More than any president in living memory, Donald Trump has conducted a dogged, remorseless assault on the press. He portrays the news media not only as a dedicated adversary of his administration but of the entire body politic. These attacks have forced the media where it does not want to be, at the center of the political debate.
Trump’s purpose is clear. He seeks to weaken an institution that serves to constrain the abusive exercise of executive authority.
.. Rosen observed that the history of right-wing attacks on the media
extends back through Agnew’s speeches for Nixon to Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and winds forward through William Rusher, talk radio, and of course Fox News, which founded a business model on liberal bias.
Trump is not just attacking the press but the conditions that make it possible for news reports to serve as any kind of check on power.
.. From undue influence (Agnew’s claim) to something closer to treason (enemy of the people.) Instead of criticizing ‘the media’ for unfair treatment, he whips up hatred for it.
.. Trump has some built-in advantages in his war on the media. Confidence in the media was in decline long before Trump entered politics
.. in September 2017 that 37 percent of the public had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the mass media, down from 53 percent in 1997.
.. The Trump administration, with a rhetoric that began during the campaign and burgeoned in the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, has engaged in enemy construction of the press, and the risks that accompany that categorization are grave.
.. Insofar as Trump succeeds in “undercutting the watchdog, educator, and proxy functions of the press,” they write, it
leaves the administration more capable of delegitimizing other institutions and constructing other enemies — including
- the judiciary,
- the intelligence community,
- immigrants, and
- members of certain races or religions.
.. Trump is signaling — through his terminology, through his delegitimizing actions, and through his anticipatory undercutting — that the press is literally the enemy, to be distrusted, ignored, and excluded.
.. motivate it to want to call out the changing norms that it sees around it, and to defend the role of important democratic institutions when they are attacked. But when the press is itself one of those institutions, it finds itself a part of the story in ways that it is unaccustomed to being, and it has to weigh the potential loss of credibility that might come with an aggressive self-defense.
.. “The best way for the press to react to Trump’s undemocratic behavior is to continue trying to do their jobs the best they can,”
.. Ladd specifically warned against “reacting to Trump by becoming more crusadingly anti-Trump.”
Trump has successfully “put the mainstream media in a difficult position,” according to Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago:
If the media directly address the accusations of fake news, they ironically run the risk of dignifying the accusations. But if they ignore the accusations, they miss the opportunity to prove their professionalism to those who have grown skeptical.
.. Trump’s disdain for the First Amendment is an integral part of a much longer series of developments in which both parties have demonstrated a willingness to defy democratic norms, although the Republican Party has been in the forefront.
For a quarter of a century, Republican officials have been more willing than Democratic officials to play constitutional hardball — not only or primarily on judicial nominations but across a range of spheres. Democrats have also availed themselves of hardball throughout this period, but not with the same frequency or intensity.
.. Fishkin and Pozen cite the work of Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, to define constitutional hardball as “political claims and practices”
that are without much question within the bounds of existing constitutional doctrine and practice but that are nonetheless in some tension with existing pre-constitutional understandings. Constitutional hardball tactics are viewed by the other side as provocative and unfair because they flout the ‘goes without saying’ assumptions that underpin working systems of constitutional government. Such tactics do not generally flout binding legal norms. But that only heightens the sense of foul play insofar as it insulates acts of hardball from judicial review.
Republicans on the far right, in particular, Fishkin and Pozen write, have been willing to engage in constitutional hardball because they are drawn to “narratives of debasement and restoration,” which suggest
that something has gone fundamentally awry in the republic, on the order of an existential crisis, and that unpatriotic liberals have allowed or caused it to happen.
The severity of the liberal threat, in the eyes of these conservatives, justifies extreme steps to restore what they see as a besieged moral order.
.. As with so many things about President Trump, it strikes me that he didn’t start the fire. He got into office because it was already burning and now he’s pouring on gasoline.
.. Accusations that the press has a political agenda can, perversely, help create an agenda which is then said to corroborate the accusations.
.. Pozen described Trump’s denunciation of the press as “the culmination of several decades of comparable attacks by media pundits, such as Rush Limbaugh” and he argues that Trump’s calls
to lock up one’s general election opponent, encouraging online hate mobs, lying constantly, attacking the press constantly, contradicting oneself constantly, undermining the very idea of truth are individually and in common potentially profound threats to the integrity and quality of our system of free expression.
a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.
.. “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself.
.. much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought.
.. Means that do not respect values that conservatives used to hold dear (e.g. free markets, federalism, family unity) are no cause for celebration.
.. if conservatives think Trump’s accomplishments are conservative, then conservatism has morphed into something foreign to those who spent decades advocating a governing philosophy rooted in
- opportunity for all,
- the rule of law,
- free markets and
- limited but vigorous government.
.. Trump’s right-wing apologists would have us treat Trump’s racism, attacks on democratic norms, dishonesty and contempt for independent democratic institutions as matters of style. “Well I don’t much like his tweeting but …” “Well, we don’t really agree that there are good people on the neo-Nazi side.” “Well, we all knew he was a bit of a liar.”
.. Call this the “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” syndrome
.. If one puts racism so far down the list of priorities that it barely deserves a raised eyebrow — or worse, requires some fudging to cover it up — one has become an enabler of racism. If one brushes off repeated, deliberate falsehoods because they are embarrassing, one becomes an enabler of lying, a handmaiden to attacks on objective truth. These are not inconsequential matters; they are not style issues. Truth-telling and repudiation of racism are or should be top principles both for America and for conservatism.
.. Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be)
.. The assertion that we can disregard everything the president says so long as it does not become cemented in law misconceives the role of the presidency and ignores his oath.
.. His oath was not to produce tax cuts or regulatory rollbacks. He swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, including reverence for the First Amendment, an independent judiciary and equal protection under the law.
.. The party and Trump apologists who brandish the conservative moniker, we fear, have lost their way. They’ve ceased to think deeply about the substance of policy and its effects, but worse, they have inverted their once-claimed priorities. What is most important — democratic norms and objective truth — is now for too many an afterthought, and Trump’s evisceration of the same, mere differences in style. We cannot abide by this, and neither should Americans of whatever political stripe.
the hallmark elements of the president’s political style:
- pettiness, and
.. the FCC does not license networks or cable channels. NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, etc., do not have FCC licenses to review or revoke. The FCC licenses individual stations.
.. Bill Mitchell, the Trump sycophant whose comprehensive lack of self-respect makes Paul Begala look like Cincinnatus, went on to argue that print publications such as Vanity Fair and the Washington Post should have their licenses revoked, too
There is no such thing as a newspaper license in the United States. There is the First Amendment.
.. Gutting the First Amendment is one of the top priorities of the Democratic party, which seeks to revoke its protection of political speech — i.e., the thing it’s really there to protect — so that they can put restrictions on political activism, which restrictions they call “campaign-finance reform.”
.. They abominate the Supreme Court’s solid First Amendment decision in Citizens United, a case that involved not “money in politics” but the basic free-speech question of whether political activists should be allowed to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the days before an election. (Making a film and distributing it costs money, you see, hence “money in politics.”) They lost that one, but every Democrat in Harry Reid’s Senate — every one of them — voted to repeal the First Amendment.
.. Right-wing populists, too, are an illiberal bunch
.. They are repeating the progressives’ mistake: imagining what their guy could do with vast new antidemocratic powers while never bothering to consider that the other side’s guy is probably going to get in there one of these days and enjoy the same powers.
.. Free speech is extraordinarily unpopular on college campuses, and California has just enacted a flatly unconstitutional law that would empower the government to put people in jail for failing to use the preferred pronoun of a transgender person.