There have been plenty of reports and commentary about how crucial to a functioning democracy a free press is, and although it is the 21st Century the term “media” has replaced “the free press” to include more than just newspapers. Even George W. Bush, often at odds with the media during his tenure as president, said in February last:
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need the media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”
Whether one liked George W. Bush as president or not, and there are myriad reasons to criticize his administration, he never attacked the media. And in fact, he did pressure Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to “embrace a free press;” in February he warned that his efforts then are being undermined now by Trump’s attacks on the media.
“It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.”
Today it is actually a worse situation than Mr. Bush commented on four months ago and this weekend at the G20 Summit that was painfully obvious. It was bad enough that Trump disparaged the American intelligence community, real President Barack Obama and the media during a speech in Poland, but a brief exchange between Putin and Trump during their “private” meeting is a clarion call of alarm to American journalists and democracy.
It is unclear if demeaning the press was on the agenda for Trump and Putin’s alleged first one-one-one meeting at the G20 summit, but the subject definitely came up. The two fascists waited until reporters were convened to cover the “meeting” to “trade disparaging comments about the reporters” in the room doing their jobs.
During a scheduled photo op session prior to the highly anticipated private meeting between Trump and his hero Vladimir Putin, the Russian tyrant leaned in to Trump and pointed to the group of journalists in the room, and asked like a Mafia boss:
“These are the ones hurting you?”
Trump replied, like a low-level street criminal crying to the Mafia Don:
“These are the ones. You’re right about that.”
What is unclear is whether or not Putin asked Trump if he wanted “his people” to “make the problem go away;” a prospect that is not remotely out of the realm of possibility.
The brief exchange between the two fascists, Putin and Trump, drew less outcry than expected from journalists, although a few of them did cite what they termed “the troubling media landscape in Moscow.” Now it should be particularly troubling for American journalists that Trump was personally commiserating with the murderous Putin about journalists he agreed were “hurting” him.
In Trump and Putin’s authoritarian worldview, “hurting a corrupt leader” is code for the media doing doing its job reporting the news and events as they happen. The exchange is especially troubling because nearly 60 journalists have been executed in Russia since 1993; including Vladimir Putin’s critics and those reporting on Russia’s storied political corruption.
Although it’s true Trump isn’t yet ordering his minions to start murdering journalists, he is doing the next best thing; calling the American media “the enemy of the people” and claiming any story failing to praise him “fake news.”
Add to that incitement, Trump putting up a doctored video this past week of him beating CNN senseless, and then his punk-ass son sharing a video of Trump shooting down a jet with CNN superimposed on it; a “meme” junior Trump claimed was “one of the best I’ve seen.”
There has already been action on Trump’s behalf by his Nazi supporters who started identifying CNN employees (doxing) so other fascists could harass and intimidate what Trump identified as “enemies of the people,” and issue threats to “hunt down their children” That includes CNN journalists getting death threats. And, as no small number of pundits noted, Trump’s attacks on the media at home and abroad are exactly what other tyrants want to hear to justify their attacks on the press, often murderous attacks.
The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas said,
“Potus disparaging abroad of US media dilutes respect for American democracy & gives license to autocrats to crack down on their own media.”
NBC’s Chuck Todd added:
“A trashing of the American press corps and Intel community in Eastern Europe of all places. Could Putin have asked for anything more?”
As former President Bush said, “the media is indispensable to democracy,” and that “it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.” Those two comments inform exactly why Donald Trump is waging a seriously dangerous war against a free press and by extension America’s fragile democracy. Like any aspiring fascist tyrant, Trump detests the concept of democracy and he wants to continue abusing his power without criticism, much less reporting.
Although Trump’s attendance at the G20 signaled an end to American leadership in global economics, trade and foreign policy, it did give Americans some insight into how much Trump really is like Vladimir Putin. And if Americans believe it is only a frightening prospect for the media, they haven’t been paying attention to the inhumane conditions in Putin’s authoritarian Russia. But not to worry, at the rate Trump is aspiring to be like Vlad, they are about to experience Russian-style tyranny right here in America.