Reasons to Hope One Year After the Election

In my memories, the sky was grey and cloudy on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. I can picture, clear as day, walking through my campus; listening to people around me talk about the results of the election and looking up at the impending storm. That is, of course, only my recollectionin reality, the morning of Nov. 9 may have been cloudless and sunny (through some research it seems like the day was overcast, though perhaps not the “moment before the storm” darkness that I imagined).

Why do I remember that morning in that way? Pathetic fallacy, I suppose. Nov. 9, 2016, was a dark day, emotions-wise, for a lot of people, so in my mind I’ve equated the emotions and the weather.

I’ve written before about the moment I found out that Donald Trump won the electionI heard loud, bewildered shouting in the middle of the night, and assumed the outcome that was a growing possibility had turned into reality. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed up to watch the full coverage of the election, even though it crept into the darkest hours of the night and then the early hours of morning (and even though I had a journalism assignment due the next day).

At the time, I think very few people had an inkling of what was about to happen. When the world woke up on Nov. 9, on the morning I remember to be grey, a lot of us asked the same thing: What now?

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As I wrote in my post after the election, I had been ready to write an article about the first female president of the United States. Accepting not just that I wouldn’t be writing that article, but that I would not be seeing that realityfor at least four years, and likely longerwas disheartening, to say the least. But it was not only Hillary Clinton’s loss that made Nov. 9 difficult; it was who she had lost to, and the policies and rhetoric that were about to take centre stage in the Oval Office.

Watching Clinton’s concession speech made me cry but I was determined to move forward with an attitude of hope. “I looked at my reflection in the mirror and promised myself that I was going to keep fighting for what I believe in, and supporting others who are doing the same,” I wrote.

That bleary morning turned into another night, and then another day. Time passed. In January, Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I won’t list everything that has happened since then because, unless you disconnected your cable and Internet after the election, you likely know what has happened next. There were, in short, a lot of reasons to be concerned, fearful and angry.

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But there were also reasons to be hopeful. One of the best examples of this was the Women’s March the day after Trump’s Inauguration (pictured above). The sheer number of women and men marching in solidarity both in the U.S. and around the world was nothing short of incredible. The message of the marches was loud and clear: Trump can try to limit womens’ rights, but women will not be intimidated by this—they will fight for what is right.

The ACLU was also a strong force in standing up for equality, freedom and human rights. “President Trump has been in office for 42 weeks. We’ve sued him and his administration 56 times,” the organization tweeted yesterday.

Another source of hope came two nights ago. It was Election Night in America all over again. I had an eerie sense of déjà vu as I curled up on my couch and watched the news. The music, the graphics, the anticipation building up to the results. I allowed myself a smile when the journalists said certain races were too close to call, thinking of the failure of many to accurately call the election last year.

But the feelings of déjà vu ended when the results starting coming in. It wasn’t just that Democrats secured two major victories in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jerseyit was there were historic wins for representation and equality.

Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman was elected to the Virginia state legislature. Not only this, but the incumbent Republican she beat, Robert Marshall, actually called himself the state’s “chief homophobe” and previously introduced a controversial “bathroom bill.” Roem had an incredibly classy response to a question about her predecessor. “I don’t talk about my constituents. Bob is my constituent now,” she said. (Mic. Drop.)

Virginia also elected its first two Latina delegates. Another notable victory included Ravi Bhalla, who is Sikh, being elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (interestingly, Bhalla has called himself “Everything Trump hates”). He is the first Sikh mayor in New Jersey. Vi Lyles was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the first black woman to hold that post. The list goes onyou can read more about the historic wins in this Vox article.

Today marks one year since the morning many of us woke up worried about the future. There are, of course, still reasons to be worried. But there are also a lot of reasons to be hopeful. In the year since Trump won the election, people looking to make their voices heard have mobilized into movements. On Tuesday, voters showed a rejection of Trump’s rhetoric in favour of acceptance of the very people who Trump speaks out against. The newly elected political representatives now have the power to create real, positive change in America.

This is progress. This is a reason to be hopeful. And it is a reason to keep speaking out and speaking up as we continue to live in the world that was made a reality on this day last year.


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CNN’s Facts First Ad Highlights the Need for Transparency in Journalism

When powerful figures try to dissuade the public from learning the truth, facts matter. A new CNN ad attempts to make this point with fruit (yes, you read that correctly). “This is an apple,” text underneath a shiny red apple reads. As an image of an apple continues to show, the text and voiceover explain that, no matter how hard some people might try to convince you are looking at a banana, the fruit in question remains an apple.

The ad is obviously, and perhaps quite smartly, targeted at U.S. President Donald Trump. Since his days on the campaign trail, Trump has consistently made claims at odds with the truth. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, fact-checks Trump. The sheer number of inaccuracies is startling—most recently, Trump broke what Dale called “his one-week record for dishonesty,” making 57 false claims.

In a literal sense, there is nothing but the truth—our world is made up of scientific, real truths. But our own biases and perceptions may mean that we all have different truths, even when data tells us differently.

It is this that, in my mind, complicates CNN’s ad. Yes, the fruit in the image is an apple. But if enough people begin to say it is a banana, doesn’t it kind of become a banana? If everyone believes it is a banana, does it matter that it is really and truly classified as an apple?

In Trump’s presidency we’ve seen, for instance, him employ rhetoric insisting that Muslim people are dangerous and should not be allowed into the country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that the data shows that “more Americans have been killed by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners,” as Vox reported. Trump says, over and over, that Muslim people are dangerous and pose a threat to American security—and despite the facts proving otherwise, some people believe him. We are looking at an apple, but some people are convinced it is a banana.

The premise of CNN’s ad is correct: facts matter. But more and more, we are seeing that they might not matter to an alarming number of people. As I’ve already written, emotions, biases and perceptions can impact what we believe to be true. That right-wing media on his side are further perpetuating incorrect ideas about Muslim people only helps Trump’s case in convincing people of something that is not true.

But while some of us see sites like Breitbart and InfoWars as those perpetrators of false ideas and stereotypes, it’s important to remember that many people see centre and more left-leaning media organizations in this way, too. No media organization is perfect. I think it’s crucial to remember the role that journalists and media played in helping to elect Trump; both by giving his rhetoric sensationalized coverage, and by overplaying stories about Hillary Clinton such as her email scandal.

Still, the fact remains that many people see CNN and other similar news organizations as—to borrow one of Trump’s favourite terms—“fake news.” CNN may be calling apples apples, but when a large number of people (influenced by powerful politicians and media outlets) believe those apples to be bananas, we have a severe disparity in opinions.

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This is an apple. Right? (Source)

I may just be a journalism student, but in my opinion, it’s no longer enough for media organizations to say, “This is the truth—this is an apple and you should believe us because we are honest and value facts.” Some level of public skepticism in journalism is healthy (it is, after all, an imperfect institution). However, a recent poll suggests that 46% of Americans believe Trump when he says that major news outlets make up stories about him. As journalists, we need to do more to show the public why they can trust us, instead of just stating that that trust should exist.

One way that I see this happening is by creating a culture of transparency in journalism. I see a lot of news organizations taking steps towards this already. The Toronto Star, for example, launched a “Trust Project” to take readers behind the scenes of the newspaper.

These articles from the Star show how certain reporters take on their responsibilities, and even things like how the paper chooses when to publish a breaking news story, how they write headlines and how they correct mistakes. It’s hard to call something from the Star “fake news” when you read about the actual processes they use to ensure accuracy. This model of writing about the inner workings of the paper is enlightening to readers.

More transparency about how journalism is done can show the public why they should trust journalists when we say that an apple is, in fact, an apple. This is all not to say that CNN’s apple campaign is for naught, however. The ad is engaging in its simplicity and, if this lengthy post shows anything, it is certainly a conversation starter about facts and public trust in journalism. I hope that we continue to have these conversations as both producers and consumers of the news, because CNN is right—no matter how many times someone screams “BANANA” at an apple, the truth matters.


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What Happened and Moving On from the 2016 U.S. Election

You may have noticed that I’ve written quite a few blog posts about the 2016 U.S. Election and the presidency of Donald Trump. I even wrote about the fact that I write about Trump so much, after a friend commented on the fact that all of my posts seemed to be centering around American politics. In that post, I concluded that I would keep writing about Trump because his actions, words and policies have serious impact on the world. I’ve continued doing this; but it’s not just the current political climate that I find myself writing about. I keep coming back to the election.

The 2016 Presidential election was the first time when I truly felt engaged in politics. Some of the campaigning period overlapped with that of the Canadian election, so the combination of both really sparked my interest. Although I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time, I began to consider which candidate I agreed with most and which policy issues I felt most strongly about.

After a few years of continually asking my dad to explain the Electoral College to me, I finally understood it enough to be the one to answer my friends’ questions. I devoured articles about the primaries and brought up politics every chance I could. I was fascinated, and so excited to finally feel like I had a good grasp on what was happening in the political sphere around me.

I think though, more than this, I felt a connection with Hillary Clinton. I don’t ever remember a specific moment where I realized I identified with her, other than watching her speeches and realizing how intelligent and qualified she was. I admired her for being a strong woman in an area dominated by men; in some leadership positions I’d held in high school, I was among the few females represented. Mind you, I didn’t experience what Clinton did—rampant sexism and blatant misogyny—but regardless, I developed an appreciation for her leadership.

The day after Trump won, I wrote about the bewildering, blistering reality of watching Clinton’s concession speech. It was sometime in those days afterwards, when the smoke was clearing but the headlines were still confounding and conflicting, that I turned on Twitter notifications so that I got updates every time Clinton tweeted. I still have them turned on; it’s not often that a tweet pops up, but when it does, I smile because I remember her campaign and what she fought for.

You can probably assume, based on all of this, that I was thrilled when Clinton announced she’d be releasing a book. I had already read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, which contextualized many of the articles I’d read about Clinton’s loss and helped better shape my understanding of the election. Now, as I type this, What Happened, Clinton’s account of the 2016 election, sits on my bedside table. I’m not very far into it (and you can surely expect a post about my thoughts when I’m done), but so far I’m really enjoying it. I’ve written and read a lot about the election, as I’ve established; but I still jump at opportunities to learn more and think more about it.

It seems that I’m not alone in this curiousity. Quoting a tweet that says that Clinton’s book has sold the most copies of any nonfiction release in the past five years, Nate Silver wrote, “The notion that ‘nobody wants to re-litigate 2016’ is sort of a myth…”. I’m sure that not everyone who purchased or read What Happened supported Clinton; many probably read it out of hatred or so that they could argue about or dispute its contents. But still, a lot of people remain stuck on the campaign trail. This could be because the results of the election came as such a shock to many people that there were some psychological reasons for their inability to move on.

I have to wonder as well if it is partly because of the new inhabitant of the Oval Office that many people still think so much about the election cycle. After all, Trump is still holding campaign rallies (yes, even though he already campaigned and won). In many ways, he is still talking and acting like he’s on the campaign trail, leading some to believe he is already campaigning for the 2020 election.

The 2016 U.S. election was historic. We saw the first female leader of a major party and we saw a stunning defeat that many of us didn’t predict. There has been no shortage of things to reflect on in the wake of Nov. 8. What role did voter suppression play? What role did the media play? What role did Russian interference play? Should the Electoral College be abolished? Politicians, journalists, researchers and citizens are still searching for the answers to these, and many other, questions.

Reflection is good; action, I think, is better. I am excited to continue reading What Happened, not only to gain a better understanding of what really did happen but, more importantly, to learn how Clinton is moving forward and how she suggests the rest of us move forward, too.


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On the Virginia Protests, White Supremacy and Donald Trump

Reading the headlines about white supremacists rallying at the University of Virginia makes me wonder: Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong? I am curious especially because the President of the United States seemed to be unable to do these things at his press conference today.

Watching Donald Trump speak, I was, like many others, waiting for him to utter the words “White supremacists.” But he did not call the protesters what they are. He didn’t even acknowledge that they were any more in the wrong than the counter-protesters (some of whom, by the way, were hit with a car in what many are calling an act of domestic terrorism).

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said. His words have prompted many to ask: “What sides?” The torch-carrying, Nazi-saluting white supremacists started this protest last night; the “other side” would be, I guess, the people counter-protesting. There are not “many sides” contributing to the hatred and bigotry—there is only one.

That Trump didn’t outright condemn the protesters speaks volumes. His campaign rhetoric emboldened people because it made it seem like it was OK to act upon stereotypes and to discriminate against people. And his policy and legislation as president—from his Muslim ban to his recent immigration policy which would reduce the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. and give preference to those who speak English—only further invigorate white nationalist sentiments.

After the election, David Duke, former leader of the KKK, said that Trump winning was “one of the most exciting nights of (his) life.” Today, Duke said that, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” Trump has rebuked Duke in the past, but today he failed to openly decry the values of the white supremacists.

More and more, our societies are becoming more diverse. Many of us believe wholeheartedly in the undeniable truth that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are, and deserved to be treated as, equal. So people like the white supremacists in Virginia feel threatened. In a Twitter thread, user @JuliusGoat made an excellent point about the protesters. “They are chanting ‘we will not be replaced.’ Replaced as … what? I’ll tell you. Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters,” he said.

The actions of the protesters, as well as Trump’s response so far, are disturbing for a myriad of reasons. Had the protesters not been white, it’s likely that Trump would have issued a much stronger condemnation of their actions and words. Furthermore, that white supremacists are marching at all—in a progressive America, in 2017, no less—is a chilling indication that we, as a society, have not come as far as we may like to think.


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America, You Great Unfinished Symphony

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was, in many ways, a recipe for success. It was simple, catchy, and it articulated his clear ideas for the country he wanted to lead. Many, including the authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, have cited Hillary Clinton’s slogan as an epitome of the problems that ravaged her campaign: it failed to capture her version for America. She had policy ideas—scores of them. But Trump had those four words. Make America Great Again. And now, for better or for worse, he has the presidency.

Of course, whether America was ever truly great is up for debate. If America is great now, at this present moment, is also debatable. And is America any greater than it was before January 20, 2017, the date of Trump’s Inauguration? It is a sign of these politicized times that even calling America “great” (a word which is arguably one of the most elementary adjectives in the dictionary) is a charged discussion. It is a discussion which matters nonetheless, though. If you believe that America is currently great, you’re not going to want to change it; but if you believe that some aspects of America are great, but need some work, then you are more likely to attempt to improve it.

If you want my opinion—and I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you do, if only to express disagreement in the comments: I agree with the latter declaration. I think that there are aspects of America that are great—ideals which, if recognized, have the potential to create positive change. But you only have to read a few of the posts tagged “politics” on this blog to know that I am not pleased with the Trump administration (and “not pleased” is putting it lightly).

In theory, I think that the founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence have the power to pave the way to greatness. Fundamental equality? Unalienable rights? The pursuit of liberty and happiness? I’ve written before about the hollowness of the word “liberty,” but I digress. These ideals, if recognized, would make a great society.

“If recognized” are important words. Many of Trump’s policies challenge concepts like equality and unalienable, universal rights, making these things not tangible parts of society but instead unequally distributed privileges. In reality, America is not great because it has not fully realized these ideals. Maybe it is great in spite of the absence of them, though, because as we are seeing more and more, where there is trumping of rights (see what I did there?) there is triumphing of the Constitution. The ACLU, for example, is making America better. Good, even.

In case you didn’t understand the reference in my title of this post, it comes from the “death monologue” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stunningly genius musical Hamilton (spoiler alerts ahead, but if you don’t already know how the musical ends that means you haven’t listened to the soundtrack which means you need to skip this paragraph and listen to it ASAP). In the musical, Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, is killed in a duel with Jefferson’s VP Aaron Burr. In a beautiful and heart wrenching moment, the duel freezes right before Hamilton is shot. He launches into a monologue, one spoken earlier in the musical.

“Legacy, what is a legacy?/ It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see/ I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me/America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me/You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up”

That’s only part of the monologue; I could dissect the entire thing word by word, second by second. But I will focus on what I titled this post: “America, you great unfinished symphony.” I’ve already skirted around the word “Great” and whether or not it truly applies to America, present day or at any other time. Let’s talk about the idea of America being “unfinished”; an idea which makes me think of Barack Obama and his legacy which Trump has been steadily working to dismantle. Obama has lived to see the seeds of the garden he planted, and they’re being ripped up, some of them before they had the chance to grow. He wrote some notes in the song of America, but the choir has retired.

Unfinished. Healthcare, moving backwards. Women’s rights, moving backwards. Acceptance, tolerance, moving backwards. No one would claim that Obama “fixed” America; some argue that Obama actually paved the way for Trump’s success. Trump constantly claims that he was not aware how difficult certain things would be—“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated,” he claimed. Certainly some of his supporters believe that Trump would be able to be successful, if it wasn’t for the crooked Democrats and biased liberal fake news outlets who are holding him back. Trump’s work is unfinished, some would say. I would agree, I just don’t think he is the person to fix things.

Perhaps my favourite part of this line from Hamilton’s monologue is the word “symphony.” America is an overture; harps and flutes singing while trombones blurt out the foundation. Independence. Equality. Liberty. Happiness, or at least the unrelenting pursuit of it. These are the underlying notes of the symphony of America, finely tuned notes sung since America broke away from Great Britain so many years ago.

With the election of Donald Trump, the great, unfinished symphony of America is both dying out and playing in a more chaotic manner. Things are happening left, right, and centre. Where to look? Look right at Trump’s actions. And then look at the people resisting. The people helping. The people caring. The people refusing to give in. These are the people who make America great, and who are going to make it an even greater symphony. The symphony of America may never be finished, but members of its orchestra can be relentless in their pursuit of greatness, of fundamental freedoms and equality. It may never be fully great, or a finished symphony, as Hamilton’s character sings. But that is up to Americans to decide.


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Trump’s Remarks About Journalists Are Unacceptable, But Unsurprising

So much of what is happening in America lately is, to put it simply, unfathomable. Many actions may seem appropriate for an earlier time period, but are strikingly out of place in the “modern democracy” of the United States (quotation marks seem necessary). I could reference about any number of topics, from the growing evidence that Trump tried to stop FBI investigations into ties to Russia to his expansion of a policy he revoked early in his presidency to give U.S. aid to abortion providers across the world. I want to focus, though, on something close to my heart: the treatment of journalists under Trump’s administration.

In the aftermath of the explosive New York Times report that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his also-former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, another appalling tidbit was lost in the chaos. Trump suggested that Comey “Consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information,” writes Michael Schmidt.

This remark is startling at best and deeply troubling at worst. It is reminiscent of authoritarian governments and starkly un-American values. It is also, sadly, not a surprise coming from Trump, who has displayed malice towards journalists at every step of his path to the presidency.

Now, in the Oval Office, he still can’t see that journalists are an essential part of a democracy. I mean, it’s probably hard for him to see this, considering the impact of journalism on his reputation. Just this week, outstanding reporting from journalists at the Washington Post and The New York Times brought quick and serious implications; from calculated throwing around of the word “impeachment” — from both political sides — to the worst day in the stock market since Sept. 2016.

Interestingly, as Politico reporter Josh Dawsey noted on Twitter, Schmidt, the journalist who wrote about Trump asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn, was the same journalist who first broke the story about Hillary Clinton’s private email server. So was Schmidt “out to get” Trump? Or did he simply use the same journalistic rigour he applied to a story about Clinton to write a story about Trump?

As a journalism student, I am inspired by the persistence of journalists who cover Trump. They are up against serious odds — barred from press briefings, not invited to meetings with foreign officials, for example — and often have to decipher fact from fiction when White House officials blatantly lie (this is not to say that there haven’t been problems with media coverage of Trump, because there have). Journalists keep going, though, because what they do is important. The public has a right to know what is happening in their government, and journalists fulfill this critical role of gathering and communicating information.

Trump’s treatment of journalists both on the campaign trail and as President is unacceptable. But it is also unlikely to change. As the newly-appointed special prosecutor begins his investigations, I can only see journalists rightly continuing to cover Trump. But, sadly, I can only see Trump continuing to berate and belittle journalists in return.


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The Circle In Real Life: Mandatory Voting?

Technology’s place in society, questions of privacy versus security and issues of government transparency were all explored in The Circle, a new movie directed by James Ponsoldt and based on a novel by Dave Eggers. I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with Vox’s appraisal that the movie is “bafflingly bad,” but it certainly contains confusing elements and has a startlingly abrupt ending. However, the movie does feature several topical ideas that have relevance to our society and everyday lives.

Among those ideas was one that, as someone who has studied politics, I found intriguing: mandatory voting. In the movie, staff at the Circle, a Google-esque tech company, have the idea to link voting with citizens’ social media accounts. Essentially, in order to vote, you need this account; or, to put it another way, if you have this social media account, you must vote. In the meeting where the idea is pitched, someone draws a comparison to a totalitarian regime.

But, as another character says, we have hundreds of laws that govern people’s actions, and that’s not considered totalitarian. Laws surrounding driving, for example, are more or less accepted as being beneficial for the safety of members of society. Following speed limits, or general rules of the road, are not seen as optional, or as personal decisions. So then is voting a personal decision?

On one hand, of course it is. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Who people vote for is a personal decision; I’d argue that the decision to vote (or not vote) is also a personal decision. If people do not want to exercise their right to vote, then it’s their will to do this, so long as they live in a country that does not enforce mandatory voting.

In theory, mandatory voting is good because it encourages (or, rather, forces) citizens to get involved in the democratic process. Low voter turnout is a problem even in countries that pride themselves on their democracies (America had a turnout of approximately 56.9 per cent in the 2016 federal election). Mandatory voting would change this; but it wouldn’t automatically mean that citizens were well-educated about the choices on the ballot.

To professor and author Jason Brennan, this is a critical issue. He writes that “Bad choices at the polls can destroy economic opportunities, produce crises that lower everyone’s standard of living, lead to unjust and unnecessary wars (and thus to millions of deaths), lead to sexist, racist, and homophobic legislation, help reinforce poverty, produce overly punitive criminal legislation, and worse.” In other words, voting matters. It has huge societal implications, ones which reach beyond the voter and impact the millions of people in the country where the election is taking place. 

Brennan argues “That citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote” since it is only one way to contribute to a civic society. If citizens are not going to vote ethically, and with the greater good in mind, then “They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.” This, to me, is a compelling argument against mandatory voting. If people are not educated about the candidates, they will make uneducated decisions. This can negatively impact a country and, really, the entire world.

So then I return to my earlier question. Should we be able to decide whether or not we vote, or should this be a decision that the government makes for us through something like mandatory voting? I think it’s incredibly important to hear all voices in a democratic society; and yet, I’m not sure if forcing people to vote is the right way to do this. There are other ways to encourage people to vote, such as having a wide range of candidates who can speak to the issues affecting people, having more civic education so that voters are not ill-informed and making the voting process easier.



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To Write About Trump, or Not?

“You write about Donald Trump a lot,” my friend told me. I paused, thought about the the homepage of my blog, which I knew featured several posts about Trump. Then I thought about the drafted articles saved on my laptop—many of which are about Trump—and I nodded.

“You’re right,” I said. “But is a lot too much?”

Speaking of drafts, I have one called “To talk about Trump, or to not talk about Trump?” So let’s talk about talking about Trump (confused yet?).

A few weeks ago, Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale, came to speak at my journalism school. Dale fact-checked Trump throughout the election, and continued to fact-check him after he took office in January. He is, in other words, no stranger to writing about Trump. During his speech, he said, “Pretty much anything with Trump in the headline gets a ton of readers.” I nodded my head and laughed, because it’s true. As a news-consumer, I am quick to click on articles about Trump. And, lately, the articles I have written about Trump have outperformed non-Trump articles.

This, I think, is exactly the way Trump wants things to be. The adage “All press is good press” seems to embody Trump. Even in the days before he entered politics (the good old days, if I do say so myself) Trump faced negative news cycles. Still, they always seemed to work in his favour—more people watching The Apprentice, for example. I imagine the inside of Trump’s head is a chaotic place. The word “ratings” probably still bounces around a fair bit in his mind. After all, Trump did brag about the viewing statistics for his Inauguration. The presidency is like a reality TV show to him. Negative news about Trump is still good press to him.

So maybe we shouldn’t feed this. In January, I thought it would be cool to go a week without reading Trump-related news and then write an article about the experience. I imagine it would have been a bliss-filled week. I have to complete a weekly news quiz for my journalism class, though, so ignoring Trump-related news unfortunately isn’t an option for me (and, besides, another like-minded journalist ended up doing this experiment and writing about it). I have also considered what would happen if, for one day, news organizations just stopped talking about Trump and American politics. The problem is that, speaking of ratings, theirs would likely plummet. But a Trump-free news cycle would be so refreshing; and I think that’s what my friend was hinting at when she said I write about him a lot.

To say that a Trump-free news cycle would be refreshing, though, is an indication of my privilege. Unfortunately, many people can’t ignore Trump. To them, he isn’t just an incessant topic on CNN. He’s the reason they’re fearful to go outside, the reason their community is facing increasing hate crimes. Trump’s executive orders, policies, and actions affect real people—not just in America, but around the world. If you are privileged enough that they do not have a directly negative impact on you, then I believe you have a responsibility to speak up for those who are affected.

Beyond the fact that, as Dale said, posts about Trump are popular, this is one of the reasons why I refuse to stay silent about Trump. I want to think critically and write carefully about him, and I want to spark conversations and critical thinking for my readers. Maybe I am preaching to the choir—I have no evidence that any of my posts have, for example, made a Trump supporter change their mind about him. But if I’ve made one person think about him differently, or think about his policies and the people affected, then I think I’ve done my job as a blogger and as a journalist.

As I read and write about Trump, I am cognizant of the fact that so many other people are also writing about him. I am just one of the many voices, shouting Trump’s name into the void. Except it’s not really like that, because it’s not a void. I consider myself fortunate to be in a position where people read my blog, consider my words, and sometimes add their own perspective. I am not, by any means, a “definitive voice” on Trump or American politics. But writing about Trump challenges me, and it matters to me.

I know I write about Trump a lot. Maybe it is too much. Maybe we all write about Trump too much—because it is, after all, giving him the attention that he seems to crave. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that our words matter, because the impact Trump has matters. I am going to keep writing about Trump, the people he is impacting, and the ways we can help them. And if you are also a blogger, writer, or journalist, I would encourage you to do the same.


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Alternative Facts: Trump Versus the Truth

“All you have to do is write one true sentence,” Ernest Hemingway said. “Write the truest sentence you know.”

Once upon a time, this may have been easy. On the other hand, maybe it was never easy to write true words and to form true sentences. To write objectively about the truth becomes considerably easier when you know what the truth is. There are, naturally, some barriers to knowing the truth. Our own biases can prevent us from believing the truth, even if it’s right in front of us. And, of course, being presented with a truth in the first place requires someone else (or something else) to recognize that truth.

If you’ve been following politics at all over the last month or so, you’ll probably know where I’m headed with this. Two words, spoken almost a month ago and now so widely known that they have their own Wikipedia page, have had a tremendous impact on discussions of truth, lies, and everything in between. Because, apparently, there is something in between truth and lies: “Alternative facts.” These were the words Kellyanne Conway spoke in defence of Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer two days after Trump’s Inauguration.

As writers, journalists, humans, how are we supposed to write the truest sentences we know, when it’s not even clear what is a fact and what is an alternative fact? Sometimes, it’s obvious what is true and what isn’t. But more and more these days, the lines are blurring. Let’s say that Trump says something that is false (can you imagine?). Many of his supporters may believe him. Many others may not. Some people believe that Trump is telling the truth, even if there is evidence which suggests otherwise.

In this scenario, which has been playing out on a daily basis, the truth sometimes gets lost. What facts can back up is no longer seen as the truth; rather, what plays to people’s ideological biases is what is seen as the truth. Trump’s Muslim-majority travel ban, though struck down by the courts, is a perfect example of this. Although people from the countries he targeted have killed zero people in America, fear-mongering, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have caused many Americans (some surveys say the majority of Americans) to support his ban.

If a group of people believe a false statement, it doesn’t automatically become true. If everyone in the world suddenly decided that the sky was green, the sky would still be blue, in a literal sense. But if everyone believed the sky was green, then the truth that it is actually blue wouldn’t matter because everyone had constructed their own reality to live in. Again, this is playing out on a frightening scale in America.

Fake facts are nothing new, relatively speaking. Google “Lies about vaccines” and you see multiple perspectives on mistruths; either that the vaccine industry, and the mainstream media, are lying about the benefits of vaccines, or that people who are anti-vaccine are lying. The facts each “side” of the policy debate use ultimately shape their movement’s views. This raises a question: Can there only be one set of correct, objective facts? Most mathematically-minded people would say yes. But this would mean that millions of people, in America and around the world, live their lives based on complete lies — and some of these people might not even care.

The truth about alternative facts is this: They’re not harmless statements that warrant laughter and a trending hashtag. Alternative facts are real symptoms of Trump’s war on the media, on democracy, on human rights. And they are real signs that his administration is not going to succumb to reason or facts, but rather continue to pick and choose information to suit their misguided needs.

This is what I believe. That, to me, these are true sentences. But what is frightening about all of this is that it seems like some of what Trump is saying is what Hemingway would call “the truest sentence he (Trump) knows.” He truly believes the things he says, and even if he doesn’t believe all of it, a quick glance at social media shows that a lot of his supporters believe him.

So, enough of alternative facts. Here’s a real one: as this week’s Time cover predicts, there is a storm coming — for America, and for Trump. Read the weather forecasts carefully. Truth no longer carries the weight Hemingway believed it did, or hoped it would. How can it, when so many people accept “alternative facts” as the truth?


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What Would You Do if You were Stuck in an Elevator with Donald Trump?

As a journalism student, something I’m learning to do is ask questions. Not just any questions — open-ended, thought-provoking, hard hitting questions. In line with this, and coupled with my affinity for self-reflection, I often find myself pondering over questions that I’ve asked myself. Last week, I posed a random, though difficult, question to myself: What would I do if I was stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump?

My first instinct was that I wouldn’t feel safe in that situation, in a confined space with a man who doesn’t seem to respect the rights of anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Then, for some reason, I thought of throwing cold spaghetti at him (though this wasn’t an entirely arbitrary thought — on her podcast Not Too Deep, Grace Helbig asks her guests who they would most like to throw cold spaghetti at, so it’s a topic that I’ve already given some thought to).

I’m Canadian, so Trump’s policies don’t directly impact me (although his policies on things like free trade and the economy do impact me as a Canadian). But his policies are reflective of some people’s attitudes, and these attitudes and policies are already having an extremely negative impact on other people’s lives. So, in short, I think I could make a pretty convincing case for throwing cold spaghetti at Trump.

However, I could also make a convincing case not to do this. Although these situations are markedly different, thinking about what I would do if I ever encountered Donald Trump made me think of what Malala Yousafzai said she would do if she ever encountered a member of the Taliban, after they shot her for advocating for girl’s rights to education.

“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ Then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’”

– Malala Yousafzai on the Jon Stewart show

Again, I know that these two situations — mine, purely theoretical, Malala’s, a frightening reality  — are completely different. But the truth that Malala shared in that interview can be applied to the situation I am imagining. Because she is right. If, in this hypothetical situation, I yelled abrasively at Donald Trump, or ruthlessly insulted him, I would be no better than he is. And, as angry as he makes me, I would not want to stoop to his level. I would rather take Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”

I think again, though, that it is important to consider that I’m Canadian, and I’m privileged in that many of Trump’s policies don’t affect me (due to my race, for example). It may be easier for me to say that I wouldn’t stoop to his level, because my life hasn’t been turned upside down by his presidency. If any Americans who have been negatively impacted by Trump wanted to throw cold spaghetti on him, I wouldn’t stop them. I can only speak for myself when I say that I wouldn’t want to stoop to his level, and maybe my privilege plays a role in that.

Moving on from what I would do in this situation, though, another question is what I would say. What words could possibly reach a man who frequently rejects the truth? Clearly, some words get through to him — there is evidence showing instances where Trump has copied tweet material from cable TV shows. I’m inclined to believe in the positive power of words, as someone who hopes to make a career out of writing them. But so many words have been shed trying to convince Trump that he is not making good decisions (to put it lightly), and I’m not sure those words have been successful. What has been successful are the American courts, as demonstrated by the response to his travel ban, when the courts acted as checks on Trump’s power. And the lawyers didn’t even have to endure an elevator ride with Trump.

But what would I say? I would tell Trump that there are real people being negatively impacted by his policies. I would tell him that not all Muslims are terrorists, that, in fact, people from the countries he has included in his travel ban have not killed anyone in terrorist attacks in America. I would tell him that women are not objects, that we are fundamentally equal to men and deserve to be treated as such. I would tell him that his focus on “America first” should include the American people — including women, people of colour, Muslims, immigrants. Everyone. I would tell him that the fourth estate is critical to American democracy. And, finally, I would tell him that the way his policies are currently lining up, he is not making America great “again” — and that I’m not fake news for saying that.

Having said, or written, all of this, I’m curious. What would you do or say if you were stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump? Comment below and let me know or, if you feel so inclined, write your own post on the subject and link it back to me.


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