In a series of tweets earlier this week, Donald Trump continued his relentless attacks on the First Amendment.
The president of the United States – the so-called “leader of the free world” – suggested that the New York Times “will have to get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness.”
To be sure, some in the press have already kneeled before this president. Fox News is basically an extension of the White House press office. Breitbart and Infowars – once safely on the far-right fringe of American society – are now having their propaganda re-tweeted by the president and his acolytes on a daily basis.
For those of us who have integrity, we don’t kneel to the president of any party. We respect the office of the president, but if the person holding the office does not respect the office, incessantly lies to the American people, and abuses his power – as this president has done with such frequency that impeachment is necessary – it’s our duty to call them out. That’s our role.
Trump didn’t stop there, though. He used his Twitter platform – as all dignified leaders do – to pick a fight with a former Republican Congressman-turned-TV-host at seven in the morning.
And in the same tweet where he called on the New York Times to grovel at his feet, he recycled his oft-repeated phrase “enemy of the people” to describe one of America’s leading newspapers. Let that sink in for a second.
I wonder if the New York Times will apologize to me a second time, as they did after the 2016 Election. But this one will have to be a far bigger & better apology. On this one they will have to get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness-they are truly the Enemy of the People!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019
“Enemy of the people” is a phrase that echoes back to 20th-century authoritarian regimes. While the communist governments in the former Soviet Union and China operated their state-run economies differently than the fascists in Germany and Italy, a common thread between all repressive regimes – both then and now – is the tight control of mass media. If a government can control the flow of information, it can subordinate a nation’s people. They become ignorant, powerless, and docile.
The Founding Fathers, of course, understood the importance of a free press. They embedded the freedom of the press into the First Amendment because they viewed it as an essential safeguard against tyranny. It is the First Amendment for a reason.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly are fundamental components of a free and self-governing democratic republic. Without it, you have state-controlled media and state-controlled speech. Without it, you have authoritarianism.
A leader who attempts to undermine the free press is attempting to undermine bedrock freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. They are chipping away at democracy itself.
And to what end? What does such a leader gain out of the whittling away of a free and democratic system of government?
They gain power, of course. And with unchecked power, a leader is free to do as he or she pleases. They become, as our Founders understood all too well, an unaccountable tyrant.
A president who has no qualms with hiring family members in government positions, steering campaign donations to his own business, and using the vast influence of American foreign policy as an instrument to extract concessions for personal gain and prop up family businesses has no reservations about squelching his critics in the media. Indeed, such a leader has a very good motivation to silence critics.
So let me state it unequivocally: no, Donald Trump, we will not kneel. We will not beg. We will not bow to your demands for unchecked power. We will go about our job of holding government accountable, just as the Founding Fathers intended.