Killing the Truth: How Trump’s Attack on the Free Press Endangers Democracy

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For Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, to disinvite journalists from the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC News from attending a press conference is a first in our nation. Barring the press from attending and putting questions to the President or his spokesmen only takes place in fascist or communist countries.

This episode was quickly followed by President Donald Trump deciding not to attend the annual black-tied White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Previously, Ronald Reagan decided not to attend, but he was recovering from a bullet shot.

Trump prefers not to face the press.

This went further with the effort of Trump’s troops to persuade the CIA that the Russian meetings with Trump staffers had no substance and that they should not waste the public’s money by investigating the rumors. Yet all seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had launched cyber-attacks just before the November election to influence Trump’s victory.

Trump dismisses the claims that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. His transition team responded by impugning the CIA's integrity in a statement calling the spy agency "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." Trump has repeatedly said he would not accept the findings of the spy agencies he now leads.

Trump’s aim to subvert the press is clear. He calls the “liberal” news media FAKE NEWS. He says the New York Times and the free press are not his enemy. They are “the enemy of the American People!”

Is this familiar? Isn’t it reminiscent of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief of propaganda? Goebbels job was to use propaganda to prepare Germans to need a demagogue like Hitler to set right their grievances. Goebbels believed that if you repeated falsehoods often enough, they became facts in the minds of the ignorant and aggrieved. Goebbels needed to create a hated “other,” non-Aryans and Jews, who threatened the jobs and well-being of German Aryans. Ultimately Goebbels managed to get compliance from political, academic, commercial and military Germans through inculcating fear of being unpatriotic. After all, Hitler’s mission was to “Make Germany Great Again.”

Goebbels needed the German public to see the press as the common enemy, not just of Nazis but of the German people. Opposing the Nazis was equivalent to opposing the German people. Shortly afterwards, Goebbels shut down all Jewish newspapers and other “messengers of decay.” Later he took over the radio stations to spread the Nazi message and vision. Still later, he used the film industry to further Nazi ideas. A columnist described Goebbels as “the greatest master of public management that Europe has ever known, and the best orator.”

All administrations lie, but what we are seeing in Trump is an extreme attack on credibility itself. Garry Kasparov, the Russian dissident and chess grandmaster, tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

By now, a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information. Kellyanne Conway told interviewer Chuck Todd that Sean Spicer was giving "alternative facts." Todd was quick to respond, "Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods." The real danger is that, inundated with “alternative facts,” many voters will simply shrug, asking, “What is truth?” In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth.

The battle over truth is now central to our politics.

Even former President George “Dubya” Bush has something to say: "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent 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 it be here or elsewhere."

Various first-month moves by new President Donald Trump exhibit early signs of despotism. Consider the wholesale rounding up of illegals including those who have worked here for years and pay taxes. Consider the barring of Muslims from entering the U.S. These and the attack on the press is coming from a new President who doesn’t want to be questioned or judged unfavorably.

Beyond these anti-democratic developments lies a more serious conspiracy. Trump and Steve Bannon, his White House Strategist and Assistant to the President, are plotting to change the basic character of our government. The aim is to emasculate our federal agencies. Steve Bannon publicly admitted that many cabinet picks were selected to destroy their agencies. He called this an effort to deconstruct the “administrative state.” His goal is to “blow up” government as we know it.

I, like many other Americans, am in a state of shock! It is hard for me to believe that Trump’s family, especially Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and maybe even his sons and wife Melania would not tell Trump that he is going too far with his attacks on our free press.

If they cannot sober him, this could finally be Trump’s quicksand. Either that, or we can say goodbye to Democracy.

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