Since last Wednesday when the US held elections for president, congress and half of the senate, as well as a myriad of other public positions, the world has focused on the results as they came in, in fits and starts, until at the presidential level, Joe Biden had won enough electoral college votes to be designated president-elect. In most historical instances in the United States, that would be the end of it – a winner decided and a transitionary period until the inauguration of the new president in January the following year.
But this time around things are a little different, the incumbent president has so far failed to concede defeat or congratulate the winner and has launched a raft of court cases, hoping to prove supposed voter fraud in various states. As of now, no evidence of this assertion has come to light but still, the call has mobilised a section of the American public to believe that somehow a huge injustice has occurred, that their choice of leader has somehow had his rightful victory nefariously taken away.
Well, where to begin? For the past four years I have avoided writing about the president of the United States, although like practically everyone on the planet, I have wasted thousands of hours reading about him, talking about him and marvelling at practically everything he has said and done. So when the election was called in Joe Biden’s favour, by the press – following the projections of the Associated Press, as has been the case for decades, I felt a huge relief. Not because Biden had won, or that Trump had lost, but that the insanity of the last four years may be over. I realised how exhausting it had been and how pointless, to be witness to the bizarre, fact-free and truth averse utterances and screams of a man considered the most powerful person on the planet.
This man made his mark in public as a reality TV star and his presidency was never far removed from that. He was the biggest show in town from the moment he announced his candidacy, coming down an escalator in one of his self-named accommodation towers. The majority of the media signed up, hook line and sinker to essentially broadcast everything he did, or said, no matter how dangerous, amoral, or fantastic (in the sense of the word meaning connected to fantasy and not reality).
Certain journalists and media outlets fawned over him and uncritically forwarded his words and behaviour without conjecture or accountability. Others did the opposite and were labelled by Trump and his acolytes as ‘fake news’ – a term that has now become firmly rooted in the popular lexicon. Fake news has been the label for anything reported in the media that the president disagrees with and construes as lies – even his own words.
The US Constitution sets out a number of rights and freedoms and one of them is the freedom of the press. That freedom is one held in high regard and protected and enshrined in many countries throughout the globe. For the past four years it has been continually and systematically demeaned and devalued in the United States and most press agencies struggled to know how to cope with the daily attacks. After all, the president is news, what he does, what he says, how he says it, it’s all newsworthy, apparently.
But what do you do as a member of the press if most of what the commander in chief says is downright lies? What if the words are dangerous and are likely to cause harm? In the past month social media finally enacted mild forms of ‘censorship’ to label Trump’s Twitter posts or Facebook posts when they forwarded obvious mistruths. In the past week, media outlets have even stopped broadcasting Trump’s, or his disciples’ proclamations without evidence that the presidential election was manipulated.
I understand the freedom of speech but with it comes responsibilities and when speech is harmful, derogatory, or plain hateful then it is not afforded the same protections as other forms of speech. This has not applied to the president of the United States until recently and I absolutely believe that the runaway train of his presidency could have been held in check, and to reality, if not everything he said was broadcast without context and question.