Scandal appears to be the meat and potatoes of “journalism” in our time. At any rate it seems that way with the political ascension of Donald Trump. How many front-page / above-the-fold stories can you remember from the last four months that weren’t linked to some notion of a scandal in progress or a past scandal being covered up? Whether Trump was the central figure in the drama or not?
There’s a reason, of course. It’s not entirely about Trump. Indeed, the target could have been anyone. The “scandal” factor would improve as the target moves toward the Mother Teresa / Albert Schweitzer pole of utterly stainless character.
And we may hope that the more people understand the reason and the mechanisms employed for this purpose, the less power it will have over American minds.
Certain words have an ominous power to mislead us. Probably the most potent of them are if and the subjunctive qualifiers might and could. In the hands of one determined to whip up a scandal out of leftover scraps, they can be deadly.
Consider, for example, the Dishonorable Chuck Schumer’s attempts, during his interview by Bret Baier, to imply that President Trump is showing favoritism toward nations where the Trump Organization has hotels or other business enterprises. Schumer never openly said that that was the case. His statements were all in the subjunctive mood. He phrased them to leave an insidious impression; he avoided making an outright statement of fact by which his argument would be made falsifiable.
The following, while they’re condensed paraphrases of what Schumer a notoriously wordy spinner of political fantasies, said during the interview, they are accurate paraphrases:
- “Trump might have left Saudi Arabia off his entry-ban list because he has hotels there.”
- “Trump might be treating the Russians more leniently than previous Republican presidents because he does business in Russia.”
Leaving to the side the dubious predicate allegation that Trump is treating the Russians with some unusual degree of deference, both statements are pure conjecture: subjunctives that invoke a possibility Schumer was unwilling to embody in firmer language. Of course, a definite allegation of corruption would raise a key question: “So why aren’t you straining to have him impeached, eh, Chucky?” But there’s a mite more to the story.
On January 20 of this year, the New York Times reported – front page, above the fold – that the Trump Organization had recently been the subject of federal wiretapping, for reasons connected to the Trump Organization’s Russian dealings. The Times has strained to efface that story from public awareness, but the physical editions of the paper, unlike its online doppelganger, cannot be denied. That story, regardless of whether it was perfectly accurate, created a basis for subjunctive implications that Trump or his businesses and associates had something criminal to hide.
The foundation for scandal was thus laid: “Where there’s an investigation there must be wrongdoing.” Note the parallel to “If the police arrested him, he must have done something wrong.” From there, unfortunately assisted by an unguarded statement from Trump about Vladimir Putin’s effectiveness in Russia’s national interests and about his (Trump’s) ability to deal with Putin, it was possible to spin conjectures about how the Putin regime “might” have had an interest in a Trump victory and “might” have exerted itself to bring that victory about.
To my knowledge, no federal authority has charged Trump or the Trump Organization with a crime. Neither has any federal authority produced evidence of Russian election “hacking.” But news of the investigation planted a seed of suspicion in many minds that the Left watered most assiduously. What sprouted was always couched in subjunctive terms: “might have” or “could have.”
The core idea was to get Trump to try to prove a negative, which is inherently impossible. Trump merely ignored the sallies. Unfortunately, other Republicans, including several who have personal reasons for resenting Trump, joined the parade by suggesting – in at least one case, demanding – a formal investigation into whether Russian meddling might have influenced the outcome of the November 8 election. The “scandal” gained legs: “See? Even Republicans think there’s something here.”
Once the media have, by repetition and careful maintenance of a subjunctive mood, breathed life into the suspicions, they can be coupled to just about anything whose details are not 100% visible: for example, a tax return. The Rachel Maddow clown show over Trump’s 2005 tax return was a typical next stage to the process: “What shady arrangements or (gasp!) unsavory foreign involvements might be hidden behind the numbers in this return?” Stacy McCain sketched the spine that supports it:
After finally “reporting” the numbers, Maddow then filled the extra time with a lot of blabber — wild speculation about what sinister secrets might be hidden behind those opaque numbers. She suggested there could be debts owed to shady foreign entities (Russians, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) who could thereby influence Trump’s policies. While it is of course possible that such things could be true, speculation is not news, or else I could win a Pulitzer Prize for my seven-part series speculating that Rachel Maddow could be having a secret affair with Mika Brzezinski. Because, hey, why not?
The circular logic of Maddow’s “investigative journalism”:
- Donald Trump is a Republican;
- Republicans are evil;
- Somewhere, there must be evidence of how evil Trump is.
Really, that’s all she’s got — a belief in Trump’s evil, which permits her (and every other liberal journalist) to constantly locate mountainous “scandals” where anyone with common sense sees only a molehill. Ever since Hillary lost the election, the media have been dogpiling every possible variation on the Russians-hacked-the-election conspiracy theory, because that’s what their core audience of disappointed Democrat voters want to believe.
And all of it is premised on “mights” and “coulds” that no man could ever disprove.
Not to be neglected here is the immense power of coordinated media in concocting the subjunctives and stoking the suspicions attached to them. Were only a single source “reporting” on these notions, they would have a very limited scope in both space and time. But the national press and broadcast media read from the same scriptures and dance to the same tune. Virtually all of them have collaborated in the promulgation of these imputations. It’s good business for them, quite aside from their institutional inclination to back any Democrat against any Republican. People will more avidly consume sinister musings than hard journalism about actual events...and if they can be induced to talk up such stories, so much the better.
Gentle Reader, I firmly believe that if the Second Coming were to occur today at high noon, and the Redeemer were to issue an unconditional statement that Donald Trump is innocent of anything criminal (or even unpleasant) anyone has ever implied he might have done, the Left would arrange for its cats’ paws in the media to promote a unified broadside against Trump for “daring to breach the wall of separation between church and state.”
It’s been said, and truly, that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. When the lie is couched in “mights” and “coulds,” and any noticeable fraction of decent persons display a willingness to entertain it, that maxim acquires tremendous force.
It becomes overpoweringly ironic that so many Leftist mouthpieces have drawn specious parallels between Trump and Hitler, when one observes that their weapon for doing so is the Big Lie tactic Hitler so greatly favored.