Donald Trump’s attacks are damaging the good guys, too

Donald Trump 'is attacking the institutions which protect the American way of life.'

Donald Trump 'is attacking the institutions which protect the American way of life.' Photo: Getty

Fear can be all-consuming.

In Donald Trump’s America, there is fear of terrorists and of job losses from immigration and refugee arrivals.

The new White House administration, with Steve Bannon – the former head of Breitbart News – as chief strategist, is determined to be on the front foot after President Trump declared that America First starts “right here, right now”.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm ‘Trumble’ – as Mr Turnbull was called by White House press secretary Sean Spicer – was collateral damage following the President’s reportedly robust phone call over a US commitment to resettle 1250 Nauru and Manus Island asylum seekers.

In spite of statistics showing death by terrorism is negligible in comparison to domestic deaths caused by gunshot and transport accidents, the nightly news vision of atrocities, horror and carnage anywhere in the world is front of mind for US citizens and ripe for exploitation.

Mr Trump may have built his Electoral College victory on the momentum of fear itself.

He and his advisers are also confronting the media and the accepted practices of journalism, and amid the fallout from the travel ban they are attacking the US justice system.

Just where this combativeness will lead remains uncertain. But it is already testing all of the institutions of US democracy where the separation of powers – the independent discretion of the executive, the parliament (Congress) and the judiciary – is meant to provide a check and balance against any abuse of power.

Additionally the Fourth Estate, or media, is meant to tell the public what is really going on.

While Mr Trump does not hold back in blasting critical media with some spectacular, reality show-style putdowns, committed journalists are preparing to sacrifice any White House access privileges to rely solely on the grindstone work of factual reporting.

It’s not a Muslim ban

This became apparent last week over the so-called Muslim ban – an executive order that quickly followed Mr Trump’s inauguration address declaring “radical Islamic terrorism will be eradicated from the face of the Earth”.

The motivation behind his presidential order to reject people seeking to enter the US from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days was said to be keeping the American people safe from “bad people with bad intentions”.

But Trump supporter Rudy W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, demonstrated that the ban was a religious dog whistle when he unwittingly exposed the White House’s explanation of the ban as disingenuous.

Asked if the ban had anything to do with religion, Mr Giuliani replied: “I’ll tell you the whole history of it. So when [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally’.”

trump protests

People protest at the arrivals hall of San Francisco’s SFO International Airport. Photo: Getty

Mr Trump had said he would favour Christian refugees over other religions. A panel of experts was assembled, including former US attorney-general Michael Mukasey.

So despite protestations that the ban is about safety, the presidential order is, in fact, a Muslim ban plausibly crafted as a security measure for domestic constituent political purposes.

It has been seen for what it is and condemned by world leaders and the international community as discriminatory.

An American Civil Liberties Union injunction also resulted in a stay in contested cases brought before the courts in New York, Virginia, Boston and Massachusetts, examples where the separation of powers has been shown to prevail.

And now Washington State has won a nationwide stay. The Trump administration has appealed and the lower court rulings are now headed for the Supreme Court where the justices, who swear to uphold the Constitution, are appointed for life by US presidents. The President, arguing national security, wants his Muslim ban confirmed by these justices.

Where’s the media in all this?

Significantly, Rupert Murdoch’s two sons, Lachlan and James, have emailed 21st Century Fox staff offering support for employees and families affected by the Muslim ban. The young Murdochs say they support diversity.

News Corp's Rupert Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch has urged his journalists not to shy away from using the term ‘Islamic terrorism’.

But their father Rupert, acting CEO of Fox News, has not promulgated any instruction that Fox News should report the Trump presidency ethically without fear or favour, as Reuters’ editorial executives and other major news organisations have done.

In fact, Mr Murdoch has urged his journalists not to shy away from using the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ when they report acts of terror.

The Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of the Muslim ban.

Now, with Rupert Murdoch excepted, in the separation of powers we must trust.

Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom and has worked with a number of print titles including the Sydney Morning Herald. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.

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