The beginning of the trial of Paul Manafort has set Donald Trump on a Twitter rampage and is raising the temperature of his overheated political rallies to a boiling point. The President seems to fear that the investigation is closing in on his political advisors, his businesses, his family and, perhaps, even himself. Trump’s response is to fight back with a narrative aimed at his supporters and the Republican party that says you can’t believe anything you read in the newspaper or see on the evening news. Meanwhile, he denigrates the legally and appropriately constituted investigation into Russian meddling of the 2016 election as a political “witch hunt” out to get him. This story will allow his supporters and the Republican Congress to reject the findings of the Mueller investigation.
By this time we have become familiar with the President’s characterizations of any news report that puts him in an unfavorable light. Newspapers and television reporters are labeled “fake news” or “fake, fake disgusting news.” Russian interference in our election in 2016 is a “hoax,” and the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt.” The latest attack phrase is not merely florid but intentionally threatening. Beginning a few weeks ago the President began saying “the press is the enemy of the people.”
This is a phrase with a long history of use to incite political violence. During the French Revolution Robespierre famously said, "The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death." Since then the phrase has been used in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Mao’s China to signal the beginning of violent attacks on disfavored minorities and political opponents. When given an opportunity to disavow his attacks on the press this week, Trump refused to back down and the White House defended the phrase as “the President’s opinion.”
The “press” is made up of individual reporters and institutions who now find themselves verbally and physically threatened while reporting the news. At his recent rallies Trump has repeatedly encouraged his supporters to shout down, intimidate and otherwise threaten the reporters doing their jobs. The press is central to a functioning democracy. Undoubtedly, Trump fears that persistent professional reporting will turn Americans against him just as it helped turn the tide of opinion against the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon.
While we believe that it is essential to turn our attention to winning the election in November, we think it equally important to consciously and repeatedly defend the role of the free press and to support those who are working diligently to provide an honest accounting of the events of the day.
Call To Action
- Pay for your news. A functioning progressive movement depends on ethical, responsible, professionally produced news. Subscribe, in print or on-line, to a newspaper that engages in credible journalism. Check out the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist or the Guardian. Donate to public news operations – ProPublica, On the Media, the PBS News Hour or National Public Radio.
- Call a lie a lie! These aren’t “mis-statements” from the President and his spokespeople. Don’t accept the tepid “walk back” from a blatant false statement whether it is from Trump or your conservative friends. Trump and his apologists are lying with a purpose. Our job is to speak honestly and effectively.
- Call the White House comments line (202-456-1111)and demand that President Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders stop threatening the media and start telling the truth when tweeting, making speeches, and speaking with the press.