Anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and other evils have been ushered into the mainstream by the opportunists and hatemongers who helped enable Donald Trump into the Oval Office, and it makes no difference that some of them fall into the very groups now being targeted (Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Stephen Miller, namely).
In the early days of the GOP nomination process, when it seemed done deal that Donald Trump would soon fall from the race after disgracefully gaining attention for his idiotic “brand,” Edward Luce of the Financial Times warned that even if the Mussolini-Lampanelli madman fell from the sky, the dark clouds that had formed would not go away. They would spread, becoming more ominous.
Then the worst of all possible outcomes occurred when Trump won the Electoral College, with the aid of Putin, Comey, neo-Nazis and so-called geniuses like Peter Thiel and David Gelernter. Now we have Indian people shot in Kansas, bigoted domestic terrorists arrested for murderous plots and Jewish cemeteries desecrated. Meanwhile, international scholars are interrogated at airports and undocumented workers flee for the Canadian border, willing to sacrifice fingers and toes to frostbite. That’s the nightmare version of America–the un-America.
So far, citizens, journalists, judges and the Intelligence Community have stood tall against the threat of tyranny, while the opportunists and regressive minds in the legislature have performed as poorly as has been expected. Trump has targeted news organizations with the zeal of Putin and Erdogan because his type of hatred exists like a barnacle on the back of a created enemy and because the truth is not his friend.
In Trump’s America, meanwhile, the press has been declared an “enemy of the people.” “You are fake news,” the president says when he sees a CNN reporter. A colleague at The Washington Post recently shared how the White House no longer answers any of his questions, only to then start blasting insults every time a story is published. It isn’t until that point that the president’s spokesman actually bothers to return his call, but only to say, “Fuck you, asshole. We’re going to make your life hell.” The effect of all of this is that truth and lies are getting blurred, the public is growing disoriented and, exhausted, it is tuning out.
This, in turn, aids the wrong people. Erdogan and Trump are positioning themselves as the only ones capable of truly understanding the people and speaking for them. It’s their view that freedom of the press does not protect democracy and that the press isn’t reverent enough to them and is therefore useless. They believe, after all, that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That’s autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship.
The idea of freedom of speech first came into being hundreds of years ago. The poet John Milton issued a plea for the “liberty of unlicensed printing” in 1644. “The destruction of a good book ends not in the slaying of an elemental life,” he wrote, “but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself.” The seed had been planted and England moved to eliminate censorship in 1695. In 1776, the state of Virginia in the United States established the freedom of the press in America. The move was bold, enlightened and precious, making it that much more astonishing that some Turks and Americans now allow themselves to be lied to or have simply become too lazy to think critically.•