In the winter of 2017, an earnest panel of newsgathering pros convened to discuss one question: Was it journalistically ethical to call the new president a liar?
More specifically, the debate was whether what Donald Trump seemed to say with every other breath could be called a “lie.” Or should news organizations find a way to fudge the matter?
The panel was split. So were news organizations.
The Wall Street Journal said it would refrain from the “l” word on Trump’s lies. The Associated Press hedged too.
Fast-forward to August 2023 and an AP headline: “Trump’s drumbeat of lies about the 2020 election keeps getting louder.”
Let’s just say that since the news media hesitance of 2017, and with Donald Trump’s everyday firehose of calculated deceit, the reportorial use of “lie” has won in a rout.
In other words, no need to waste ink on what “Big Lie” means. It is universal jargon, like “Play ball,” and, “Green means go.”
It was just one more lie among so, so many. After Trump exited the White House, having been defeated by more than 7 million votes, the Washington Post fact-checker calculated that over four years as president, Trump had racked up 30,573 false statements, and of course one of them was that he won, “by a lot.”
Another of what Modern English defines as “a whopper.”
Well, it’s time for another panel to discuss a word:
Is it ethical to say “Nazi” of the front-runner for the Republican nomination?
Some say that no matter how odious, Trump doesn’t merit such a comparison.
But hear what he says.
When MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance heard Trump vow to “root out Communists, Marxists, racists and radical left thugs that live like vermin in the confines of our country,” she called it what it was.
“Vermin,” Vance mused, is “a surprisingly precise and archaic choice of language for a man with a limited vocabulary.”
It could hardly be a coincidence, she writes, that Trump’s word-of-the-day calendar choice translates to Hitler’s go-to slur: “ungeziefer,” that low-level strain of life – from rodents to roaches to Jewish people — that merits extermination.
Wait a minute, say Trump (or Nazi?) defenders. Don’t go there.
Political historian Heather Cox Richardson goes there. Trump’s signaling to his MAGA followers goes beyond words to stunningly concrete deeds.
Trump’s court-blocked Muslim ban couldn’t have been more Hitlerian, she writes. And now he signals plans for the most draconian purge of immigrants ever pondered. This goes with the line he borrows from professional white supremacist Tucker Carlson that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”
Not only is Trump proposing massive migrant camps for immigrants — including people who have been in this country for years — he would deputize National Guard troops and red-state police officers to lead the purge.
In the fantasy land of Trump adviser (and convicted felon) Steve Bannon, this would equate to 10 million deportees.
How can someone like Bannon be knocking around and suggesting public policy for anyone?
But something as alarming as mass deportation is just the fine print of a truly fascist vision of governance. It includes using the tools of government to punish his enemies (aka those who might criticize him).
The bottom line is what Carlos Lozada writes in the New York Times. Trump “is dismissive of the law, except when he can harness it for his benefit; of open expression, except when it fawns over him; and of free elections, except when they produce results he likes.”
Jonathan Karl’s second book on Trump, “Tired of Winning,” about how the Golden Idol subverted the Party of Lincoln, contains this quote from an unnamed high-level White House figure who served in Trump’s good graces but now calls him a “clear and present danger to our democracy”:
“He is morally bankrupt, breathtakingly dishonest, lethally incompetent and stunningly ignorant of anything related to governing, history, geography, human events or world events.”
Apparently, however, Trump knows some German.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.