How Trump plays the “hateful” media while dictators play him as a “useful idiot” 

Oct 21, 2017; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State fans wearings masks with the likenesses of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin take in the action between the Boise State Broncos and the Wyoming Cowboys during the second half at Albertsons Stadium. Boise State defeated Wyoming 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Boise State basketball fans wearings masks of Presidents Trump and Putin in Oct. 2017 Photo: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports via IMAGN

The disgraced multiply indicted and documented lying former President Donald Trump in March of this year arrogantly declared that he could get Russian President Vladimir Putin to free imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, if he were elected President in November.

Putin arrested Gershkovich, 32, a U.S. citizen last March while reporting in the city of Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains on the unfounded charges of being caught “red-handed” receiving “secret information,” though the Russian government has yet to show documented evidence. From the time of his arrest, Gershkovich has claimed his innocence.

Gershkovich “will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office,” Trump wrote in a post to his so-called Truth Social platform. “He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

By his words and actions, and while he relishes shining in the media spotlight, Trump has total contempt for the media. He has no concern about the fate of Gershkovich other than to use him as a prop, a stepping stone on his relentless quest to retake the White House.

Trump gloated that “I saved his a**,” referring to his best bud, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after MBS allegedly in October 2019 placed an assassination hit on Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post opinion writer who was often critical of the Saudi autocrat.

Trump asserted that he helped to reduce the public outcry over the murder and gloated “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop,” Trump said.

Whether Putin will release Gershkovich following a potential Trump election is anyone’s guess — a Kremlin spokesperson has denied it — though Trump holds only praise for the Russian strongman.

Hilliary Clinton was on point when, during a Presidential debate with Trump during the 2016 campaign, she pinned the moniker of “Putin’s puppet” onto her opponent. And, indeed, she was correct in that assessment.

For example, Trump encouraged Russia to cyberattack Hillary Clinton’s email server, and when the CIA offered conclusive evidence of Russia’s hacking into the Democratic National Committee, Trump issued continual denials and challenges to the efficiency and accuracy of U.S. intelligence.  

At a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland between Putin and the then-President Trump, Trump rejected all alleged charges of Russian interference in his favor during the election.

Regarding Putin’s actions in Ukraine in his attempt to incorporate the entire country under the Russian sphere, Trump was downright giddy with praise:

“I said, ‘This is genius,’” Trump said on a right-wing podcast. “Putin declared a big portion of … Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper….We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep the peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Putin has clamped down even harder than before the invasion on Russian media. He is jailing reporters and closing media outlets that do not toe the narcissistic autocrat’s propaganda line.

The invasion and war — two concepts that, if said or written in Russiam result in harsh penalties — stand in clear view to the entire world. Putin might believe that he is deceiving the Russian people, but how long can he expect to mislead as a steady stream of body bags of Russian soldiers come home to their final resting places, and the world wide web brings the truth to Russian citizens?

Putin’s Big Lie has been fully exposed as has the Big Lie of his useful idiot, Donald Trump, who continually claims to be the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Useful Idiots

The term “useful idiots” (Russian полезные дураки, tr. polezniye duraki) refers in Russian to a person perceived as a beneficial mouthpiece for policies they do not fully understand, and who are contemptuously exploited by leaders for a goal or cause.

Though often attributed to Vladimir Lenin, controversy surrounds its actual coinage. It seems very clear, however, that Donald J. Trump and his conservative acolytes have and most likely will continue to serve as Vladimir Putin and other demagogues’ (for example, Viktor Orban of Hungary) useful idiots in the scope of international relations (and domestic issues).

They either know nothing, or they do not fully understand foreign policy issues, and quite possibly they do not want to know. In his refusal to take daily intelligence briefings or delve deeply into these issues while in the Oval Office, Trump demonstrated his lack of interest in learning.

Throughout his first campaign to the present day, Donald Trump has energized his base of supporters by consistently blaming and attacking the media generally as well as specific outlets. A very brief sampling includes:

“[Journalists are] among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He continually calls them “liars” whenever they write stories unflattering to him and his administration.

“The failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday. And it was very much discredited, as you know,” he once said. He continues to describe the New York Times as “failing” even though subscriptions for this newspaper of note rose by several million alone since the November 2016 election.

Donald Trump apparently does not understand how his bombastic style of presentation affects his relationships with the media and with his constituents, but he accuses the press of creating a confrontational climate.

“And I’ll tell you what else I see [in the media]. I see tone. You know the word tone,” he said sarcastically. “The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.”  

Trump admitted that he actually likes and has been positively energized by his feud with the media.

“I will be honest. I sort of enjoy this back and forth, and I have all my life, but I have never seen more dishonest people than frankly the political media,” he said.

Trump’s first White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, had the decency to resign after all his blatant lies — like the overestimation of Trump’s inauguration crowd size, Elton John supposedly appearing, and the administration’s lie about not having meetings with Russian diplomats before the inauguration — to his factual blunders — like Hitler never used chemical weapons on his own people — to his obvious abuse and hatred of the White House press corps.

After Spicer’s resignation, we were stuck with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the mean girl we all had to endure in middle school, who continually violated her vow to uphold her Evangelical Christian beliefs by seriously disobeying the 9th Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor,” by lying through her teeth.

She does, though, valiantly adheres to Commandment 5: “Honor you father and your mother,” by following the distorted lead of her hate-filled, hypocritical, and bigoted self-righteous father, Mike Huckabee, Christian minister, former Arkansas governor, and Republican presidential candidate. 

Prior to and throughout his presidential run and into his administration, Donald Trump has waged a frontal assault on the very democratic systems on which our country was founded.

He called into question the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency and then when he lost the 2020 election, started the “Big Lie” by asserting that Joe Biden did not win and complained about the “fairness” of the “rigged” electoral system, the freedom of the press, the reliability of the intelligence community, the intelligence of the electorate, and the independence of the judiciary. 

Steven Miller, Trump’s senior White House policy advisor, accused judges of inappropriately interfering in the President’s executive orders, and he asserted that Trump’s national security decisions “will not be questioned” by the courts. 

At press conferences, Trump often demands reporters to “sit down” when they ask questions he doesn’t like, and he speaks of a “running war” with the media. He has even accused “freedom of the press” as the cause of terrorist bombings in the U.S.

His chief political strategist, former editor of the alt-right mouthpiece Breitbart News, Stephen K. Bannon, severely castigated the press by calling it “the opposition party”: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” argued Bannon. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

In this contentious atmosphere in which Trump continually lambasts and attempts to delegitimize the media, just before the election in October 2016, a video went viral showing two Trump supporters shouting “Lügenpresse” (German for “lying press”).

The German author Reinhold Anton coined the term in 1914 primarily in a foreign context to refer to “enemy propaganda.” The Nazis later popularized Lügenpresse to silence opposition to the regime.

In this regard, Adolph Hitler said:  “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.” And, “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”

Trump (encapsulated in his alt-right, alt-facts, alt-universe), like other authoritarians, uses “Machiavellian” tactics in his singlemindedness, cunning, plotting, and unscrupulous – sometimes vicious — actions in advancing his career, enacting his policies, and enhancing his power. To Trump, the ends certainly justify the means no matter who gets hurt.

Throughout his business career and into his presidency, while simultaneously vilifying the courts, Trump uses lawsuits as a means of intimidation to get his way and to vanquish his opposition. He continually threatens to employ libel laws to sue the “crooked and lying” media. We will most likely see more of these threats if he is reelected emerging from Trump’s Ministry of Propaganda (a.k.a. “White House Office of Communications”).

While the major wealthier media outlets have the privilege and ability to stand up to Trump’s coercion, some of the smaller organizations who run on very tight budgets and depend on volunteer labor have no such privileges. For many of these smaller outlets, even the threat of a harassing lawsuit has resulted in self-censoring.  

Though before the election they may have included some articles dealing with political analysis among their otherwise primary specialized focuses, in my discussions with some leaders of these outlets, they told me under the guarantee of anonymity that they could not “risk” publishing articles that seriously criticized Trump or his administration.

While the United States Constitution created three independent governmental branches, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, and the First Amendment — supplemented and expanded by legislative actions and judicial decisions — granted “freedom of the press,” our “Fourth Estate” stands (or falls) more vulnerable and susceptible than the other three. Our very democracy, nonetheless, depends on a free and independent press. Without it, authoritarianism wins and democracy fails.   

Unfortunately, Trump sees his “running war” with the media as a veritable Game of Thrones in which “to the victor goes the spoils.”

Trump has no compassion for Evan Gershkovich, Jamal Khashoggi, or any journalist whom he refers to as “these hateful people” because in Trump’s own words: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of a**.” 

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