary of health and human services.

Price has been chairman of the House Budget Committee, thereby serving as a leader in attempts to control the budget.

With Price at the head of HHS, the Obamacare nightmare might be on its way out—finally.

james-mattisThe job of secretary of defense is crucial right now, given the sad state of our military after eight years of Obama. Handing it over to a general is not a bad idea, and most of the commentary I’ve read and heard about James Mattis confirms for me that he might be the answer.

Mattis’s 41 years as a Marine Corps general is filled with commendations. He led troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and also in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Most recently, he served as head of US Central Command, in charge of all American forces in the Middle East. It would be nice to have someone at defense who understands that region. He co-wrote, with Gen. David Petraeu, the military’s counterinsurgency manual.

Obama fired Mattis from his position at Central Command without even a phone call to him. He had to learn about it from others. The fact that he was at odds with Obama’s military policy makes him even more attractive, frankly.

ben-carsonFor housing and urban development secretary, Trump has picked Ben Carson, someone who knows what it’s like to live in public housing. Many thought Carson might be chosen for HHS instead, given his medical career, but HUD is also understandable.

I like Carson personally (though I have never met him), yet I have been critical of him for his early support of Trump once he (Carson) dropped out of the presidential race. I’ve never really understood what he saw in Trump, especially after the accusations Trump leveled at him during the primaries. But I do want him to succeed in this new position.

The only caveat I have is whether Carson knows how to administer such a large bureaucracy, particularly when he appeared at first to withdraw from consideration from any position, claiming he didn’t feel qualified. Well, we’ll see how it goes. All the best, Dr. Carson. I will pray for you.

john-kellyThe ongoing terrorist threat requires a steady hand at the Department of Homeland Security. From what I’ve gathered, putting former retired Marine general John Kelly in that position gives the nation the steady hand it needs for balancing national security with our basic liberties.

Kelly served as head of US Southern Command. In addition to his experience leading troops overseas, he is known for his strong knowledge of border issues and the drug trade in South and Central America. Sadly, he lost his Marine son to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly knows what it means to suffer personally from the War on Terror.

nikki-haleyI’m glad to see South Carolina governor Nikki Haley chosen to serve as our next ambassador to the United Nations. While she has little experience in international affairs, she has impressed me with her strong conservatism and political acumen. Both qualities are needed in that post to adequately represent the US in the international arena.

scott-pruittWhile I have little knowledge of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice for leading the EPA, I’m heartened by what I’ve read. Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, has been a strong critic of the excesses at the EPA. His detractors will say he is anti-environment, but he appears to be simply anti-extremism on environmental policy. He considers the EPA an all-too-powerful agency pursuing an ideological agenda based on what he considers dubious science. More power to him as he seeks to provide balance in this area.

Those are Trump’s choices that I favor the most. I will follow up in another post with ones that I consider more questionable.

Transitions All Around

The media naturally is glued to Trump Tower during this transition period, as the president-elect figures out who to nominate for various positions in his administration. Less attention has been given to the Democrat transition going on simultaneously. For instance, the Democrats in the House have chosen their “new” leader:

stagnate-again

Not to mention the team being assembled by the Democrats:

dem-transition

College campuses have been hit particularly hard by the election. The transition there has become especially difficult:

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campus-in-lockdown

Campuses are supposed to be where students get educated, where they grapple with facts and interpretation of the facts. They’re not supposed to be playgrounds or childcare facilities for those who can’t grow up:

facts-dont-matter

Hillary Clinton also is having a hard time processing what happened. She’s now blaming “fake news” for her defeat. Let’s be clear: fake news exists, and it exists on both sides. It takes a certain amount of maturity and discernment to ferret out the fake from the true sometimes. But Hillary is not the person who should be complaining about spreading fake stories:

fake-news-epidemic

Donald Trump needs to be careful here, too. He’s tweeting (of course) about how he won a historic victory of landslide proportions. No, he barely won some key states, thereby allowing him to squeak by in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote nationwide. As a historian, I know what amounts to a landslide—FDR in 1932, Reagan in 1984 being prime examples.

Time magazine has just named Trump as its Person of the Year. That’s to be expected, given his surprise win. Yet he needs to learn humility. The cover for Time needs to be more accurate:

not-hillary

That’s probably the main reason he won.

Will Honest Critique Be Allowed?

I’m trying to like Donald Trump. I really am. Why does he insist on making it so difficult?

I’m not the least bit upset that he spoke with the elected leader of Taiwan. We never should have treated that nation the way we have. So, good for him on that count. Taiwan is not Iran or Cuba.

talking-to-taiwan

I’m pleased with a number of his nominations for his administration. If they are allowed to do what they believe, we will be in much better shape than we have been for the last horrendous eight years.

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But I’m still bothered.

I’m bothered that he acts like a bully toward companies that are simply trying to make the best choices given the tax atmosphere on businesses in this nation. Carrier Corp. decided to keep some of its production in Indiana after Trump and Pence talked with the company. Good for those who kept their jobs. Bad for the whole concept of free-market choices as crony capitalism triumphs once again.

Whenever you give a break to one company only, you have picked winners and made other similar companies the losers. That’s government getting in the way and doing what it should not be doing.

And when conservatives who are naturally concerned with such a violation of principle speak up, they are ridiculed for holding to principle. Don’t they know Trump is the savior? Why be so picky?

The conservative critique of what Trump did with Carrier is principled, and not the same as the Democrats’ critique:

incentives

Trump’s thin skin continues to percolate. When a union leader at Carrier dared to criticize Trump for exaggerating the number of jobs saved, that led to a typical Trump tweeting flurry that demeaned the man personally.

As David French so aptly put it, “There is no dignity, no decency, in Trump’s actions.” Even worse are some of his most ardent followers. French continues,

If you’ve been following politics in 2016, you know that if you publicly cross Trump, then Trump fanatics will immediately pile on, trying to threaten and intimidate critics into silence.

And that’s exactly what happened here: Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said.

One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you. He wasn’t sure how these people found his number. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

The president-elect’s words have power, and when he turns that power on ordinary Americans who dare to criticize him, he’s not only abusing his office, he’s creating a target for an avalanche of scorn, vitriol, and intimidation.

But this is of course a pattern with Trump. If someone irritates him, he’ll punch back no matter their status and no matter the consequences. That’s not leadership. It’s bullying. The president-elect needs to grow up and take criticism like a man.

It’s becoming risky to ever criticize Trump. My deep concern remains what it has been all along, that this is becoming practically a cult following that will never allow an honest critique. I hope I’m proven wrong.

donald-trump-4Jonah Goldberg recently commented on this phenomenon, and I think his words deserve a hearing:

My real problem is with all the people who seem to think that any skepticism of Trump’s actions on my part can only be explained by anti-Trump bias or bitterness.

These people seem to think that the most positive, most pro-Trump spin on any new event is not only always correct but obviously so, and any skepticism about the genius of his actions is a sign of illegitimate bias. And that’s crazy.

I’ve praised Trump and I’ve criticized Trump since he was elected. Yes, I’m skeptical, but all politicians deserve skepticism, and Donald Trump more than most. And yet every day I hear from people saying that’s not good enough. “Get on board the Trump Train!” people are still shouting at me.

One must bend every position and principle to his. One must acknowledge that he is smarter than everyone. He has a plan. He’s playing chess to everyone else’s checkers. And if you don’t see that, you’re irrationally biased against him.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the irrational bias here runs the other way. If I say Trump is sometimes right and sometimes wrong and you say “Shut up! He’s a genius in everything!” an objective observer would probably think you’re the biased one.

My goal today is not to denigrate the president-elect, but if you see it that way, I want to caution you: you might be tending toward the irrationality Goldberg mentions.

I’m going to give Trump room to improve. I’m going to hope he develops some maturity when others criticize his actions and decisions. I’m still praying for the best, but I will point out when what he does is less than that.

Why is that wrong?