Trump, Fake News, and the Cult of Personality

By CHRISTIAN LEDFORD, Staff Writer

For conservatives, these are disappointing times; seeing President Donald Trump forsake the conservative principles he claimed to run on, while many members of my party either happily go along with or fail to mount any genuine sizable dissent, is disheartening for genuine proponents of small government and Republican ideals. Despite my rare approval of some of his actions, such as the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy and the undoing of the Obama administration executive order forcing public schools to allow gender-confused students to use the bathrooms of their choice, Trump’s presidency is unlikely to produce any real success for conservative ideology in America.

It remains an enigma to me how President Trump remains in the good graces of the Republican Party and his supporters in general. The man lies compulsively and starts unfounded conspiracy theories. On the first day of the administration, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer infamously asserted the obvious falsehood that Trump’s inaugural crowd was the biggest in presidential history (even though it was substantially smaller than former President Obama’s) and, as of this past week, Trump has incredulously asserted on Twitter that Obama had gone so low “to tapp(sic.) my phones during the very sacred election process”. Aside from the everyday falsehoods of the Trump administration, there also lies the observation that, on a base level, Trump isn’t even concerned with doing his job as president; notoriously rejecting daily security briefings in lieu of attacking Saturday Night Live and news organizations on Twitter. Trump also seems to be in an eternal state of campaigning, having registered for the 2020 presidential election the day of his inauguration and holding his first official rally for it in Florida in February. This general unconcern, highlighted also by the fact that he apparently doesn’t even read the executive orders placed in front of him to sign, is manifested in the mockery of “President Bannon” from his opponents, an insult that asserts that his chief strategist, the alt-right figurehead Stephen Bannon, is really in control of the agenda of the administration. Finally, despite his actual follow-through on the proposed construction of the ludicrous border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and the proposed ban on Muslim immigration from certain countries, Trump also seems detached from the things he promised during his campaign that would appeal to those outside of his base; specifically, his promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, undebatably a failed policy, has moved nowhere and left large portions of the population in panic over their insurance coverage. And all of this isn’t even mentioning his unsettling and undeniable ties to Russia and its Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

The only explanation for the continued devotion to Trump and lack of any real opposition to him from his own party is that he has firmly established a cult of personality, defined as “when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized, heroic, and at times worshipful image of themselves, often through unquestioning flattery and praise”. Does this sound familiar?

Trump’s cult of personality isn’t seen anywhere better than in his crusade against the media. In the aftermath of the shocking and confusing results of the 2016 election, the term “Fake News” emerged as a way to criticize news outlets and organizations whose sole purpose was to sensationalize events or even completely fabricate them in order to push an agenda or generate publicity (and therefore revenue); this term was nonpartisan and could be used to describe organizations and sites on both sides of the aisle, from the Right’s Breitbart to the Left’s Buzzfeed. However, this term was quickly co-opted by our new President and his supporters, and took on a completely different meaning; rather than an insult against shoddy, sensationalist reporting and unfounded lies, “Fake News” came to be used by Trump as merely anything that disagreed with him or made him look bad, with him infamously, in his first press conference after winning the election, refusing to take questions from CNN’s White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, and labeling the entire network as “Fake News”. Even recently, several prominent outlets such as the New York Times, the BBC, and, yes, CNN were banned completely from a meeting with press secretary Sean Spicer, a move that concerned many.

The new administration undoubtedly wields this term like a weapon. Write a piece criticizing Trump’s unconstitutional “Muslim Ban”? Fake news. Report on actual comments and statements made by Donald Trump that make him look bad? Fake news. Come from a news organization that doesn’t kowtow to the President and herald him as the second coming of Jesus Christ himself? Fake news. The term has objectively lost all meaning.

Now, this isn’t me standing up, necessarily, for CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and etcetera; as a conservative, I can see in the past how these organizations and others have engaged in selective reporting, hit pieces on conservatives, and other unsavory practices and I do not in any way want to be counted as a friend or fan or them. However, a President only responding to pre-approved questions from pre-approved news networks, all the while demonizing any others, is unethical and goes against the principles behind our first amendment freedom the press; even former President George W. Bush, a Republican himself, has echoed these sentiments and came out against President Trump.

In the end, until the cult of personality of President Donald Trump and his crusade against the media as whole are seen for what they are, attempts for an inexperienced and out of his depth President to avoid criticism, Trump will unfortunately continue to enjoy the same levels of support that he is now.