Saturday, 30 June 2018

Trump’s terror campaign against the media bears its bitter fruit

Perversely, there was something serene and perfect about scenes conjured in my mind by the idea that a man had started shooting journalists in their office in Maryland. The news, which emerged online in the early morning, Australian eastern standard time, had an ideal cast to it like the image of the snake eating its own tail – the ouroboros – that was used in Renaissance Italy to express something that would otherwise be inchoate, or lie outside the margins demarcated by language in the secular universe. Things like the ineffable that we all feel at different times in our lives.

The same serenity and perfection were of course present in September 2001 when the planes struck the Twin Towers. After decades of American military and intelligence meddling in the politics of Middle Eastern nations, people from there had converted commercial aircraft, symbolic of capitalism, into weapons, to return the favour with a vengeance. This kind of purity of vision was rendered explicit for me in 2014 when I saw an exhibition of the work of Aida Makoto at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. One of the works on exhibit, a drawing done in pencil in stripped-down black and white titled ‘Imagine’, shows the purported view out the front windows of the first jet as it approaches the two buildings in New York on that deadly morning. The word is written on the picture in a frail script that is meant to resemble handwriting. (It might be the home of the brave but if you are famous death dogs your footsteps on every street.)

All those guns. The 38-year-old Annapolis suspect shooter, Jarrod Warren Ramos, clearly had no trouble getting his hands on one. America has little to recommend it but it does encourage a tendency where people there find in it the inspiration to create the ideal expression of something, one stripped of any trace of ornament, like an action painting by the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (the runs and drips of his paint can remind you of the blood of the slain), a piece of pop art by Robert Indiana (he would have gone to town with the epithet “fake news”), or one of Mark Rothko’s contemplative canvases. With Rothko, the divine is somehow present in the material world before you. God right there, hanging on the wall, an epiphany in canvas and oil and pigment. It just might be the everyday presence of death that focuses the mind thus on essentials. A word comes to mind that is used to describe the presence of the divine in the world: “immanent”. It means “dwelling within”.

(I had to wait for this word to manifest itself. Initially it eluded my grasp, like an eel in a tub of murky water. My poor ageing brain would not surrender it up. Then I went out and walked around the city and it came to me eventually but I had to first bribe it to emerge by offering the two letters at its beginning, as a hunter might try to coax an animal out of its burrow with a morsel of food, or a twitcher might get a bird to reveal where it sits hidden among the branches and leaves of the forest by mimicking its call. I had tried using the letters “in” in the morning before going out because they seemed right, and had even taken out the dictionary to look through the listing of words beginning with them. I also looked through words listed that start with “ex”. Then later when I was on York Street the word “imbricate” suddenly appeared in my mind. It is a word that I had used in a poem on 24 January 2014, and by proffering the “im” that sits at its beginning at the doorstep of my memory, the right word finally appeared.)

Five people with perfectly good brains yesterday met the end of their mortal spans, including four journalists, and at least two more people were wounded by bullets fired from Ramos’ gun, because of the sustained terror campaign that Donald Trump has waged against the mainstream media in the United States from before the time of his nomination as the candidate for the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential election. Those who died were Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters. The sustained campaign stemming from the right side of politics is certainly the reason the shooter did what he did, and it’s starting to infect public discourse in Australia too through the Liberal Party’s campaign against the public broadcaster, the ABC.

In the wake of the Annapolis shooting, we will see more opportunities for Trump to cry “fake news!” and to lambast the media in the coarse and caustic style he has made his trademark, the way a man speaks when he feels threatened by people who are more talented, intelligent, or better educated. A tone of voice used in the street by local toughs more comfortable with applying their fists than their wits to get their way. More comfortable picking up a gun – don’t touch my second amendment! – and using it to make a point that someone unlike him could make with words alone. “Words, words, words,” mused Prince Hamlet contemplatively as he struggled with the truth his father’s ghost had revealed to the young man about his murder.

Words had failed Ramos in the past. Six years ago, he sued the newspaper, The Capital Gazette, whose offices he would later target, for defamation, and lost the case. Inspired by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, he has now made a more uncompromising statement to suit the tenor of the times.

Really nothing should surprise us anymore about Trump’s America, a country so damaged from generations of neglect that it can only accurately be described as the sick man of the west. “’I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.’ Milo Yiannopoulos in a text to a reporter earlier this week.” This tweet from Ohio resident Kevin Honaker appeared on Twitter at 8.42am AEST yesterday. It referred to the British commentator who supports policies like Trump’s that demonise minorities. But in the US on the day after the shooting Trump gave some hollow words to the media about it:

"This attack shocked the conscience of the nation and filled our hearts with grief," he said at the White House. "Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs."

"My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life.”

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