Why now? Why me?
I’m a journalist and a historian. It is from this dual perspective that I write about what it means that Donald Trump is to be the next president of the United States. Historians typically shy away from analysing current events through a historic lens, or vice versa. The argument is sound—that you cannot apply the values and realties of today to a different time, that to do so taints the evidence you are trying to unearth. Historians call this “presentism,” and it is frowned upon. As a journalist, however, I am unashamedly presentist. I think we can view the past with the present without muddying the timeline. I believe that we need to make connections between the past and today in order to bring a depth to our understanding of current world events. I also see the study of history and journalism as twin disciplines, connected by the same core values—pursuing the truth and then telling those stories. And we need to tell them well. I look to the past to try to make sense of the present. I want to bring some historic context to what a Trump presidency means today. That is the challenge of Seeing Double. I also believe that the more witnesses and different perspectives there are to Trump, the better. I just hope I can add something useful to the conversation.
Kate Barker, November 12, 2016
Week One: Significance of November 9 and treatment of the press:
That we woke up on November 9 to the dystopian reality of a Trump presidency is chillingly ironic. November 9 holds special significance in German history. It was on the ninth of November that Adolph Hitler tested his popular strength in the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.
And later, it was on another November 9 in 1938, when, backed by the power of the racist Nuremberg laws, Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, instigated Kristallnacht. Named for the sound of breaking glass, it continued for two nights as Jewish homes, shops and synagogues were ransacked in waves of anti Semitic violence that erupted across Germany, Austria and the just-annexed Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.
On the morning of November 9, 2016, I posted my fears to Facebook:
“This feels like the dawn of a brutal new world when I thought we were on the cusp of full equality at last. Instead of a strong, smart, compassionate woman at the helm, America has elected a sociopath. The American response to the worst refugee crisis since World War Two is defined by hatred. The spectacle is eerily and historically familiar—a charismatic celebrity on stage, reducing all complexity and nuance to over-simplified sound bites. Rabid nativism and misogyny dominates intellectualism and basic human decency. The ones to pay will be all of the Others—the scapegoats, the targets of this monstrous dumbing down of all things to one, terrible reality—American democracy now trembles on a knife edge.”
Like many others, I was overwhelmed by the events of the first few days. Nothing has assuaged those initial shell-shocked fears. Trump’s continued disdain towards the press is an alarming indicator that American democracy is in jeopardy.
On Thursday night, Trump tweeted about the many protests taking place across America:
A few hours later, it had been re-messaged to this:
This wasn’t even the first indication that Trump’s contempt for the press continues after the election. He also refused to allow a press pool aboard his plane when he went to meet with President Obama, something no other president in the modern era has done. In a 60 Minutes interview on Saturday, he defended his use of Twitter as a weapon against any media that ran “a bad story” about him. And then yesterday, he did just that with twin tweets:
As usual, Trump is not correct. New York Times subscriptions are not down. According to a report in the Washington Post, print subscriptions are lower in this quarter from last year, but its 116,000 new digital-only subscriptions counter that. Mine is one of the them. Ditto the Post. Right now, I’m a grad student and a sessional instructor at a Canadian university. This means I don’t make much money. If I can do it, so can you. It’s time to support the news organizations that call Trump to account, and stop supporting those that legitimize him. (I don’t buy People Magazine, and won’t start now.)
Curtailing a free press has always been a top priority of any fascist state. Benito Mussolini banned public protests and shut down opposition newspapers in 1924. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, was immediately put in charge of all German newspapers in 1933. Under the Reich Press Law that took effect on October 4, 1933, Jewish journalists and editors were all fired. Any stories that appeared in print had to be “racially clean.” Under Francisco Franco’s 36-year reign, the Spanish press was heavily censored.
Assessing the status of a free press in America will be an ongoing focus of this blog.
© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.