Forced to take Trump seriously

I’ve been attacked on every front important to me. As a journalist, how do I fight back?

At one time or another, President Trump has attacked every part of my identity.

He’s made disparaging remarks about Mexicans, liberals,  journalists, and women.

Like many Americans during the 2016 election cycle, I didn’t take Donald J. Trump seriously. Who could, I thought. Like a lot of people, I felt Donald Trump was just too ridiculous a character to have a genuine chance at the presidency.  

Now that we’ve made it through his first 100 days, I feel the same way.

But the part of me that is a journalist has been forced to take Trump’s presidency seriously, and it hasn’t been easy.

Before the election

During his campaign, Trump was quoted as saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I am Mexican. My mother came to the United States in 1974, when she was only 10 years old, and before that my father’s parents had also come to the U.S. from Mexico. My heritage is very important to me, and although my parents had always raised me as an American first, my identity is tied to Mexico.

I’ve endured the micro aggressions and jokes my entire life, it’s nothing new. What was new was the blatant outright racism that Donald Trump and his supporters threw at Mexicans. A presidential candidate was calling Mexicans drug smugglers, criminals, and rapists. And people were okay with it.

His words had impact. Especially to those that did not have any Mexican family or friends, especially to someone who could easily believe that Mexicans were the “other.” The blame of American crime and drug usage had been placed on us once again, this time by someone who garnered popularity thanks to his “Make America Great Again” campaign promise/slogan.

Trump’s comments put Mexican-Americans in real danger. Trump supporters even beat a man nearly to death in Boston simply because he was of Mexican descent. I became nervous to tell people I was Mexican. My fair complexion allowed me to pass as white and avoid confrontation. My parents had told me my lightness might come in handy one day, I’d hoped the day would never come.

As the election drew closer, I let myself believe that once Trump’s campaign was done, there would be less hatred among the races. People would go back to policing racism and being ashamed to make those kind of comments in public. I was wrong. I was so wrong.

In September and October, the recurring theme in my journalism classes was joking about a Donald Trump presidency with our professors, while writing stories about him. We were told to write as though we were taking his run seriously. We laughed at how the major news networks spent time covering Trump’s antics. How could they even report what he said as though he was anything more than a joke?

November 8th, 2016

On election night, I was working as a writer for BUTV10s election show,The Vote 2016.” My main job was continuously checking the vote count in each state as the polls closed. My evening started at 3:30. In the writer’s room, filled with women from a diverse background, we felt confident at the end of the night we’d have our first female president. Hillary Clinton hadn’t been my first choice, but on November 8th, she was the best choice.

At the beginning of the night, we joked about a Trump win. “If Donald Trump wins, let’s move to Ibiza and drink cocktails for the next four years,” my friend Sanaz said. I told her to count me in, because the idea of Trump winning that night had not been a serious thought.

It felt like a slap in the face.

That’s the best way I can describe what it felt like to hear that CNN and other reputable news organizations were calling the winner. “Trump.” The shock on their faces was mirrored in our own tiny newsroom.

The journalist in me was confused. What had we done wrong? How could we not have seen what was coming? Everything else in me was broken hearted. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my own friends, my own family members, my own country.

I shared my thoughts throughout the night on Twitter. 

Although most news sources had deemed Trump our 45th president, many announced that votes were still coming in, I let myself be hopeful for a few more hours, even though my spirit was crushed.

Everyone was gathered in Studio East, inside of the School of Communication at BU, for our producer Natalie and the professors to close out the night. Most everyone was upset. A few students hid their delight out of respect, and for that I was thankful, I don’t think I would have been able to keep myself together if they hadn’t.

My eyes met with an acquaintance that I’d known was gay. He knew that I was Mexican. He walked over to me and without saying a word we embraced and let out a few silent sobs. We hadn’t said more than a few sentences before or since, but that moment meant so much to me.

We wrapped up the night at nearly 2 in the morning. My eyes were burning trying to hold back the tears that had been building since the last few states had been called. I wanted nothing more than to cry myself to sleep back in my room, but I still had an article to rewrite and submit to my journalism professor and a class at 9 the next morning.

I did my best to vent my frustration on Twitter by promoting peaceful activism and retweeting political commentary I agreed with. 

The aftermath

Trump’s campaign and now presidency has had a profound effect on journalism, the media and entertainment.

Just one day after the election, still feeling overwhelmed and crushed, I was assigned to produce a package asking Boston University students how they think President Trump will fare during his time in office, with positive, negative, and neutral reactions. My emotions were raw, but deadlines don’t care. And though my professor was sympathetic to my feelings, the assignment stood.

For the first time, I was forced to “suck it up” and put my personal opinions aside for the sake of my work. I had never felt so sick about a project. Interviewing Trump supporters, coming face to face with people that has voted against me, made me nauseous. As I wrote my script for the video, I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout that Trump hadn’t won the popular vote. That Trump’s ideology was exactly what was wrong with America and anyone that had voted for him was just as hateful. That the assignment was stupid because we all knew that Trump was unfit for the presidency and taking him and his supporters seriously was irresponsible.

As I struggled with the assignment, I shared my frustrations with my dad via text message. He responded simply “Calm down, I love you. Don’t let him [Trump] claim victory over your life. It’s not a personal defeat.” Though it felt personal, I realized he was right, as a journalist, it wasn’t about me. I couldn’t afford to take everything personally.

Ultimately I ended up with a dull, objective 2 minute video in which I smiled as Trump supporters said they were looking forward to the changes that the Republican majority would bring and hoped Trump would follow through on his campaign promises. The same campaign “promises” that I viewed as threats.

I ended the video by saying something to the tune of “We’ll have to wait and see what a Trump presidency brings,” encouraging others to remain hopeful despite fears they may have, the same fears I had (and still have). I surprised myself by maintaining my composure and completing the assignment. I was able to set aside my own feelings and report on Trump objectively for the first time, I proved to myself that it could be done.     

The methodology of journalism has evolved over the last year in order to cover Trump. Journalists were pressed to maintain neutrality, letting the audience decide for themselves once the information was presented.

Trump’s  bending of the truth forced journalists to take a more combative stance, fact checking him at every turn. Before he had even been elected, Trump changed the way journalists presented political information. CNN Media reported on many of the changes journalists were making in order to keep up with Trump in early November. I think this quote from the article sums it up best.

“Trump provided journalists with a unique challenge. In his frequent lies and baseless insinuations, he went against the thing journalists claim to value most: truth. In proposing a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, promoting a conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama’s provenance and refusing to commit to accepting the results of the election, he challenged fundamental American values. In attacking the media, he threatened the freedom and safety of the press itself.

To many journalists, these were not partisan issues. They were at odds with American democracy, some felt, and therefore worthy of an aggressive response, even if that gave the appearance of bias.”

Journalists had to lean away from neutrality in favor of the truth and because of this, Trump and his supporters have began to dub even reputable news organizations as the “biased, liberal media” and as “Fake news.”

Trump has been open about his contempt for journalists. In January, The Atlantic put together a string of quotes that outlines how our current president has attacked news media.

Here are a few of my “favorites.”

  • The day after his inauguration, he told a crowd of intelligence officers he has “a running war with the media,” whose members he called “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” He then accused news outlets of lying about the size of his inauguration crowds.
  • After going a record-long span without press conferences, he used his first to berate a CNN reporter, calling himfake news,” and Buzzfeed News, dismissing it as a “failing pile of garbage” for its release of an unverified dossier containing damaging allegations about Trump.
  • His transition team said it was considering a plan to evict the media from their traditional roost in the White House press room. “They are the opposition party,” a senior official told Esquire. “I want ‘em out of the building.”

As the current producer on the BUTV10 series Good Morning BU, a live morning news program, I’ve been forced to take Trump seriously every week. As a news show, we cover politics in our “Capital Beat” segment and I am the copy editor in charge of reviewing and fact checking elements of the story. While I can’t stifle the eye roll when I see the latest public relations nightmare coming from the White House, I always take my responsibility seriously.

I’ve found that my personal issues with Trump’s presidency do not have to be completely separate from what I do as a journalist. It is because of my feelings that I’ve become more diligent as a journalist. I strive to have to most accurate story make it on air that week, I want to catch the president in a lie.

Trump has been a gold mine for late night comedy. SNL has seen it’s highest ratings in 20 years and late night hosts have seen growing ratings since Donald Trump entered into politics. Hosts like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee have been praised for their ratings boosts due and sharp political criticism. The revamped political comedy has been a coping mechanism for many, including myself.

I can’t say how journalism will continue to change, but as a Mexican-American, a woman, and a human being, I’m grateful to journalists everywhere that are continuing to fight the good fight as the fourth estate.

The freedom of the press is crucial to our democratic way of life by providing access to information to the people as well as “checking” our elected leaders. It is written in our constitution (in fact it’s our first amendment) that the government cannot restrict the freedom of press to speak freely. And even though our current administration has tried (and will most likely continue to try) to discredit and limit the work of the press, I have no doubt that our constitution will be upheld.

 

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