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Est. April 5, 2002
March 02, 2017 - Issue 688

Of Trump’s Various “WARS”
His War on the Press
May Be the Most Dangerous


"His recent comment that the American press
is not his enemy, but is the 'enemy of the
American people' is one of his more dangerous
pronouncements, for he is running counter to
many presidents who came before him, nearly
all of whom recognized the importance of a
free press to a free people and a free country."

Keep in mind in the coming months that Donald Trump has absolute contempt for the U.S. Constitution and many of the laws that it has produced over two centuries.

Most presidents have tried to gather power to themselves and to force the congress and the people to come around to his views. It has worked for many of them and Trump is trying to top them all.

His recent comment that the American press is not his enemy, but is the “enemy of the American people” is one of his more dangerous pronouncements, for he is running counter to many presidents who came before him, nearly all of whom recognized the importance of a free press to a free people and a free country. Their concept of a free country is not the same as that of Donald Trump, even if he had learned a little of their thinking and philosophies.

It's unlikely that much of this has occurred to this new president, because he famously admits that he has not and does not read much and he is not inclined to be briefed on important matters of state, at home and in the world. He has said that he depends on his “gut,” rather than on the research and recommendations of people whose business and work involves analyses of current events and a historical perspective. His “gut,” even though substantial, does not seem to be working too well for him or the people.

His lack of familiarity with the specifics and the general thrust of the U.S. Constitution is one of the more unsettling aspects of this new administration, because it appears that few, if any, of his advisors and staff have any influence on his actions or intentions, which often are blurted out in a “tweet” on Twitter. Those names in themselves can provide the average person, with an average high school education, with a strong indication of how debased the language has become. How can anyone who expresses himself in even the most important domestic and global policy matters be taken seriously when he takes to “tweeting” his opinions and intent? Contrary to popular belief, tweeting is not a sign of very deep thinking.

A fundamental need for adulation seems to be one of the primary drivers of the president’s actions and outbursts. When he isn’t properly praised or flattered (in his mind, at least), according to several recent press accounts, he can become testy or even enraged. This is not a good character trait for the so-called leader of the free world.

In this vein, he has declared the American press to be an enemy of the people and, with that charge, he has covered the real reason for his animus: that the press hasn’t been nice to him and has been constantly “unfair.” He uses that word a lot, usually when he means that the press has published or broadcast his own words. Often, he later denies what he has said, sometimes stating his denial in the same day. Because of this, he has declared the press “the enemy” and he has taken action against it.

First, he has refused to take questions from some news sources at White House press conferences or press briefings. This week, he barred several news outlets, including the New York Times, from press briefings with Sean Spicer, his press secretary. It’s not clear what he hopes to gain from excluding veteran members of the press, but in case he hasn’t noticed, the word gets out eventually. Modern presidents do not have to have a friendly, or even non-adversarial, relationship with members of the press, since there are so many layers of insulation for most elected officials at any level of government. If they wish to engage, they can, but if they want to avoid direct contact, most of the time they can do that, as well. Trump prefers rallies of his base, rather than questions from reporters.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Straightforward and concise, the amendment clearly says that government is not allowed to abridge freedom of the press. The founders, for all their flaws (especially viewed in long retrospect), were very aware of the vital nature of the free exchange of information if the U.S. were to become and remain a democratic republic.

None of the other elements in the amendment are businesses. In citing “the press,” they were elevating businesses (in those days, newspapers and magazines and letters) to a protected state, even to the level of religious beliefs and the right to speak and gather freely to voice opposition or redress grievances by petition. The founders were well aware that they were conferring this protection on private businesses and no other business is mentioned in the Constitution. No matter what the content of the news or opinions, Americans are free to express them and the expression is protected by the Constitution. One of the founders, Thomas Jefferson, expressed his undying support of a free press in this way: “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.” That was quite a statement coming from a politician who often was nailed to the wall by the press. But then, he was a giant intellect and tweeting was centuries away, even if he would have used such a childish way to deal with the problems of a nation in its infancy. As he likely would have said of the current occupant of the White House, “sad.”

The really sad thing about the entire Trump presidency is that his war on the press is just a part of his war on other institutions of the U.S. government. The agencies that he has in a sense ordered imprisoned (social programs) or sentenced to death (the Environmental Protection Agency, if that is possible) are the victims of his attempt to delegitimize them in the minds of the American people. He has told them that they should have no confidence in any of them and he, and he alone, will be able to solve the problems of the nation and that, when he’s through, it will “make America great again.” Throughout his campaign and in his first weeks of the presidency, he has painted a dismal picture of the state of the nation that can be fixed by one person, himself.

Military and defense expenditures are the only programs that will escape his butcher knife, because, being the macho man that he is, he wants to make the U.S. military the biggest in the world, as if he didn’t get the message that it already is, and it’s making America sick.

Amazingly, he has said, “We need to win wars again.” The only response to that is, to what end?

Exactly what is being “protected” by the mighty military? It’s not that Trump and his chief advisors, especially Steve Bannon, don’t know that pulling the rug out from under a large proportion of Americans with their destruction of social programs and the social safety net will make the nation weaker. They just don’t care. Trump voters just wanted a strong man to lead them out of the wilderness. Unfortunately, they believed him when said he was that strong man, but that was just another lie: he is thin-skinned and fragile. And, he just can’t believe that Congress and the courts, two branches of government over which he has little or no control, do not do what he orders. In America, it’s called the separation of powers and is one of the brighter moves by the founders to protect the people from monarchs, autocrats, and authoritarians. Trump should know that, being the president.

Repeatedly, over many generations, writers, thinkers, intellectuals, critics, politicians, and others have pointed out that, to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people need to be educated and they need to be informed. The education part came after a long struggle for free universal public education. Formerly, only the rich and well-off could educate their children. Secondly, the information part, ideally should come through the free exchange of ideas, discussion and debate among a free people. This is what Trump is trying to delegitimize.

The modern press, however, does not get off scot-free. Rather, it must answer the question: Is it doing the job that was set out for it? The iconic journalist, I.F. Stone, who wrote and published a weekly newsletter that exposed government actions to which no one else was paying attention, had this to say about the collection and dissemination of news in the Washington of 1955: “…The private dinner, the special briefing, are all devices for ‘managing’ the news, as are the special organizations of privileged citizens gathered in by State and Defense Departments for those sessions at which highly confidential (and one-sided) information is ladled out to a flattered ‘elite.’” Stone continued: “…Most of my colleagues agree with the Government and write the accepted thing because that is what they believe; they are indeed—with honorable exceptions—as suspicious of the non-conformist as any group in Kiwanis.”

While Trump is dealing in an underhanded way with his supporters in calling most of the nation’s free press as “fake news,” the press must respond in kind, never letting up for a moment on reporting the misinformation, dissembling, and lies that are coming out of this administration, unlike most before it. To do that, however, will take a Herculean effort on the part of the remaining reporters and correspondents, since their numbers have been slashed in an effort to maximize profits. Most of the “free press” in 2017 America is owned by a handful of giant corporations, the owners of which are in the same billionaire-millionaire class as Donald Trump. They are not going to tread too heavily on the groundwork that the Trump Administration is laying. The people need to be wary, lest freedom is finally defined by Trump and others of his like who come after him. There won’t be much freedom to go around. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
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Peter Gamble

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