The Fourth Estate vs. the Trump Regime

Photo by Jon S | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jon S | CC BY 2.0

“The press is the enemy.”

-Richard M. Nixon

“The FAKE NEWS media  is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

-Donald Trump

President Trump is the billionaire businessman president who many wanted to see running the country. Those who allow free market principles to rule will maximize profit to shareholders while politicians and their bureaucrats command us to follow their lead, asking of us that we pay via our taxes for that leadership.

This is probably a good representation of a national state of affairs as it appears to many, an appearance etched in heavily since Reagan’s push to put the cart of economics in front of the horse of politics. When the market does well, we all thrive, a matter of faith clearly shattered before and after the 2007 Great Recession.

The perception that politics and politicians have no particular qualifications, no profession at all and only becomes better liars and bullshit artists the more experience they have is a thriving perception. Thus, the best people to run a republic adhering to liberal democratic principles are those who have no political background or credentials, being then supposedly more truthful and forthright in their truthfulness. Whether ignorance is a sine qua non of truthfulness is a question only inquiring minds would ask.

A Melville type confidence man with a net worth he won’t reveal but has his own name as a profitable brand, and who makes contact with people on a very real level because of a long stint on Reality-TV, turns out to be exactly suited to a populace much admiring fame and fortune while also being deeply mired in spin and spectacle and increasingly detached from any view of the truth and how to reach it beyond their own gut inspired opinions.

This sort of brand name president thus is admired for having no understanding or experience in government, probably not even on a now extinct 5th grad level civics competency, because government as perceived by a huge following is not worthy of knowing. It is the enemy of the People. He who reduces government to a size small enough to drown in a bathtub, or he who unravels it, turns it on its head is the new hero, not of politics but of the People.

More pertinent to the Trump regime is the effort to reduce the size of government to the dimensions of President Trump’s own personality, huge in his own estimation, as is his understanding, which is, in his view, better than anyone’s is, especially the judiciary. This replacement of democratic rule with a single personality and his minions, an event too sadly represented throughout history, does not seem to trouble a great many people who see themselves as oppressed by personal freedom restraints imposed by gentrifying, secularized, politically correct Liberals whom they despise. That obnoxious tyranny, scheduled to continue with a Hillary presidency, ended with the election of Donald Trump. We could say at this point that however much many might fear what derangement in the White House might do to the country, the bitter loathing of the Liberal politically correct, socialist leaning Elite trumps what the Trump regime might do.

The process of one personality replacing an existing political and civil society order is bound to be messy, fraught with all kinds of peril in the view of that one personality. There is that very vulnerable transitional period, a kind of liminal threshold precariousness, when that one personality has not yet cemented his regime in place. It is an annoying, angering time for an egoist/king when attacks from the old order of things have not been silenced. Every leak is an exposure of a reality that is difficult to take for anyone who believes reality is his own construction.

Secrecy is the corporate boardroom’s highest good. It is the reverse in a liberal democracy. This is a clash that we now see has unsettled and infuriated President Trump and so he is making every effort to close all portals from his boardroom, now the Oval Office, to the Fourth Estate, the conduit of information vital to an electoral democracy to its citizens.

The slurs and tabloid tactics that candidate Trump used to ridicule and de-legitimize his opponents in the Republican Primary are now turned on the Fourth Estate, most particularly the legacy press whose authority in conveying intelligent and precise accounts of important words and events must be de-authorized if Trump is to replace the existing order of things with the order of his own personal understanding and inclinations. A man who views words as weightless branding tools, floating free of reality and truth is now confronted with a Fourth Estate who daily tie his words to reality and point out the distance between the two.

Much consternation has developed because what this leader of the free world displays is a disorder of worldly attendance most clearly exhibited in his rambling incoherence, his tortured syntax and vocabulary. His use of language reveals an odd circuitry of some kind of dementia. This is frightening and may be, sooner than we think, the reason, among so many others conjectured, to remove him from office.

President Trump is in a race to close down all exposure of his ineptitude in carrying out the responsibilities of the presidency before that ineptitude is revealed. In the eyes of many, that race has already been lost and his incompetency is transparently clear. Polls however indicate that his supporters have not abandoned him. The persistence of that support encourages him to believe that the race is still on. However, the more he feels the wind of defeat at his back, the more pronounced his erraticism, and thus the greater need for exposure by the Fourth Estate.

Only a Rabelais or a Swift could relieve many of the dread and trembling Trump’s presidency instills. Such satirists could give us a hilarious, satirical full account of a mind deconstructing itself at the same time it is seeking to deconstruct an order that has been forged since the signing of the Declaration of Independence to set up a tribunal that will judge him. That same tribunal will end instantaneously, as the Wicked Witch of the East melts in The Wizard of Oz, Trump’s regime, a defending, obedient guard that history has shown us erupts, like a fungus, in the presence of demagogic, maniacal power.

A demagogue channeling the anger of many, promising to upend those blocking their advance and their freedom and promising to recuperate their past glories is not a new character in history. In every case, however, such individuals bear within themselves the seeds of their own destruction, psychopathologies that their success only intensifies, their various manias most often on full display.

For all that, we should not expect that what has driven so many into an acceptance of such a clearly deranged egomaniac will dissolve so readily. A Trump exit does not mean that the foundational rift in American society so clearly and accurately described by Bernie Sanders will mend.

The Fourth Estate is allied on the side of what is rational and evidentially grounded but that side has been increasingly divided from a faction that has gathered around Trump. And just as the Trump faction abides within a phenomenal reality so too does the Fourth Estate, ensnared within a Western Tradition of Rationality and Realism that has been under attack since a post-truth paradigm, unhelpfully termed “postmodernity,” put under interrogation that tradition and exposed what Jacques Derrida called “a white mythology” of reasoning and realizing.

When Steve Bannon talks of “deconstruction of a State administration”, he is linking himself to an undermining of the lasting pretenses of Enlightenment absolute universals and their authority. The temper of that attitude has reached a grassroots level, not in any demonstration of an understanding of that movement from unquestioned truth discovery and factual evidence to “no truth but my own” and “alternative facts.” However, the impact of that transition is now observable and in practice.

The Fourth Estate’s rationality and realism runs alongside a countering zeitgeist, which is post-truth. Neither recognizes or sees the other clearly, because, on one side, the role of the Fourth Estate is not that of a visionary, like Blake or Marx. And, on the other side, once installed in a personal determination of truth, no deference is paid to any claim of objective truth determination, any authority beyond one’s own.

Acknowledging this divide, we are, however, all within an economic order advocating a “creative destruction” of a great number of people , a great number that have been scheduled by the axiomatic course of that economic order to disappear. They have not. They have shown up at the polls to vote Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Everyone, including the Fourth Estate, is now aware of his or her presence. An investigation of Trump, therefore, must also be an investigation of an existing order (that Bannon seeks to upend) that has not been inclusive, not in the liberal identity/cultural politics sense but in what globalized techno-capitalism has shaped since Reagan. The causes leading to Trump’s own presence need to be exposed by the Fourth Estate contemporaneously with an exposure of Trump. That exposure will ultimately make the final Oz gesture and pull the curtain from the eyes of those who have followed him into a rank and dark vision that has eroded any sense of “We, the people” promoting “the general Welfare.”

But exposure first requires a way of seeing that is directed inward as well as outward. Since all professional orders of meritocracy, including the Fourth Estate, are within an order that sees from within their own privileged window, everything outside each perspective window, must by virtue of not being seen, be missed.

The Fourth Estate was not framed to see what drove Trump to power because the reality frame of the press emerges from a Western Tradition of Rationality and Realism oriented toward reason and its demonstration of what is real and true. It has a built in preference, you might say, for the rational and not the irrational, what can evidentially be proven to be the case and not what merges willy-nilly from the mouth of a provocateur.

In this preference, the Fourth Estate allies itself with our liberal, democratic republic  which was formed and out of which both our Congress and our Judiciary proceed ” to form a more  perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” We can therefore reform and benefit from a deconstruction as Derrida and not Bannon conceives it within our originating traditions but we cannot discard them without devolving into a dark despotism of derangement that Donald Trump offers.

Because you cannot ever change the perceptions of those who have separated those perceptions from what is actually the case, what is actually going on that can be empirically or rationally substantiated, the Fourth Estate must act within a tradition that has authorized it and respected it since John Peter Zenger, the iconic American hero for freedom of the press, published The New York Weekly Journal beginning in 1733.

Trump may be able to detour the intelligence community away from exposés of what he wished to hide, like his tax returns and the extent of his business entanglements, but it is difficult to imagine that this intelligence community, berated and insulted as it has been, cannot fly by any attempts to turn their surveillance against themselves. It is also difficult to imagine that an Article III federal judiciary, appointed for life, will not continue to overturn un-Constitutional executive orders.

It is, however,  the Fourth Estate, most directly the legacy press, and not the many rabid ranting outlets and echo chamber media in cyberspace, which must bring to light the warfare now underway between the Trump regime and those institutions and branches of government opposing its fascist direction.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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