CPAC 2020: Donald Trump’s propaganda meets conservative extremists
March 4, 2020
On Saturday Feb. 29 President Donald Trump gave his annual CPAC speech, which spanned about two hours and took full advantage of roasting the press box. The box, which welcomed writers from The New Republic, Business Insider, New York Post, and many other publications, was repeatedly ridiculed throughout the speech amongst other jokes cracked by the president.
Now don’t get me wrong – I understand that the president has taken a beating by the media coverage throughout his presidency – highly critical, gimmicky, “fake” news, clickbaity headlines have repeatedly slandered his campaign trail, presidency and his current campaign, Keep America Great (#KAG).
However, what became apparent was how the idea of combating fake news has translated to a direct disregard or disgust with the media. No longer were the young journalists – or any journalist for that matter, regarded as ambitious businesspeople. The second you put on your media badge you became an enemy at CPAC. Personally, this did not sit well with me – especially out of a place for support of President Trump, I found the convention to be very conspiracy theory-riddled, high on propaganda, reliant on non-academically attained statistics, and very, very polarizing.
Preface: this is just a personal opinion. The Saturday speakers were very educational. Most of them. Such as the CPAC: The World is Watching international panel – extremely enlightening, and what seemed to be the most beneficial. This panel featured Andrew Cooper, Jay Aeba, Dr. Daniel Cho, Eduardo Bolsonaro, and Miklos Szantho. Opening up the conservative movement across country lines – it was not directly about Trump propaganda, it was about a discussion on freedom of speech, industrialization, socialism and larger movements – bridging the gap between American nationalism and foreign policymakers.
However, other discussions became a little “nutty.” Such as the Second Amendment presentation with the NRA – although a good cause, watching an old white guy yell about conspiracies and people taking away his weapons was not the most educating, informative, or stimulating experience. But he does get points for understanding his audience and targeting correctly, because the presentation had individuals so riled up that one reporter was escorted out by secret service after shouting his disapproval of Red Flag Laws (which was rather confusing because his outburst was fueled in support of the speaker).
Adding to the polarization of the event was a repeated five minute video about the Deep State between speakers. During the six hours spent in the media box, MNR saw this video four times. Those entirely for “draining the swamp” will tell you the Deep State is a serious issue, wherein people deep into Washington conduct nationally-impacting business in malevolent manners – simply out of the fact that they have been there for their entire career. Critics of it will tell you it is entirely a conspiracy and there is no proof that collusion is occurring.
From a journalistic standpoint – results are rather inconclusive. Yes, there may be conduct issues in Washington that impact the nation poorly. Is there evidence that there is a team of individuals behind this doing purposefully bad things? It is debatable. Trump is like a consultant entering a corporation. People aren’t inherently bad, but they are likely set in their ways. If we base the entire presidency off of theory that everyone is anti-American and anti-Trump, will we achieve anything? No. Polarity maybe.
Notable as well was James O’Keefe with Project Veritas, an organization that exposes alleged ethical issues through the use of hidden cameras. Google this organization and Wikipedia will tell you it is a, “Right-wing activist group. The group uses disguised and hidden cameras to uncover supposed liberal bias and corruption. The group is known for producing deceptively edited videos about media organizations and left-leaning groups.” However on Veritas website it states its mission is to, “Investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”
The videos shown by Veritas at CPAC had a notable amount of jump-cuts, along with very polarizing information in them. The quotes obtained from the clips were not on middle ground – which leads me personally to conclude Wikipedia’s definition is more suitable. Journalists are trained to be skeptics – the mixed emotions around this group, even from conservatives, has me questioning. Veritas’ website is extremely polarizing as well.
Now – Trump’s speech. Since my last time seeing him in 2016, his tactics have shifted to propaganda. The man is a comedian. But the people at CPAC acted as though he is god – which became rather disturbing. I respect and support Trump, but not his stabs at my profession. Each time a remark was made about fake news media, the crowd turned around and stared, oftentimes giggled, at the press box which was conveniently placed behind bleachers (is it a stretch to conclude this is due to Trump’s anti-media rhetoric?). The press box, which was full of professionals and very front-forward Trump supporters was ridiculed, and I struggled with this.
The very off-the-cuff speech covered mainly other presidential candidates, namely “mini” Mike, Pete “but geg,” Elizabeth “Pocahontas” warren, and no-name Klobu “chair.” Trump has already laid out his personality stabs at each candidate, and entertained the crowd enormously with his humor.
But is this the correct manner to entertain politics, especially when we are at such a critical time with the COVID-19, upcoming 2020 race, and numerous other impending word crises that simply cannot be ignored? Not necessarily. Trump is a crowd pleaser and he surely pleased the far-right conservatives at CPAC, as well as entertained the media. But was this a conventional speech? No. It was image, media, and relationship growth for Trump. As long as he can please his audience, he has preserved a space in their mind – perfect for the impending business of an up-and-coming campaign.
So no, I was not on board with being roasted by attendees at CPAC, nor was I on board with the questionable, extremely-polarizing and far-right presentations (not to mention the numerous anti-abortion emails I received, please stop). But I understand the reasoning behind the event – it unites a group of individuals with similar beliefs, and provides them a space to enjoy. Is this wrong? Not at all.