Ignoring Trump isn’t an option

Eric Mink is a freelance writer and editor and teaches film studies at Webster University.  He is a former columnist for the St.  Louis Post-Dispatch and the Daily News in New York.  Contact him at [email protected]

BY ERIC MINK

As 2017 came to an end, I made myself a promise I knew would be hard to keep: In 2018, I would start trying to ignore the president of the United States.

I lasted about 36 hours.

Then, on Jan. 2, I got sucked in by online coverage of Donald Trump’s idiotic Twitter boast that his “button” for starting nuclear war is bigger than the one North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has.

As someone who’s always been curious about the annihilation of all life on Earth, how could I turn away?  

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He followed that up Jan. 3 with the decommissioning of a commission he created to find evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. The commission had done nothing, not exactly a shock considering general agreement among state-level voting officials of both parties that no such fraud occurred.

I finally gave up my ill-fated effort Jan. 11. It was the day Trump met with senators and staff in the Oval Office to discuss immigration proposals. At one point, Trump bemoaned the admission to the United States of people from African “shithole countries,” Haiti and El Salvador.

In subsequent days, maybe the most astonishing defense mounted by Trump supporters for this racist smear was that he had not said “shithole” but rather “shithouse.” Silly me. I thought the problem was the poop part.

I admit it was ridiculous to think I could ignore Trump. The journalist in me who wants to feel at least aware of and a little familiar with what’s happening in current events wasn’t going to accept it for long, even if things had stayed quiet, which they did not.

And it’s pretty hard to claim you believe in the bedrock principle that an informed citizenry is essential to a functioning democracy when you’re purposely cutting yourself off from the elected leader of that democracy.

But I get the frustration, the exasperation and even the need — for sanity’s sake, if nothing else — for people to give themselves a break from the news from time to time.

As many folks have mentioned to me over the past year, words spoken and actions taken by Trump have been so bereft of knowledge, logic and understanding — and decency — that they’re just exhausted and depressed.

This might help explain why: Coinciding with last month’s anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, the Fact Checker unit of The Washington Post published its accumulated database of how Trump has handled information since he became president.

“One year after taking the oath of office,” reporters Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly wrote, “President Trump has made 2,140 false or misleading claims. … That’s an average of nearly 5.9 claims a day.” 

The essence of the Post’s searchable, cross-referenced database is consistent with the findings of other professional, nonpartisan, fact-checking operations, including FactCheck.org, the Associated Press and PolitiFact. The research indicates that Trump has lied to or misled the public about manifold issues and events: the economy, crime and criminals, trade, jobs, the law, the military, civil rights, education, crowd sizes, other countries and his alleged accomplishments. He also repeats some lies dozens of times, researchers found, even after they have been exposed as untrue.

Most recently, this practice has taken the form of increasingly panicky attacks by Trump on our nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, national security and justice agencies. Although disconnected from fact, Trump’s attacks at their core belittle and berate the ongoing investigations into Russian military and intelligence operations that interfered with the American presidential election of 2016.

Multiple reports by agencies of the U.S. intelligence community and by American social media companies including Facebook and Twitter have confirmed the vast extent of the so-called “active measures” authorized by the Russian Federation government of Vladimir Putin.

Parallel investigations, which Trump’s attacks also try to discredit, seek to determine whether the already well documented contacts between Russian operatives and people with the Trump campaign amount to violations of criminal law and, if so, what people in the campaign were responsible.

No wonder Trump’s agitation about this has grown more intense lately, as the investigative team of special counsel Robert Mueller has begun issuing subpoenas and negotiating guilty pleas among some of Trump’s campaign officials and associates. And no wonder so many of the rest of us are feeling dispirited.

Trump’s track record of reckless disregard for fact and truth is hardly a revelation. But it didn’t seem to matter when the person blowing smoke was just a reputed real estate mogul and TV personality. 

Now it’s a president of the United States who is rejecting the personal responsibility of any president to say and act on the basis of accurate information and verified facts — a president who thus far has escaped accountability and consequences for doing so.

What are we to do about this? Ignoring the president might starve Trump’s attacks of oxygen, but it also might be impossible, impractical or both. However, we might be able to adopt a new set of evidence-based assumptions.

Using what we’ve learned from a year of his presidency and his 1 year campaign before that, we could change the default setting on the browser in our heads to regard anything Trump says to be wrong, unless and until proved otherwise.

It would apply to every assertion of fact, every citation of statistics, every declaration of certainty, every claim of setting record, every representation of what “a lot of people are saying,” every recounting of what he has said and done previously, and every professed personal belief and intention.

Wrong. False. A lie, if he knew it was false. A lie if he didn’t know whether it was true or false.

I couldn’t keep my promise to ignore Donald Trump in the new year. You might have better luck. But even if we can’t deny him our time and attention, we can deny him the benefit of initial credibility. We can deny him the benefit of the doubt. We can deny him our trust. And we can deny him our respect.

He’s earned at least that much from us.