Strong Man + Weak Press (Solve for Trump)
Look carefully at what the attack on the free press currently underway is about, and you’ll see that what its proponents really want is to lock the power to debate public issues solely in the hands of their cronies.
The historical record is clear that this is a grim idea whose consequences are well established and well known.
There’s really no debate on this question, no argument that we need to break the mold of the past to admit ingress to a brave new world so much better than the past. Make the press the ‘enemy of the people’ (Lenin’s term), remove its power to question government, business, and other centers of power, and unchecked power flows to those institutions. (Thus the press’s hostility to the other power centers is not a flaw, it’s a feature.)
And once the press is muzzled, the history can be written in advance, because it always goes to the same place: not the dreamed of brave new world free of the shackles of the past but to autocracy, lack of accountability, extreme corruption, unchallenged self-dealing, suppression of rights and civil liberties, manufacture of scapegoats, public cynicism and defeatism.
All of these and many more actual evils are the known and catalogued traits of authoritarian governments and plutocracies. They dot the world today and are seeded in batches across recent history, and they are rightly judged to be fundamentally undemocratic.
It would be a grave mistake to think that the words of our president mean nothing, that ‘enemies of the people’ is just politics, or that the inevitable result of suppressing a free press won’t happen here because of our ‘exceptionalism.’
Many of Trump’s policies, in my view, are foolish and misguided. Some of them will cause and are causing real pain and suffering. But they are policies. They can be debated, arguments made, won or lost. But this attack on the press as an institution is an attack on the basic structure of governance and our system of liberties — no less. It’s a calculated effort to foreclose the very possibility of debate on those issues. It’s a raw power grab unfolding in real time (as opposed to Twitter or Facebook time) before our eyes.
The president and his men are committed to it, and no one should doubt that they have the support of millions of their adherents. This is to say the dangerous moment is upon us.