Investigative journalist David Cay Johnston visited SUNY Cortland Thursday to address students, faculty and staff, and the local community on “Trump’s Rise and the Future of American Democracy.”
Johnston, working in his role as editor and founder of the nonprofit news service DCReport.org, made waves in March 2017 when he was leaked Trump’s 1040 tax form from 2005. Johnston was thrust into the spotlight when he publicized the highly coveted material on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
His lecture to the packed Jacobus Lounge in SUNY Cortland’s Brockway Hall covered material from his 2016 book, The Making of Donald Trump, and his forthcoming book in January of 2018, The Trump Factor: How He’s Making Things Worse for Most of Us.
Robert Spitzer, SUNY Cortland Political Science Department Chair, introduced Johnston to those in the crowd that were athirst for insights into the rise of Donald Trump.
“In recent years, America’s reporters have taken quite a beating, and alarmingly, the invective level against the media and reporters has all but increased. Just recently, the President of the United States of America called reporters, ‘sick people,’ who ‘don’t like our country.’ Well, that’s a big fat lie,’” Spitzer said. “I offer today this speaker as exhibit ‘A’ in support of a counter-proposition that reporters and reporting are not only noble, but a necessary profession that is absolutely indispensable to American democracy.”
The crowd listened as Johnston questioned Trump’s business and personal history. He covered stories that were later cycled through mainstream media outlets but also information that has never seen the light of day.
Johnston referenced Trump’s attack on not only himself but other media personnel, addressing the core of Trump’s frustration. He did not mince words when expressing his opinion of Trump.
“Donald Trump is a man who is manifestly unfit to hold public office of any kind,” Johnson said. “Prior to Jan. 20 of 2017, Trump had never done a single day of public service in his life.”
Johnston argues that one of Trump’s loftiest campaign promises, claiming Mexico will pay for a wall separating the United States from Mexico, is wholly impractical. He says Trump’s assertion of levying a higher tariff on Mexican products will, in fact, burden the American people because they will be the ones paying the higher taxes.
"This will encourage American companies, who make competing products—tomatoes, auto parts—to raise their own prices close to the level of the prices of Mexican goods with a tariff," he said. “Donald Trump has no understanding of the most basic aspects of economics.”
'Trump is not the disease'
Johnston addressed a range of Trump’s activities spanning from decades past to recent months, but largely focusing on his connections with Russian oligarchs. He questioned Trump’s own patriotism and considered the possibility of Trump being an agent for a foreign government.
“It is more than reasonable to say what I’m about to say. Donald Trump has divided loyalties, and it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump is an agent of a foreign government. I say this as someone who’s exposed foreign agents,” Johnston said. “What you saw during that campaign was an act of treason on a political level.”
Johnston said most of the reporting done by his nonprofit is largely unnoticed by mainstream media because they cover “what the president does, not what he tweets.”
Johnston turned his attention to declining voter turnout, contending collective ennui is snuffing American democracy.
“Donald Trump is not the disease afflicting the American Economy, he’s the symptom,” Johnston said, pausing to let his words marinate. “Donald Trump is the symptom of an atrophying democracy. American’s have been slowly giving up democracy. If you do not participate in a democracy, it withers. Democracy is not a gift, it’s not something that exists in the ethers. You have to do the job of being a citizen if you want to be free. The future we’re choosing is to become an autocratic, fascist state. A fascist state means the business interests rule the country. You have to take responsibility for the country you want to live in. You have to decide whether you want to be or you don’t want to be free. You have to decide that now.”