Op-ed: What we can do about the ‘war on media’

The Tufts Daily Editorial Board wrote an instructive piece on the Trump administration’s “war on the media.” The writers detailed the offenses that both President Trump and his top advisors have committed against the press corps  —  focusing on the role of credible journalism in the reliance of our democracy on the relentless pursuit of truth.

The administration can continue to attack the press, the judicial system and individual citizens, but Trump has hit the revealing wall of politics: conviction. Throughout his campaign, his transition and now his presidency, there has been a ridiculous conversation about, “Well, if only Trump could stick to the issues…” While it may seem obvious to most of us, Trump’s policies being born out of his words and actions show a lack of conviction that is required for successful politics. Barack Obama was an effective president, not because of his inspiration, but because of his pragmatism and decency. Trump’s lack of grace trickles down to the covetous backstabbers that surround him and allows the candor of the press to dismantle the operation of the executive branch.

Watch reporters like Jake Tapper on CNN who have years of experience asking presidents and their press secretaries tough questions who are now treating the new administration to Murrow-like interrogations. To the informed viewer, these interviews reveal the dearth of policy knowledge, substance and planning required to run the government.

And then if you want to really understand the new administration, I recommend subscribing to notifications for Maggie Haberman’s tweets  —  a minute-by-minute dissection of the president’s psyche. Haberman, from the New York Times, has an uncanny ability to court the president in off-the-record phone conversations, while simultaneously printing scathing lively stories about the inner workings of the Trump team.

There are also the colorful discourses from online publications like Vox, Slate, the Daily Beast and a hodgepodge of writers that add a bit more zest to Washington.

The more you read, the more you will be able to differentiate substance from sheen.

But as Tufts students, we owe society more than our own education. We have to understand that while the role of the press is to hold the administration accountable, the role of the press is not to take political action. I would like to expand upon our role in this pursuit and how we can reach our potential as citizens of the world.

When Trump and his team attack the media, it is not just an invasion of fact. The Trump administration deliberately creates an aesthetic division between “us” and “them:”  university-educated coastal elites and the real American worker. Their cynical mission is to assail and isolate the people that read and trust the New York Times, the Washington Post and the bedrock of institutional journalism.

But the division sought is not just over good journalism. It is over many of our long-standing norms and elite institutions. Our country does not have faith in our banking system, our social programs, our business executives, our congress  —  the establishments that our society needs to thrive. The same institutions that many of us endeavor to lead.

On a cold January day in 1961, John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington and told the crowd gathered, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Tufts strives to avoid cliche. And so I am asking you, my fellow Tufts Students: What can we do to combat the bulls–t of the Trump administration?

To understand the Tufts solution, we need to understand the Tufts problem.

Our community health majors understand the outrage of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Our international relations majors understand the nuance of the Iran Deal.

Our engineers, chemists and biologists understand the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Our community understands the horror of a Muslim ban.

We are right on these issues, but we also tell ourselves that we are right on the issues.

Sitting at the Tim Kaine event a few weeks ago, I felt unsettled listening to students applaud the popular vote win and Kaine’s performance at the Betsy DeVos hearing. Every cheer seemed to be a shift toward comfort, toward “everything will be okay.” It was all very abstract and self-soothing.

America is in the middle of a national crisis  —  we should be concerned with the health of politics in the Tufts community. Everything is not all right and it is not enough to just tell our Tufts friends that we are right and they are wrong. It is not our job to tell Kellyanne Conway that she is lying through her teeth. Let Jake Tapper do that. The Trump administration wants to drive intelligent people away from politics by turning elections, affordable healthcare and foreign policy into a show. We cannot let the people in power do that in our community.

It is great to raise money for Planned Parenthood and refugee organizations. But it is important to remember that raising these funds is a backup plan meant to keep good organizations afloat during a dark four years. Had we found a couple thousand more votes in a few swing states, we wouldn’t need to worry about the vitality of organizations that provide stability to people who desperately need it.

Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million per year from federal, state and local government funding. The Mexico Wall will cost taxpayers approximately $15 billion.

The Affordable Care Act is hundreds of billions of dollars below cost estimates. A small fraction of this money could be used to improve subsidy levels for middle-class people.

Do the math. Politics is important.

We need to understand that it may seem insignificant to the country to win a local election, but presidential elections are won by creating person-to-person trust on street corners all over America. We have the information to influence and the ability to make political change at the local level.

Many of my friends feel strongly about their politics but don’t want to compete over it because they are afraid of telling someone that their values are wrong. But we are smarter than that. While we may not agree on the issues, we share values with people all over the United States who do not understand that the policies we believe in will help them. To implement the policy, we need to reach those Americans with a more human political message. This isn’t wrong or pandering; it is healthy public service.

In a November 2016 interview with David Axelrod, who is the former Chief Strategist to President Obama, Van Jones, another former member of the Obama Administration, speaks of the advice his father gave him in the driveway of their house before he left for Yale Law School. His father told him that there are only two kinds of smart people in this world. There are those smart people who take simple things and make them sound complicated, to enrich themselves. And there are those who take complicated things and make them sound simple, to empower and uplift other people. His father warned, “When you come back from Yale, you better be that second type of person.”

So pick up a paper. A New York Times, a Washington Post, a local paper, the Tufts Daily. Think about the issues that excite you and delve into the details. There are fascinating conversations to be had in Dewick, Carm and at the Rez. But take those conversations off campus and understand that the privilege and conviction provided by a Tufts education do not separate you from red-blooded America.