An article published just yesterday by CNN extolled the American public to ‘give Trump a chance’ and, specifically, to “stop judging the President and his administration on every word that is uttered, every hour.” Tom Barrack calls on the press to focus on Trump’s policies, rather than stories of leaks and confrontations with the intelligence community and other ‘headliner’ stories. But what Barrack fails to realize is that it is Trump himself who will not let these things go. It is Trump who continues to bring up the size of the crowds at his inauguration, and to lambast the press and intelligence community. We hang on his every word because he uses words such as “Enemy of the People.”
Enemy of the People. Words more apt to be written in blood rather than ink. Is Trump aware of the historical significance of the phrase? And if he is, my God, what does that mean for the country? The phrase “enemy of the people” was first used during the French Revolution to designate those to be guillotined. Since then, almost every totalitarian government, from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union to the Khmer Rouge, has used the phrase or a close variant thereof to label their victims. The phrase is wrought with malice and violence. These are not words to use lightly, even in jest. These are words of terrible consequence, and of great pain for all those who have and who still toil and suffer under the yoke of tyranny. To hear the President of the United States of America, the standard-bearer of freedom for the world, utter such a phrase is more than shocking. It is an affront to liberty itself and all the Americans who have died in its advancement. When the leader of your country says such things, you cannot ignore it.
Donald Trump’s war on the press has gotten out of hand and out of control. The press is not an “enemy of the people” but is, as former President George W. Bush put, “indispensable to democracy.” Over the course of history, there have been many despotic regimes of many types: right, left, “third way,” military-rule, party rule, sectarian rule, etc. But they have all had one thing in common: a desire, oft realized, to control the dissemination of information. Totalitarian regimes are sustained through a combination of force and ignorance. China’s ‘Great Firewall’ was constructed to maintain public ignorance, and thus Communist-party rule. A free press is not always accurate and not always truthful, but it is indispensable. To have the freedom to discover for yourself what to believe is one of the most precious acts of liberty we have. Donald Trump’s exclusion from White House press briefings news agencies he sees as “unfavorable” works against this most precious liberty of ours.
Just yesterday, an Iranian film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was ‘The Salesman,’ directed by Asghar Farhadi. As stated by the New York Times, “At the heart of Mr. Farhadi’s films are the social struggles that many urban Iranians face daily” and “it is Mr. Farhadi’s eye for detail and respectful storytelling that make him such a powerful champion of millions of Iranians who feel that the state-controlled news media completely ignores the reality of their lives and problems.” Farhadi is popular because he shows the truth of ordinary life in Iran, not propaganda. This in a nation that, by historical standards, is relatively free and open. This is where the absence of a free press leads: to make the display of reality revolutionary.
On the other hand, it is very easy to get carried away with criticism of Donald Trump. Does Trump truly deserve the comparisons with totalitarian regimes that I have made? Of course not. He said something he should not have, and barred some journalists from a meeting. He has not formed paramilitary groups to storm news outlets. He has not armed followers to hunt down opponents. He has not used force to intimidate lawmakers and activists. He is not a Hitler or a Stalin, or even a Xi Jingping. But he is at the summit of a very slippery slope. The precedents he is setting, and un-setting, open the way for yet more regression, until regression becomes oppression. Where Trump leads others will follow, and more than what is I fear what is to come.