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Opinion: Trump’s Presidency Requires Our Vigilance

Thania Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University Thania Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University

What do we do with an incoming president whose early record includes dismissing the country's intelligence agencies if he doesn't like what they're saying and bullying journalists who dare to ask him questions?

Our answer is simple: We have to search for the truth, cling to it and spread it.

Those of us who study human rights raised alarms during the campaign about Donald Trump's candidacy as we saw his behavior and language; it was similar to that used by leaders in societies that have eventually exploited the human rights of vulnerable minorities.

One powerful tool these leaders use is the distortion of truth. Trump's record speaks for itself. Years ago, Trump falsely and repeatedly questioned President Obama's birth certificate. And after being elected president, he falsely tweeted that "millions" had voted illegally in November.

One way leaders in regimes exploit other groups, usually minorities, is to ignore facts and replace knowledge with emotional expressions to their followers.

This is why it is common to see authoritarian regimes silencing academics and creating powerful propaganda machines that disguise their message with fake facts in order to promote nationalistic stories that make their followers feel good.

Rallies are a favorite strategy for Donald Trump even after the election is over.

Rallies feed the emotions of people when they feel they lack power, control, or status in their lives. While each country, leader, and situation is different, the President elect’s displays in rhetoric seem to be taking its direction from an autocrat's playbook.

We now see the rise of fake news and propaganda machines acting as legitimate news outlets. This rhetoric rejects science and facts and knowledge from experts, instead substituting substance for jingoistic narratives.

In this post-truth world, there are many lessons we can learn from the past to craft strategies to prepare for the future.

First and foremost, we need to cling to the truth and vigilantly reject the normalization of fake narratives. The collection of fake news must be countered with the accurate documentation and dissemination of facts.

Human rights organizations are key in helping to accurately document human rights abuses. Scholars know that civil society is one of the most important variables in making sure human rights do not deteriorate.

We need to support organizations that are keeping a close watch on what the administration is doing, particularly in places that are difficult to observe, such as ICE facilities, prisons, the border, CIA black sites abroad (secret prisons the US has abroad to detain suspects of the war on terror without following the international law) and minority neighborhoods.

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We can help these groups by documenting and reporting any abuses ourselves. The ACLU has a handy app to record video that sends it directly to them. This can be a useful way to document and prevent authorities from controlling the narratives of events. Likewise, Human Rights Watch has set up an easy text based system called #callitout to report abuses. The Southern Poverty Law Center receives and corroborates reports of hate crimes. Documenting abuses will be particularly useful in controlling any fake narratives and holding local and state officials accountable for any violations of rights.

Something else we can do is report hate crimes and acts of discrimination, like the recent incident of the woman at the mall in Kentucky who went on a racist tirade against two Latina shoppers. We should report and record hate symbols, such as swastikas or graffiti that promotes hate. Discrimination from employment or housing should also be reported, as well as bullying of children and students.

Viral Video Shows Woman's Vitriolic Tirade Against Shoppers 1:23

As citizens, we need to be vigilant of the sources of the information we consume. We need to know which organizations produce accurate and trustworthy news and correct any misinformation when we encounter fake accounts or narratives.

We need to challenge others to provide evidence for their claims and challenge ourselves to be critical of the information we consume. We shouldn't rely solely on our circle of friends on social media for information. Once again, established human rights organizations can be relied upon to continue to provide accurate information.

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In the past, human rights organizations have been able to hold fast to the truth and prevent leaders from spinning the truth into fake narratives.

It may seem overwhelming to an individual to know where to look, when to call, what to read and when to speak out, but with the help of organizations we can take concrete steps to stay vigilant, informed and engaged.

At a time when the impartiality of the media is called into question, there is a space for informed citizens to do their part. Although Trump may well continue challenging the norms of presidential behavior, we must remain steadfast in the defense of our democracy, and all of us can play our part.

Thania Sanchez, is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University.