Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Featured image: Video screengrab via CNN.

In June, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a scorching takedown of Donald Trump during his Stanford graduation speech…Though he never mentioned him by name:
 “a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter, who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.”
On Tuesday, Christiane Amanpour brought Ken Burns into the CNN Newsroom to discuss his upcoming film, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War.” But of course, they spent most of the interview talking about the man who’s making his film scarily relevant. Amanpour played footage from Burns’ speech, then asked whether the Internet has made Donald Trump possible:
“You talk about lies. And elsewhere in your commencement address you say the sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust that’s so much a part of American life is eroding fast. Spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started. Is that how he’s managed to put his candidacy across so successfully? Because of the way he is engaging with people via the Internet?”
Ken Burns explained how fast-moving news cycles work to Donald Trump’s advantage by making it harder to tell the truth from the lies.
“Things that would occupy weeks of our conversation now are spoken and forgotten in a day or so. And what happens is, we begin to accrue a sense that the truth doesn’t matter anymore. We’re absolutely certain we know what the truth is. But when you hear somebody lie over and over again about almost every aspect of this campaign, it’s really hard to keep up with it.”
Ken Burns goes on to marvel at Donald Trump’s slipperiness on things like his taxes and his prior support for Hillary Clinton and for women’s reproductive rights.
“He’s all over the map on everything, and yet the sheer spectacle of him overwhelms the normal kind of due diligence that we must, in a Democratic society, apply to our candidates.”


Yet the signs of racism and demagoguery were always there. Ken Burns mentions Donald Trump’s reaction to the Central Park Five case back in 1989 (the subject of Burns’ 2012 documentary on PBS). Five teenagers — four black and one Hispanic — were accused of raping and murdering Trisha Meili, better known as “The Central Park Jogger.” Donald Trump responded by taking out full-page ads in all the New York daily papers demanding a return to the death penalty. Never mind that the boys hadn’t gone to trial and, in fact, were later found innocent.
“It is the tactic of the demagogue to make enemies of the other. And it offers a kind of temporary reassurance to those peopel who are susceptible to these messages. But in the long run, it’s actually those people who will be voting against their self interests if they vote for Trump, that will suffer the most.”
Most strikingly, Ken Burns reminds us that his documentary films have always taken a neutral point of view, and he has never spoken out on politics in public before. But now he feels that if we don’t start thinking with our heads instead of acting with our guts, we’ll be in serious danger. Although Burns stops short of comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, he warns:
“There comes a time when you have to say, we have to wake up. This could be like Germany in the early 30s or Italy in the early 30s and the world cannot afford that again.”
Not that he’s “equating Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler,” of course…”But he does have a kind of proto-fascist aspect.” Just sayin‘.
For example, Ken Burns explains, during  Hitler’s rise, he “would say outrageous things” and expect to get called on them. When no one did, he’d push the envelope even further. “And so he would say it again. He doubled down and tripled down on it.”
Sound familiar? It’s enough to make Ken Burns long for Edward R. Murrow, the fearless mid-20th century journalist who took down the red scare Senator Edward McCarthy.
“If Edward R. Murrow were alive today, he would have exposed this naked emperor a long time ago.”
Where are the Edward R. Murrows now?


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