IN A JANUARY 14 INTERVIEW on CNN, Trump surrogate Ben Ferguson responded to Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) assertion that Trump is not a legitimate president by saying, “It is unprecedented. … I cannot imagine the fallout … if a Republican had ever implied that about Barack Obama.” Ferguson’s own implication, that no one ever questioned the legitimacy of the 44th POTUS’ election and administration, was the newest “party line” for conservative pundits and politicians. Just a day earlier, The Five co-host Dana Perino originated the line, and her panel quickly followed it up with a slew of birther jokes. Former RNC Chairman and current White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus repeated the statement to ABC the day after Ferguson’s interview, and the line has since been picked up by myriad conservative news outlets.
Ultimately, Newsroom host Poppy Harlow and Ferguson’s fellow guest, Symone Sanders, had the best strategy for combating the Trump surrogate’s ridiculous claim: to call out his lies and state the truth. Republicans spent eight years questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, and Donald J. Trump was among the first to float the soundly debunked conspiracy theory that his predecessor was born in Kenya, and therefore disqualified from holding the office of the presidency.* Ferguson attempted to pivot, claiming that prominent Republicans didn’t question the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate, but Harlow didn’t back down, saying: “The president-elect did that for years.”
Speaking out and standing firm in the face of blatant lies will be absolutely necessary in the next four years. The Trump administration has already made it abundantly clear that they intend to fatigue the public with lie after lie. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer devoted his first briefing to discussing the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, which he called “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.” Speaking with the CIA on Friday, Trump claimed that the rain stopped and the sun came out when he gave his inaugural address, hinting that God had blessed him with fair weather. Both claims were demonstrably false, and were thoroughly debunked by any and all video footage of the event.
When asked directly about Spicer’s lies by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on January 22, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed the press secretary had “alternative facts,” a phrase Todd quickly corrected to “falsehoods.” It wasn’t the first time a surrogate had suggested that the Trumpian version of reality was valid. Back in November, Scottie Nell Hughes told NPR that “[t]here’s no such thing … as facts.”
Trump spent more than a year on the campaign trail trying to convince his supporters that reports from mainstream media outlets, including CNN and The New York Times, were made up to destroy his campaign. Although it’s true that the media’s early treatment of Trump as a sideshow spectacle — as opposed to a true contender for the GOP nod and presidency — may have helped his campaign stay afloat, the 45th POTUS has targeted reporters over the last 12 months. Whether he’s blasting journalists as “scum,” announcing plans to change laws in order to sue writers for libel, or threatening to revoke White House press access for dissenting publications, which he has labeled “fake news,” Trump’s rhetoric and antics are enough to put the Committee to Protect Journalists on high-alert. On Trump’s inauguration day, several independent journalists reporting on the protests in Washington, D.C. were arrested and charged with felony riot, with police paperwork blaming them for property damage that occurred after the arrest.
It’s clear that the next four years will be filled with nothing but lies and a proud lack of transparency from the White House. Trump will not release his tax returns, according to Conway, and he has already gagged the EPA and USDA from using social media to engage the public. The lies come so quickly and easily that CNN has refused to air White House press conferences live, instead opting to show them on a delay, with fact-checking.
Donald Trump has been president for less than a week. In that time, he has erased pages on Civil Rights, LGBTQIA equality, health care, and the climate from the White House website; made abortion less safe around the globe; ordered agencies to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act; and pushed forward the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines. He shows no signs of slowing down, and neither should we.
So call him out. Don’t truck with media outlets that give his lies the benefit of the doubt. Share links to those who debunk his ridiculous claims. It’s armchair activism, to be sure, but it’s important.
* Note: Not only is this a lie, it’s a silly one. Being born outside of the U.S. would not have disqualified Barack Obama from becoming the President of the United States, as his mother, Ann Dunham, never relinquished her citizenship.