Trump’s Presidency Will Test American Citizens on the World Stage

Politics is a noble, brave world, says Bernard-Henri Lévy – but that's not what we have here. \r\n

Bernard-Henri Lévy: I’m so sad when I remember the first speech of Barack Obama, which I heard in 2004 in the Democratic Convention endorsing John Kerry. He said, "There is no blue states and red states of America, I know only United States of America." So such a long way down since this first speech of the young senator of Illinois. We are so far from the United States of America, which he was thinking of at this time. America is divided as never because of what? A lot because of Mr. Trump, a lot because of the sort of campaign he did; vulgar, populist, aggressive, counting on fascists passions in part of his electorate. And this has created an unprecedented division in the American society. I like division. It belongs to democracy. It's part of democracy. Democracy is, of course, a society divided with itself inside itself but not to this point. 

if I had to make a parallel I would say probably Berlusconi. In general America show the road and Europe follows. And this time it's a European country who did show the world and America has followed. Because the pattern, the pattern. The godfather of this sort of new spectacular populism, populism based on TV, populism based on real television – is Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, exactly the same. He started with the same program as Donald Trump. He acted with women exactly as Donald Trump is reported, true or false, to behave. He had the same sort of despise of his enemies and of his friends as Trump, and he, Berlusconi, created the same sort of division which you are facing today in America.

And it's not very good news because this did cost a lot to Italy. Italy, which is the very fatherland of art and beauty was partly damaged, if not destroyed, by these Berlusconi eras, years. Because this sort of non-politics, it is not politics, politics is a brave great world. What Berlusconi or trump do is not politics it's something else. It’s a circus, it's games of circus, it's Game of Thrones. It's deals as Trump says, it's cool (coup?). It is not politics. It does not have the nobility of politics. So this sort of non-politics damages strongly a country. And for someone like me who is so attached to America – I was defined years ago by my friend Adam Gopnik as an anti-anti-American. Anti-Americanism for me is a plague. I hate that. It's a form of fascism – anti-Americanism as itself. And so for me I am such a lover of America, such a friend of America. I spent a month of my life touring America on the footsteps of Toqueville13 years ago. It's heartbreaking. 

If Trump has full powers, if he acts in America like in a shop of toys where he can buy the biggest toys or eat the best pastries and fill himself with the most creamy pastries he can find in the bakery then it will feed anti-Americanism. 

If the civil society in this country reinvents the checks and balances system, which will be frozen with a Republican party who gets everything, Congress, Senate, a lot of governors and so on. So the balance, the checks and balances have to come from elsewhere. From the churches, from the associations of citizens, from new protester movements which are still to be born. If this works then I think America will give to the world a new image of itself, which will be a great one, which will be an image of a great nation standing firmly on its feet and values and own words against a cartoon president, a caricature of your self.

If there is a sort of democratic uprising, democratic peaceful uprising of civil society saying, “Not in our name.” If abroad we have the feeling that some of the acts, which will be done are not done and taken in your name or in the name of a big part of the society, then maybe it will improve the image of America in the world.

 

For once, America has not shown the way for Europe but the opposite. Philosopher and documentary filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy compares the path of Donald Trump to that of the former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, who Lévy calls the "godfather of this sort of new spectacular populism, populism based on TV… Berlusconi, created the same sort of division which you are facing today in America." Populist leaders like Trump and Berlusconi strip politics of its nobility, and treat their platform as a circus, he says. Trump’s politics will feed the global sentiment of anti-Americanism, so to mitigate the damage and repair its image, American citizens must stand-up to their "cartoon president," says Lévy. Do not allow the policies that unfold over the next four years to be made in your name – the people must provide the checks and balances on the Trump administration. Bernard-Henri Lévy's most recent book is The Genius of Judaism.


Bernard-Henri Lévy's most recent book is The Genius of Judaism.

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Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

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  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
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LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.