Steve Bannon, through his proxy, President Trump, has declared war on the press repeatedly. Recently he said the media, not the Democratic Party, is the opposition. That was a little chilling, but not as chilling as what he said next: the press should keep its mouth shut.
Freedom of the press is just one of the elements of the first amendment that this administration holds in contempt, but it’s an important one.
Bannon and his proxy president are un-American, but hardly original. Historically, a lot of Americans have been un-American. The day the president signed an order that turned Iraqi translator-refugees who assisted the U.S. military into refugees from our country also happened to be a day of remembrance of the Holocaust. A Twitter account reminded us quite powerfully that we turned people away when they sought refuge from fascist Germany, leading directly to their murder in Hitler’s camps.
Likewise, a lot of policies put in place by previous administrations are tools ready for Trump to use and they are pretty well worn. As outrageous as Trump’s executive order that stranded legal American residents at airports may seem, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been languishing in detention. Human Rights Watch issued a report last year on medical neglect leading to death in these facilities, and it wasn’t the first such report.
This is not an argument for letting down our guard, it’s simply a reminder that the new fascism is built on a pretty sturdy foundation that has been constructed over many years. We need to take our history into account as we calculate how much pressure it will take to influence the arc of the moral universe.
But let’s also remember that a free press is absolutely necessary to a free nation. That’s the reason opposition is in the job description. Journalists are supposed to hold the powerful accountable. As I’ve said before, they often fail, but that doesn’t obviate the need for a free press – now and always.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press keeps an eye on the state of our freedom and offers resources for threatened journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists tracks attacks on reporters worldwide. Since 1992, 1,228 journalists have been killed on the job, 56 of them in Russia where the leader Trump admires so much does not tolerate a free press. In the past year, there have been mass arrests in Turkey of both journalists and academics. When it comes to tyrants, reporters are in the cross-hairs because the powerful don’t want to be held accountable.
It doesn’t matter who is in the White House. We need a strong and free press. Long live the opposition.
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