Journalist, author and political analyst Carl Bernstein was the keynote speaker at the CanaData East economic forecasting conference, held Sept. 21 in Toronto.
Bernstein began by saying to understand what's happening in the world and in the United States, one needs to understand what's happening in one's immediate vicinity.
This is certainly true in the Trump era, not only in terms of trade and other issues, but in terms of values. Canada seems to have adopted values that America may have lost sight of, he said.
Bernstein said he was certain in the last five months that Clinton would win, but "one of the great things about being a reporter is you don't have to, and I'm not good at, predictions."
But one does need to understand what is going on currently, he said. Bernstein said that in his early career, at the Washington Star (a competitor of the Washington Post), he was lucky enough as a copy boy to attend Kennedy's press conferences and relay copy back to the newsroom.
Bernstein said he was also privileged to travel not only across the world, but between the two coasts where he was able to get to know people in the "forgotten middle."
The press exists for two reasons, for the public good and to give readers, viewers and consumers the best obtainable version of the truth.
Some 57 years after Bernstein went into journalism, it is clear that something is not working in journalism, politics and the larger culture. There is a "cold Civil War" in the United States, but closer to ignition with the election of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the notion of the public good has been overwhelmed by careerism, opportunism and ideological warfare.
This is especially true, Bernstein said, of Trump and his "malignant presidency."
The best obtainable version of the truth is becoming a quaint notion, he said, and a distorted view is too much a part of journalism and the media.
Too much is "illusionary and delusionary," he said. It is disfigured by gossip, celebrity worship, manufactured controversy and a cacophony of name calling and easy name calling.
The job of the press is not to knock down the President, he said, that is the job of the people. But the people should be informed by great investigative reporting, especially regarding the presidency.
Right now a renaissance of reporting is taking place regarding the White House, from many different outlets. But we need to consider, he added, this reporting is taking place in an era where it's almost impossible to have a fact-based debate in which a basic assumption of existential truth exists.
This is true not only in high office but at the water cooler and around the dinner table. Not being able to agree on the pre-existing conditions of a debate eats away at the foundations of democracy.
The other fact that needs to be looked at is that citizens aren't looking or interested in the best obtainable version of the truth. People are looking to reinforce their own beliefs, and this is going on in every democracy, but is particularly debilitating in the United States.
Fox News and right wing radio are a reflection of this unwillingness to be open to the best obtainable version of the truth.
The media came very late to providing the best version of the truth about Trump, but now in this malignant presidency, and because of the nature and character of Trump, this malignancy is becoming metastasized in recklessness and the unwillingness of Trump to deal with the world around him factually.
Trump has never been interested in truth on any level, from businessman to president, and he is the same man as he has always been as an adult, Trump said.
Presidents have lied, Nixon being a good example, but Nixon knew the truth or could find his way to it. Trump, Bernstein said, is someone whose first instinct has been in his business life to lie, to cheat, to shortchange and put his self-interest above that of the larger community.
The press should have looked at this during the campaign, but no network did an investigative biography of any of the candidates.
"Why should we expect Donald Trump to respect the rule of law now when he didn't in business?" Bernstein said.
There is much outrage about Trump's tweets, but Bernstein said we should be grateful for the tweets because they are a "roadmap to his mind," not only for the public but for special counsel Robert Mueller.
"Follow the money, but also, follow the lies," he said.
Donald Trump is a creation of the press to the large extent, Bernstein said, especially the two main New York City tabloids.
The phrase 'enemy of the people' wasn't used by accident, he said. Trump regards the press as the enemy, more so than ISIS or other real enemies. But CNN gave almost unlimited airtime to then candidate Trump, which may have been a factor in him getting elected.
Trump did manage to articulate the real extent to which American institutions are broken, which extended his base past those interested in his nativist leanings. He was seen as a figure who understands institutions have been failing, not only in government but the medical system, banking, and elsewhere. He also articulated the connection to the "so called elites" to not recognize or show concern for these problems.
Trump and in fact Sanders weren't wrong that white lower class voters have suffered over the last 30 years, statistically speaking, and Trump also got much of the Republican vote, a good part of which is prosperous.
Trump is the legitimate president of the United States no matter what's found by Mueller's investigation, and was fairly elected by the rules of United States.
We need to look at what he's said in terms of lumber and NAFTA, Bernstein said, and the notion NAFTA hasn't worked is not a bad notion, because" there are areas that have disadvantaged the US but "there ae ways to renegotiate that benefit both of us."
But he stressed the problem was one of ignorance, an almost purposeful ignorance of learning real information the facts that underlie trade problems, and of how we move from protection to a real global economy.
When trump becomes aware through advisers of a deeper look that sometimes he moderates or moves his position
Trump is not a Democrat or Republican in the traditional sense, Bernstein said, and we can't predict where he will go with NAFTA other than his fundamental belief in America First, which he termed a "rather naive notion."
To think he will abandon that world view is naïve. But it might be moderated by presenting information to him in a certain way, Bernstein said.
To conclude, Bernstein suggested the search for the truth is why the press is the opposite of 'the enemy of the people'. "We are the hope of the people," he said.
Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee said in 1997 that "the more aggressive the search for truth, the more some people are offended. So be it."
"This is no time for us to relax. We are at a critical juncture in our history, and how we come out of it will depend on how we do our jobs," Bernstein said.