Discussing the role the media played — and continues to play — in Trump’s election and presidency was the central theme of The New York Times’s visual op-ed columnist, Charles Blow’s talk “President Donald Trump, Arrogance and Democracy,” Friday evening.
Blow was greeted with a standing ovation by an audience of over 1,000 people in Rackham Auditorium after having been invited to the University of Michigan by the Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion Colloquium, in conjunction with many other local organizations such as the Michigan Radio and the Ann Arbor District Library.
Jamie Vander Broek, a librarian for the School of Art & Design at the University and one of the event organizers, explained she and her fellow co-workers felt it was important to invite Blow to speak because of his in-depth research on the Trump administration. She said she hoped it would allow the community a chance to discuss the importance of humility.
“We really wanted someone to talk about Trump because it’s something that last year has become an everyday news topic,” Vander Broek said. “We wanted someone who has done a lot of thinking about Trump and humility, or the lack of humility, to address the colloquium, but we wanted to open it up to the public.”
Blow’s presentation highlighted Trump’s continuous dispersion of false information to the public, emphasized how his grandiosity contributed to his ability to manipulate the public and expressed his exasperation at Trump’s lack of historical understanding. He also said even though the media contributed to Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, their role was even more important now because of Trump’s constant sparring with the truth.
“One of the greatest threats we face by the bounty of lying is that is corrupts and corrode the absoluteness of truth,” Blow said. “We now have a president who wants absolute control over the flow of information and dictate his own version of it. Trump is in a battle to bend the truth.”
He ended his talk with a reminder about the value of the truth and how the media and public have a duty to continue to demand it.
“It may well be that the only thing that can protect America from its own president is a free press and the urgent insistence of the public to demand that the operation of our customs and the concept of accountability are not lost,” Blow said.
While much of the audience enjoyed the presentation and appreciated Blow’s opinions, some noticed the talk was missing crucial members of the community.
For instance, LSA freshman Julia Mati believed there was not much diversity in opinion present at the event. Mati explained though Blow’s message was well received by the audience, it may not have been the audience that needed to hear what he was saying.
“I agree with what he’s talking about, but I feel like people who were in there simply because they agreed with what he was presenting, not because they were looking for anything new,” Mati said.
Comprehensive studies lecturer Marcy Epstein pointed out another group that was lacking in numbers: the undergraduate student body. She felt the issues Blow discussed were relevant, and was disappointed the youngest group on campus was overshadowed by older audience members.
“I found it remarkable for the fact that we had an entirely packed house, we had the underrepresentation of the undergraduate body who goes here,” Epstein said. “It makes me feel that he had excellent things to say to an audience who was missing.”
On another note, Epstein praised Blow for his ability to speak beyond the people present at the talk and reach a nationwide audience.
“One of the things I most enjoyed was the accessible way in which he could move between audiences — past the audience that was actually in the room — to the audience that is the greater American public who needs to consider their president and how he lies.”
LSA freshman Giovanna Bautista said she was interested in what Blow had to say about Trump and arrogance, and hoped to learn more about the issues at hand.
“The political climate that we’ve been in, especially here at a college campus, these problems aren’t invisible, and it’s something that we have to talk about,” Bautista said. “It’s an important conversation and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
Bautista also touched on Blow’s opinions on Trump’s attacks on minority groups and explained it was important for the University community to have more open conversations about these issues to create a more inclusive campus.
“It’s an issue here that everyone brings up, but no one has a solid answer,” Bautista said. “I do think that it begins with very simplistic conversations, brutal honesty and acknowledging intersectionalities and understanding that we all come from very different backgrounds. We can’t really know what the next step is until we start with listening to one another and acknowledging our differences.”
Vander Broek explained she was excited to see that audience members were still hopeful to create change in the years to come. She also praised Blow for his ability to encourage underrepresented groups to speak their minds.
“I was energized to see people thinking about 2020; he represents encouragement for getting more people to the table whose opinions have not been considered before,” Vander Broek said.