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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Kanye West, Young People, and Politics

When I decided to stop watching the VMAs last night, I thought I had seen all of the important moments. I had seen Taylor Swift and her squad walking down the red carpet; I had seen her performance with Nicki Minaj; I had seen a few awards doled out. I went to bed questioning pop culture, but satisfied that I had seen the buzzworthy moments of the show. Boy, was I wrong.

This morning, I woke up to find that I had missed perhaps the biggest event of the night (and certainly one of the most talked about): Kanye West announcing that he plans to run for President in 2020. Everything about that statement seemed strange to me – especially that, of all the platforms available in this day and age, Kanye would choose an awards show geared at teenagers to announce his presidential bid.

source
Kanye at last night’s VMAs (source)

The more I thought about it, though, the more sense it made to me that Kanye would announce his political ambition to an audience teeming with young people. His actions represented the growing shift in the dynamic concerning young people and politics; comprised of, in my opinion, a change in the way adults and organizations are viewing the teen demographic, and a significant change in the way teenagers get involved in politics.

Many of the people who watched the VMAs are too young to vote. They are not, however, too young to voice their opinions. “[T]he worst thing that we, as young people, can do is to accept things [as] the way they are because of our age,” writes youth activist Rebekah Bolser in her article ‘The Key to being a Youth Activist’ on Huffington Post Teen.

She adds, “I know it’s hard to not find yourself discouraged by politics and the current system. But we cannot allow the people who pass these laws to create the world we will live in. We have to build that world ourselves.” Lately, it seems like more and more young people share Rebekah’s attitude of taking responsibility for the things that aren’t right in the world; and, in the process, breaking the barrier of age.

My interest in politics has skyrocketed in the past couple months. When I was younger I was mildly interested in poll numbers and policies, but these interests manifested themselves only in watching the news on election night.

Today, I am still too young to vote; but I consider myself more informed about politics than I used to be. I read articles in the newspaper and online about politics; I seek out more information when a subject particularly interests me; and I have debates and discussions about politics with my family and friends.

This may sound strange but I genuinely think that what jump started my interest in politics was Donald Trump’s campaign, as I am a fan of The Apprentice. Having seen his attitude in the boardroom on The Apprentice, I was interested how Trump would act in political settings when he wasn’t just in it for the ratings (he might still be in it for the ratings, in actuality – so that’s debateable).

The Trump announces his presidential run (source)
The Trump announces his presidential run (source)

In the months since he announced his plans to run for President, I have paid close, curious attention to Donald Trump’s campaign (my interest can be summed up by this article from The Onion). This has caused me to pay attention to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well, as well as the American election as a whole (even though I’m Canadian). Politics – both American, and Canadian – have become a common dinner table discussion for my family.

Earlier in the summer, my cousins came to visit. One of them is a year younger than me, and a year older than my sister, and and she’s very interested in politics. One day we took online quizzes to see which political parties aligned with our standpoints on various issues. That night, we all had a sleepover in my basement. Having just watched a Harry Potter movie, you’d think that our late-night discussions would have focused around magic and wizardry. They did not: instead we talked about taxes, and whether the 1% should have to pay more, and which political hopefuls agreed with our viewpoints.

As I fell asleep, my head filled with unsaid questions and debate points, I wondered how many other teenagers stayed up late discussing politics. I think, honestly, the number would be significant. The fact of the matter is that even youth are affected by the issues that politicians deal with; and because we can’t vote, we need to find other ways to make our voices heard.

An example that comes to mind are the strikes that recently happened in my local education system. Students were directly affected by the strikes, and many made the news for setting up online petitions and groups to protest what was happening. This, to me, highlights the growing realization of youth that making our voices heard is a way to affect change – and that often, politics factor into this.

Caring about the issues in our lives causes young people to care about politics, and many organizations and adults are taking notice. In the last municipal election, my school held a mock election. This is an example of one of the many initiatives geared towards harnessing the interest youth hold in politics.

Even without those initiatives, though, the discussions are still happening: on social media, in schools, at dinner tables, probably even at malls. And now, thanks to Kanye West, they are happening at awards shows.