June 26, 2019 | 87° F

UZUMCU: Trump's "war on political correctness" is thinly veiled war on dissent

Opinions Column: Fahrenheit 250

President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist has made waves in the past couple of weeks. The choice itself isn’t too shocking, as much of Trump’s rhetoric is ideologically in line with what is now being coined as the "alt-right movement." The citizenry voted for a particular kind of messaging, affirming a right-wing source of media from a decade of unchecked radio shows and online journalism. Breitbart News, in particular, has been given a lot of credit for giving Trump the push and platform he needed to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.

Retrospectively, Trump’s one-liners and shocking positions might as well be Breitbart stories, which has worked its  "fringe ideology" to the mainstream. “Liberal media” sources fail to outline the greater and deeper threats Trump’s “War on the Media” poses. Trump’s assertions of the “lying mainstream media,” is far from trying to delegitimize or disempower news conglomerates — as much as his statements are  reconfiguring the media as a tool to homogenize and unify its position to his own. With consideration to Trump’s rhetoric, media needs to stop blaming itself for the election. On its current path, the heralded fourth estate may well become an extension of the state. Trump’s full-fledged attack on the media is more insidious and complex than it seems. His process is not entirely unlike the escalating Turkish state homogenization practices that have chipped away at a free press turned state press for over a decade. Not surprisingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist leader who energizes his base through divisiveness in his own right, condemns any American public dissent to Trump’s recent victory. To those that dismiss the campaign speeches and language as provocative need to pay closer attention to its already developing effects. Trump is building more than just a wall -- a propaganda fortress with a mouthpiece like Bannon at his side. Those attending alt-right movement gatherings who salute the president-elect with “heil Trump” is horrifying, even more so now that their actions are being dismissed as mockery. Even the movement’s name as the “alternative right” plays off the neo-Nazism and racism with a heavy dose of internet age mockery and trolling, fusing into the political process. Rather than taking Trump and Breitbart rhetoric for face value, the press needs to better underpin the propagandist logic behind state expansionism.

To elicit my worry more clearly, I point to the debate concerning “radical Islamic terror,” circulated by both alt-right media sources and Trump’s presidential campaign. "Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She (Hillary Clinton) won't say the name and President (Barack) Obama won't say the name. But the name is there. It's "radical Islamic terror." In this instance, words are important to Trump. Liberal politicians want to back from populist fear-mongering and talk about terrorism in terms of surveillance and security. Trump’s position on terror rhetoric cannot be divorced from its popularization in uniting the country to fight a war in Iraq and Afghanistan with unfounded evidence and propagandist messaging. A myth that unravels quickly is that Trump’s rhetoric is simple. Glenn Beck’s satirical lyrics on Obama’s unprecedented 2008 presidential victory, “Barack, the Magic Negro,” like Trump’s constant naming of “radical Islamic Terrorism” as only words in the age of “political correctness,” dismisses the work they’re doing to divide and build political power.

The Trump that believes the words “radical Islamic terrorism” hold importance, but at the same time vilifies language that works to include under the problematic umbrella of "political correctness." “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either,” stated Trump last year on the debate stage. My tracing affirms an important point of contention — rhetoric matters, even when pundits say it doesn’t matter. This political moment holds seismic implications across time and space. As much as it has proved to be a useful tool in galvanizing the citizenry against a common enemy, like “radical Islamic terror” or “illegal immigrants,” it collapses in on public freedoms. The logic behind Trump’s “War on the Media” or “War on Political Correctness” is not very different from President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” or President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” The war is not really on the objects they claim to destroy, rather, it’s on the people that are painted as perpetrators. Meanwhile, Trump, the actual perpetrator of his violence can further divide, and renege on the promises of his supporters as his political power stabilizes. When we read between the lines, Trump’s “War on the Media” is a war on dissent. It’s a war on the values that make people feel included and safe to express opposing opinions in public spaces, including those in the University.

Meryem Uzumcu is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in planning and public policy, Middle Eastern studies and women’s and gender studies. Her column, “Fahrenheit 250,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Meryem Uzumcu

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