What has become apparent to me is that the Trump administration is pursuing a deliberate strategy of undermining three areas critical to the maintenance of our democracy – journalism, the nation’s intelligence gathering apparatus and public education.
When you look beyond the president’s tweets and the unintelligible briefings by White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, what you see is a pretty unnerving pattern of a White House determined to dumb down the citizenry to the point that it loses sight of public protections being unraveled. The easiest way to do that is to ascribe evil intent to the press, imply that national security is compromised by inept intelligence gathering, and imploding public education to dumb down the citizenry. It sounds like a conspiracy. It’s not. It’s what’s happening in the nation’s capital.
The president has made the media the “enemy” and gone to great lengths to discredit journalists to create the impression that all reporting critical of the administration is “fake news.” When he is not repeating this charge, his surrogates are following script and using every occasion to cast doubt on the credibility of news organizations. What they realize is that the generally low opinion of the media held by Americans is an opportunity to further malign journalists and convince the public that those reporting on the administration cannot be trusted. Once the administration can operate without scrutiny, or under the monitor of an institution of accountability – the media – that the public views with suspicion, it becomes far easier to manipulate public opinion for nefarious purposes. Chaos is an effective strategy to sow confusion and create a distraction.
The same can be said of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the nation’s intelligence gathering operations and his suggestion that his predecessor “tapped his wires” in Trump Plaza during the campaign. Trump is now lamenting the existence of leaks, an annoyance that worried him little during the campaign, as he creates the image of being under siege. While his own FBI director has dismissed the claim as baseless, the president runs with it because it gives him leverage with his supporters – most of whom are so far gone that they can’t see the train that is getting ready to run them over. Meanwhile, a lot of energy is put in by the opposition to debunk a lie and that alone gives Trump’s supporters reason to believe the president. It also means the investment of time in countering the president is time lost that could be better spent on waging battles over substantive policy issues.
Then there is the matter of public education. It’s no secret that the appointment of Betsy De Vos is meant to signal a retreat from the American ideal of universal public education. The conservative obsession with vouchers now has a center of operation in the federal government. Despite some deep evidence that vouchers do not expand educational opportunity, what conservatives really want is to narrow the pool of quality education beneficiaries while claiming credit for the narrow band of students of color that will benefit from vouchers. If the right was truly interested in advancing education equity they would apply a laser like focus at the state level on improving public education based on decades of credible research, and employ vouchers as a last resort strategy for those students who are most in need of academic support.
All of this leads to a fractured state, a nation with a government that operates beyond the reach of the public. It is a potentially dangerous situation as the public is kept in the dark or misled by an administration that directs public goods for private benefit. It is an administration that chooses to operate in the dimly lit back alleys of government – in administrative rule making and agency directives. It is the equivalent of the dark side of the moon when astronauts lost their communications link to earth. The Trump administration is employing distraction, deceit and mayhem to cut citizens off from their government. The sole purpose is to create divisions within the public that will preoccupy the attention of citizens who might otherwise call into question the actions of the administration.
There is an antidote. It’s the persistence of an engaged public that will bring this administration to account for its actions. It won’t be easy because quite frankly, Americans are lazy. We have seldom exhibited the willingness to dig in for the long haul and to make government truly representative and work for the interest of the masses. It is though, an opportunity. For an administration that seems to be betting on confusion and division, we need to start engaging people across the partisan divide, no matter how difficult the conversation. Already we are seeing Trump’s electoral base questioning the administration’s intent on health care.
The more this White House pursues a course that does not serve the interests of voters who supported this president, the easier it will be to form alliances to limit the damage this administration can do to the long-term stability of the nation.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.