“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics…derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”– Benjamin Franklin
Over the last two years, President Trump has maintained a brutal rhetoric full of hatred against the U.S. media. However, he had never crossed the red line until last Friday, when he decided to call the US media: “the real enemies of the American people.” This was rapidly perceived as an attempt to deepen the existing division and limit the freedom of the press in America. Despite the fact that President Trump had frequently attacked the media for years, it was the first time that he publicly used bellicose rhetoric to do so. The Republican Senator John McCain said in an interview:
“I hate the press. I hate you especially,” McCain told NBC journalist Chuck Todd, who laughed.”The fact is, we need you.” Without a free media, “I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time,”
“I’m very serious now, if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” he continued. “Without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
“When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” he said.”And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”John McCain was not the only senator to respond Trump’s statement.
On Saturday, Bernie Sanders said:
“According to Trump, if you want the truth, ignore everything except what he is saying. That’s what totalitarianism is all about.”
Aside from Bernie Sanders and John McCain, many other senators and millions of citizens have expressed their worries about what could be the first step to suppress the freedom of the press and the beginning of a drift towards authoritarianism in the U.S.The protection of the freedom of the press is one of the unique provisions in the Bill of Rights because it protects the freedom of an institution as well as that of individuals.Thomas Jefferson recognised that principle when he wrote to John Jay in 1786. Jefferson said:
“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”
About one year later, Jefferson made his most famous pronouncement on the subject of freedom of the press when he wrote these words to Edward Carrington:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Over the course of history, many nations and political organisations have utilised Trump’s strategy to criminalise the media in order to deploy a press and propaganda censorship to manipulate the public. It allows authoritarian leaders to falsify information that citizens receive. In the absence of neutral and objective information, people are unable to dissent with the political party in charge. It is also extended to the systematic suppression of views that are contrary to those of the government in power.
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.”– Adolf Hitler
Freedom of the press is essential to guarantee a healthy democracy, even if we sometimes disagree with some of the media’s news stories. Instead, the crushing of unique ideas is always bad and usually generates a high level of intolerance in a country. Diversity and open-mindedness are effective tools to avoid totalitarianism and develop critical thinking in a society. People should also learn from past mistakes, and remember that it is so easy to create a new authoritarian government, and once it is created, it becomes almost impossible to reverse it again.
For now, no one can argue that President Trump is a dictator because there is still some counterbalance, but no one should deny the fact that he is taking steps in such a direction. Unless someone stops him from limiting the freedom of the press, he may soon use it to deploy an authoritarian system to gain power and increase his manipulative capacity to mislead citizens.
Numerous republican and democratic senators have shown their willingness to take further actions to protect the freedom of the press if needed. However, Trump already counts on the support of his loyal entourage led by Bannon and millions of citizens who blindly believe him. A good example of the blindness of Trump’s supporters happened a few days ago, when during one of his meetings, Trump fabricated a story in order to mislead the public. He suggested that there had been a terrorist attack in Sweden. Despite the fact that it was quickly refuted by the Swedish government, most of Trump’s supporters believed it and still think it was real.
Over the last few months, Trump’s supporters have been radicalised. If it is not halted, they will soon be willing to defend President Trump (including using armed force) regardless of any circumstance. This could prevent senators to take further action (including impeachment) against the President if he ever decides to limit the freedom of the press, since they would fear harsh reaction and conflict. Due to these circumstances, Americans will now have the responsibility for leading the opposition to Trump’s actions of bigotry.
Obsolete political parties such as the Democratic party will be resigned to a second position without any influential power to change the existing situation. It is important to remember that at the end of the day, and despite performances, the Democratic Party tends to betray their own words, as well as the millions of citizens who thought they could change the system for the better by voting for them. So the question now is: what will happen? Will American citizens allow President Trump to deploy an authoritarian system, which could potentially abolish people’s rights? Will they allow the Democratic Party to be led by Clinton or her entourage to do so instead? Or will they take other sorts of actions this time to really protect their rights and pursue more freedom? Whatever the decision will be, the most important thing is that citizens will have the last word, whether they know it or not. Every day that Trump is in office and allowed to manipulate American citizens, is another day that the authoritarian regime moves closer.