In 2014, Democrats tried to “repeal the First Amendment.” You may have heard that phrase before, because during the 2014 midterm elections just about every Republican uttered it. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not entirely untrue. Democrats did not try to repeal the whole First Amendment, just part of it.
In 2014, Congressional Democrats launched a quixotic quest to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would allow the government to regulate political donations, a power that would easily and obviously be abused for political gain. But Democrats did not have a chance of ever passing their Amendment, it was just about virtue signaling to their base voters who think elections are bought by evil corporations.
Despite the Amendment’s inevitable failure, Republicans were right to make it a major issue. The First Amendment is one of the things that makes America special, that makes America great, that makes us who we are. Any threat to it, no matter how small, needs to be combatted forcibly.
That is why I was proud of Republicans in 2014, and so, so disappointed in them in 2017.
On Wednesday, President Trump made statements about the media that go way over the line. In answering a reporter’s question, he said “it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.” Then Trump clarified his views when he tweeted “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”
Let’s ignore the purely politically motivated self interested reasons Republicans have to oppose this. If the president is granted the power to take a news network off the air because he doesn’t like its reporting or thinks it’s fake, what will happen when Democrats inevitably regain power? It’s entirely possible Elizabeth Warren would be making these decisions in a few years. And let’s not forget the entirely justified anger Republicans showed when Obama simply tried to exclude Fox News from White House briefings. Imagine what President Warren would do if it was up to her to decide if Fox News was even allowed to be on the air.
That self interest should not even be necessary for any Republican to oppose this.
Don’t look at this as a Republican or a Democrat, but as an American, as someone from a country that prides itself on being born from the pursuit of liberty. If any other world leader had said what Trump said, our State Department would have released a statement about the worrying trend towards authoritarianism.
I completely agree that NBC is biased and has been for a long time. But if Trump is concerned that a news organization is reporting inaccurate data or even lying, he can use all of the trust and goodwill he has built up by always telling the unvarnished truth and never making wild, exaggerated claims.
All joking aside, consider for a moment what Trump is proposing. The press should not be able to write whatever it wants to write, and any network that publishes a report Trump deems unfair (aka anything critical of him) might be taken off the air.
On Wednesday, the leader of the free world came out against a free press.
Even if initially implemented purely as a check against news organizations actually inventing reports instead of ones who criticize trump or just get the story wrong, such a policy would be almost immediately abused. It is not only thin skinned politicians like Trump who would want to avoid criticism or who thinks they are unfairly maligned by the press. In this incredibly polarized environment, opposition can easily be viewed as intentional lying.
In our early years, America actually tried what Trump proposed. It was called the Sedition Act and was supposedly intended to combat a lying press at a time when a still new and fragile nation was threatened by war. It was quickly used to silence newspapers critical of the party in power, while the opposition party remained fair game.
Any limit to a free press is a danger to our democracy and the values we cherish. It is the very foundation of a free society.
No, I do not think Trump will actually make a move to pull the licenses of networks he doesn’t like (and not just because that’s not how it works). But he is not just some celebrity with a TV show anymore; he is the president of the United States and his every utterance is important.
Most people will move on from this. But a few dedicated Trump supporters will rationalize their way into supporting whatever their man says. Day by day, more and more people who called themselves small government, liberty loving conservatives come to support big government, authoritarian policies because the president of the United States proposed it. The Overton Window is steadily widening, and one day we may wake up to find that instead of shrugging at these authoritarian ideas, our neighbors are nodding in agreement.
It is frankly disgusting that the president would oppose the First Amendment, and people should look into it.