This is the End
Today, President Trump tweeted that he would not attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, breaking with tradition for the first time in decades. Yesterday, he banned several news outlets from a press briefing, including such reputable publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the BBC. Breitbart News, a far-right publication which until recently was run by Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, was granted access. Bannon on the day before the briefing spoke at CPAC, where he decried the media at large as the “opposition party”, a “corporatist, globalist” entity “opposed to an ecomic nationalist agenda.” The White House Chief Strategist said that the media “was going to get worse” and so would the feud between the new administration and the press.
It should be eminently clear that Donald Trump’s White House is hostile to the press. Note the use of the term “hostile” rather than “adverse”; Presidents going back to Washington have had adversarial relationships with the press; that is the point. The press is supposed to keep the citizenry apprised of the goings on in the White House, and there are some things the White House ought to keep secret. An adversarial relationship is not cause for concern, a hostile one is. A demagogue seeking complete control of a country will seek to control the flow of information. When his is the only narrative the people hear, he wields great leverage, if not complete control over their perspectives. Topics suiting him will be promoted, matters disfavorable will be ignored, and he will more easily garner popular support for his agenda. When Donald Trump bans the New York Times and the Washington Post from his briefing and allows Breitbart, he is demanding to be covered a certain way. When Steve Bannon deems the press the enemy, he deems them impediments to having people think the way he wants them to.
One wants to feel a sense of peace, a sense of normalcy. We have things going on in our lives; stressful jobs, strained relationships, kids to feed and protect. Besides, this is America. We’ve always been a democracy. But if the events of the past three consecutive days occurred in any other country, we would know exactly what to call it. Putin and Erdogan did not come to control their respective countries’ medias overnight.Today, these tyrants and other lock up journalists who spread “fake news” with impunity, but it was not long ago that the seeds of tyranny were sowed with a hostile attitude towards the press. The attitude turned to public attacks, and ultimately to prosecutions of journalists. The first amendment of the United States Constitution establishes that the state shan’t infringe on freedom of the press for a reason; the founders knew that the first thing a tyrant will do to cement power is seek to control the narrative about itself in the minds of the people. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are doing exactly this.
The reason I entitled this piece “This is the End” is because I believe these attacks on the press mark the beginning of the end of American democracy. We have three branches of government, the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary, and the media is referred to as the fourth estate, an extra check on government. The Republicans in Congress will, as they have been, go along with Donald Trump and Steve Bannon to get signatures on the bills they want enacted, and to please their constituents, many of whom voted for Trump and approve of him for a myriad of reasons too large to delve into here. With the media under siege, the remaining bulwark of American democracy is the court system, and Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have nearly declared war on that too. Remember when the judges struck down his immigration ban and Donald Trump said they were to blame if another terrorist attack occurs in America? He and Bannon knew what they were doing; when the next terrorist attack occurs in the United States, as it inevitably will, the President, his Chief Strategist, and many other elected and unelected officials will decree the courts as being “too politically correct” and “out of touch with the needs of the people.” They will proceed to ignore court orders and instruct the Federal Government to do as told, to the applause of the frightened masses.
The courts have no means of enforcing their orders; they are reliant on the Executive Branch to do so. The last failsafe against a president defying the law is impeachment. This could happen, but is not guaranteed to happen or to work. What if Congress decides it does not want to offend its constituents, frightened by the terrorist attack and feeling betrayed by the courts they thought would protect them, and opts not to impeach the court-defying White House? What if impeachment proceedings begin, and then are halted by Trump loyalists in Congress? Impeaching a president is not easy, and can not be counted on.
The republic is lost not for evil but for apathy. Executive attacks on the press and on the courts under the abiding eye of Congress should have the populace up in arms. But they don’t, because people are busy, indifferent, and want to go on with their lives as normal. It does not have to be this way.
We are in danger, and we need to stand up and do something. Conservatives, you have won. you control most of the state legislatures, and all three branches of government. Any rewards you get for keeping Donald Trump in office will not balance out the harm he and Bannon will do to this country. Please step up, and defend the first amendment of the constitution. Recognize that it is under attack, and do something. Love and use the intended Congressional check on the Executive Branch with the same vigor that you did from 2009–2017. By all means, rally your Congressmen, Legislators, and Governors to pass enact conservative laws. Balance the budget, cut taxes.But recognize that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are dangerous to the future of American democracy, and that Mike Pence is not.
Liberals, we need to focus. We cannot go on behaving as though we are still in the dead heat of the primaries. Trashing Bernie or Hillary does nothing at this point. The DNC chose Tom Perez as its new chair. Ellison is its deputy. They will work together well, and we need to do the same. As Keith said “We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided”. We can’t be penning nine page articles in the middle of February complaining that the women’s march wasn’t “intersectional” enough. We have to stand up for the courts, for the press, and for America. Understand that we are in danger of losing all that we hold dear, and pick your battles carefully. Here’s one thing you can do right off the bat: Newspapers are losing money because of easy access to free news online; pay for a subscription to a well-reputed publication, and give the administration a piece of your mind when they ban those publications from the conference rooms.
Most importantly, no matter who you are, do not lose your sense of morality, do not lose your sense of humor, and do not lose your sense of hope. We can get through this.