Almost 50 years ago Guinness decided to sell alcohol in the American market. It put up billboards with the slogan: “Guinness is good for you.“
That was OK in Ireland but not necessarily in the United States. Guinness couldn’t really prove that it was the truth.
So in fear of being sued in American courts for “misrepresentation,” they changed it to ”Guinness is for you.”
For the last four years, President Trump has used Fox and social media to build his base with willful misinformation. And after he lost the last election, he claimed the election stolen was from him, a claim repeated endlessly by him and others on Fox and social media.
He could not prove it was the truth, because it is not, but maybe he doesn’t have to.
The question is: was Trump’s misinformation worse than a Guinness hangover?
Trump used this misinformation to encourage his supporters to come to Washington on January 6th to disrupt the Electoral College certification of our election.
The House of Representatives and the Senate were attacked and our elected officials were put at risk. Five people died.
American courts recognize and award damages for the dissemination of misinformation in commercial maters in the form of false advertising and in personal matters as defamation (formally libel and slanderer). But when it comes to misinformation delivered as political speech, it gets more difficult. The 1st Amendment largely protects that speech because it is political, but let’s follow the money.
Is free speech political? Or is it property, which can be sold to make money even if it is misinformation?
On October 12, Fox paid millions to the family of Seth Rich for repeatedly publishing the lie that he had been involved in leaking the DNC emails during the 2016 presidential election when in fact a Russian intelligence officer had hacked and leaked the emails. There was no truth or factual basis for the Fox story. Fox continued to broadcast it anyway. Fox settled the case before Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity were set to testify under oath.
What makes this interesting is that part of the settlement required that it could not be disclosed until after the election in November.
Doesn’t this Fox settlement requirement both confirm that their reporting was political and acknowledge that it was false all along?
If you can afford to pay for the lie and even profit from it, it’s OK? Is the difference between the settlement and the profits generated for Fox from the marketing of misinformation the fair market value of propaganda in America?
It is business. It is politics. The business of American politics. But what is for sale?
The influence over the American voter is for sale, but is the country at stake? Is the price tag for our country the cost of the propaganda it would take to buy it?
Can this really be what the framers intended? The revolution? The Constitution? The freedom of the people from King George? And then give King George complete immunity and absolute power if he becomes the president?
It is amazing how we rationalize the truth. Over the last four years, maybe Guinness has been good for me.
You don’t really know what’s going on unless you have the courage to read the tweets and live in the misinformation of his campaign. If you really think that this all will go away with an inauguration of a Democratic president, you’re crazy!
The Biden victory did not affect most of the embedded state and local Republicans candidates who rallied around and were supported by Trump. That divisive campaigning has not stopped.
It has increased with an attack on the legitimacy of the election and certification, which has been supported by Republicans who are still afraid to challenge the president.
As reported in The New Yorker, Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney in 2012, tweeted: “The bottom line is that the @GOP has become a threat to democracy…it’s a clear and present danger and should be treated as such.” (Emphasis added.)
Steve Schmidt, a Republican campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, called Trump Republicans “an American autocratic movement with Fascistic markers.” (Emphasis added.)
Below is a video that was posted on Twitter by President Trump 12/23. It’s a 17-minute video split into two parts. I wouldn’t want you to have to watch the whole thing but check out the second half. This tweet multiplied with 111k retweets, and 10.4K quote tweets and received 265K likes.
Since the election, Trump’s efforts to take over the country have gotten more extreme, culminating in efforts to overturn the vote of the people.
Abraham Lincoln, also a Republican, has been quoted as saying “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Actually, Abe, all you need is 49% of the vote and the Electoral College.
A child’s memory of Christmas viewed through a grandfather’s eyes
Like a massive multicolored parachute
His boxers have collapsed upon the floor
Slightly south of a wrinkled Santa Suit
That was left just outside the bathroom door.
A bunch of imagined elves in repose,
Smoke’n cigarettes, feet on the table,
Hang’n out and laugh’n ’bout Rudolf ‘s nose
Are love’n life as only elves are able.
Another Christmas, is at long last, past
As the fat man shampoos in the shower
And thinks of golf and summer thoughts at last.
Who’s this metaphor for redemptive power?
An old fat guy driving a sled with gifts?
A father at midnight is what it is.
What is the matter with me? Is this pandemic changing my DNA?
What could be worse is that I am afraid that my house has become a COVID Cocoon but I sure as hell don’t feel like a butterfly in the making.
The only thing that might be worse is when you can’t get a song out of your head or… you start your own song and it rhymes and you can’t stop thinking you are… becoming a bug.
“So what did I do to get rid of this?
I went to the bookshelf but what did I see?
The first thing I saw was Kafka’s Metamorphosis
And I knew this was getting much bigger than me.”
It is true. The only thing worse than when you can’t get a song out of your head is when you know you’re becoming an insect.
My entire life, up to this point, all I knew was slap, squash, or use the fly swatter. I had never really paid attention to bugs. I just killed them.
Bugs clearly have individual intelligence and different IQs. Ants are organized, bees, and hornets are organized and mean, houseflies are existential daredevils, moths get suicidal, and stink bugs are just plain stupid.
Have you ever seen an ant make a decision? They are clearly deliberative and change their minds. I recently observed a particular ant for 15 minutes or so as it stopped, changed direction, exercised preferences, and hunted and gathered in my kitchen. It was just like me at the grocery store when I don’t have a shopping cart.
I clearly had to get out of the cocoon fast and go grocery shopping.
I got in the car, but imagined that there would be a sign on the grocery store door that said “No Bugs Allowed.”
I became frightened.
What scared me was the logic in that. The store obviously did not want bugs inside, but what about me? Don’t I have feelings too?
Once inside everyone was wearing masks and picking through the vegetables. They all look like unique little bugs with different IQs and shopping carts.
What does it mean that during winter they don’t sell fly swatters?
Then things got messy:
Maybe it’s all reverse reincarnation and the bugs were just waiting because they don’t want to become humans in a pandemic? Of course, that meant we had a lot in common, the bugs and I. Maybe Darwin was right. Maybe I’m not a caterpillar yet because I hate salads?
Maybe we — I mean all of us — wonder if we are being insensitive as we share the same universe?
Or maybe it might be nice if, one bright morning next spring, if I left my damn house after this whole thing is over… as a butterfly?
The primary issue of every leader in any democracy is to protect and preserve free speech based on credible facts and information to ensure that the people control the government rather than the government controlling the people.
When faced with Covid, the Democratic Party defined leadership by asking “What is the best way to solve this national crisis?” They insisted the answer was to follow the best available science. Trump, however, defined the issue by asking “Why should American freedom be curtailed by overbearing mask wearing liberals and political correctness?”
For Trump, the primary issue has always been how to define the Democrats. He vilifies them on Twitter and supports media that broadcasts conspiracy theories, unsupported false information and propaganda in order to polarize his base. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute.
Trump lost the election but this argument isn’t over.
Trump received 74 million votes and remains the voice of the Republican Party. It has been reported that over half of all Republicans believe that the election was stolen and Trump won.
The issue now is how can the country address this polarization in order to preserve its democracy.
The First Amendment broadly protects anything related to free political speech, so a democracy cannot rely on the government to police and protect the voting public.
In the alternative, the president of a publicly-held company would be liable for a breach of fiduciary duty for the Covid loss of life which could’ve been prevented if not for his self-dealing at the public’s expense.
Could the Justice Department create a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice, violations of the Hatch Act and many other examples of malfeasance? Yes.
What if Trump pardons himself? This has never been tested and the authorities are split, but I am virtually certain that he could not. There are endless Constitutional textual analyses available, but a self-pardon would imply the founders granted an American president more power than the king they hated, and placed the President above the law.
The people could, through their legislators, lift the protection preventing civil law suits against private companies, such as social media in defamation cases. That is not government shutting down political speech — it is just permitting damages for false speech at the expense of a private citizen or companies. But it sure could change behavior if their revenues were put at risk for profiting from the political polarization.
The only solution is that the people must protect their own government.
Public discussion to change public opinion is the only solution. It is our own individual responsibility to find ways to revive public speech.
Democrats need to listen and may need to forego prosecution or vindication rather than prove to themselves they were always right. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute. It is a private obligation.
America, when it was created by its Constitution, mandated free political speech as a necessity for an open and free society.
All of that is at risk now, given the past administration. The most damaging is the legacy of “fake news” and the resulting propaganda.
Prior to the Internet, political news was sold by a press that was dependent on the reputation of the newspaper which sold it. The source and credibility of the information is what gave it value to the consumer and the advertiser.
Since the Internet and social media, these safeguards have been largely lost because the credibility of the writer and supporting facts need not be disclosed at all and therefore anything can be pitched as credible including propaganda and fabricated conspiracy theories. It is all the same unless the factual credibility and bias can be challenged reliably.
A newspaper Publisher is presently liable for “actual malice,” as liable as the writer of the article. However, social media platforms are legislatively protected from this same liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. What makes it worse is if there is no liability there is little or no incentive for these media platforms to police the speech they publish. And what makes it even worse is political advertising in a polarized country has been very lucrative.
The media platforms claim that they cannot possibly police all those who publish anonymously on their portals. But they can and the price to our country is too great if they don’t.
If we file to create a corporation, drive a car on the highway, use the court system, or do just about anything affecting the health and safety of our city or country, we as individuals are accountable for the truth of our identity and the information we provide in order to get licensing. But anyone, American or not, can publish on the Internet and disappear.
This is a battle which is about to go into full swing and where we live will be determined by the outcome. Our free speech and our democratic government are not “free.” We assume responsibility for preserving them or we all lose together.