The Daily Northwestern

Bannister: Donald Trump’s campaign against American civil society threatens the very institutions that hold the presidency accountable

Edmund Bannister, Columnist

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The American experiment would not be possible without individuals who strive to understand our society through research, analysis and a careful consideration of nuance and detail. Although everyone has their personal biases, objective moderators endeavor to set aside their leanings in pursuit of the truth. Professionals such as journalists, academics and intelligence analysts work to establish and inform people, from those in the highest level of public office to regular citizens, on what is fact and what is fiction. Without them, we would be blind and lack all ability to make informed decisions, whether at the ballot box or in the Situation Room.

As a student at an institution whose motto is Latin for “whatsoever things are true,” I find our president-elect’s persistent refusal to acknowledge truths established by fact-finding organizations deeply troubling. After the nation’s intelligence agencies concluded in a damning report that Russia’s targeted hacking and media campaign was designed to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability,” Donald Trump reflexively dismissed the findings. This is merely his latest attempt to undermine the people and institutions designed to separate fact from propaganda.

The president-elect tweeted that the “only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!” Mr. Trump could have pledged to take a look at these disturbing revelations to make the best judgement for our nation’s security. Instead, Trump — in typical fashion — saw nothing more than another political dragon to slay.

In the spirit of fairness, most politicians exaggerate or bend the truth for political purposes. A political spokesperson or a candidate’s Twitter account should never be taken at face value. But the thing that makes Trump different from other politicians is that when reliable and highly-respected sources like the CIA and FBI make a public statement that he finds disadvantageous, he doesn’t even pause to acknowledge the information as credible. He simply denies the conclusion, without nuance or equivocation, and undermines the credibility of those who reached it.

Trump is a media innovator, albeit a sinister one, because he has realized the best way to make political propaganda effective is to slander and cast doubt on those who contradict him. Though both he and Hillary Clinton released biased, inaccurate or self-serving statements during the recent presidential campaign, only he attacked the journalistic institutions that hold candidates accountable.

Trump’s persistent attacks on “the media” are meant to alienate his supporters from news sources that might contradict his oft-incorrect version of the truth. His strategy carves out a realm in which some voters are more likely to believe the news they read on his Twitter account than in a newspaper.

This strategy undermines democracy and moves this country closer to a point where leaders of the state control information and where civic society no longer possesses independent legitimacy. Academic institutions like NU are an integral part of this civic society. The professors who work here spend their lives doing research in the hope of uncovering truth. But what purpose will their research serve if the general public holds the words of tinpot, wannabe despots in higher regard than theirs?

Dictators, no matter their political orientation or national loyalty, always begin their reigns with a systematic attack on “the intelligentsia.” These are the journalists, lawyers, professors and writers who sustain neutral forums of discussion and hold the political class accountable to the public. These are the people Trump and his ilk are smearing when they refer to “the media” or “liberal elites.”

NU is one of the most prestigious and well-respected academic institutions in the country. It is home to Medill, one of the greatest generators of professional journalists in the nation. Our school is made by and for the very people who Donald Trump seeks to remove from the political equation: people dedicated to truth.

Edmund Bannister is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at edmundbannister2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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