Donald Trump’s threat to take down a major American television network because he didn’t like something its news department reported about him gets us one more step closer to fascism in this country.
Trump, who uses his Twitter account on a weekly basis to lie and demean people, has been critical of NBC News in recent days because of its reporting of the simmering feud he’s been having with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has called him a “moron,” a well-deserved pejorative among many for the liar in chief. NBC News reported this and later followed it with a piece that stated Trump, at one point, asked for a reckless tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal at a meeting with top national security leaders that Tillerson attended.
It was after the meeting that Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” a fact he has never denied because apparently he can’t deny it. It’s probably a safe bet Tillerson even wants the world to know he said it because he doesn’t want to be viewed as a slobbering sycophant to a malignant narcissist dismantling democracy and itching to start World War III with the nukes. That’s the job of Vice President Mike Pence.
In response to the story, Trump tweeted this:
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Everything about this tweet is dangerous in a very real, non-academic sense. The NBC story is not fake news. It’s never appropriate for a president to challenge a “license” or the operations of a television network even if that network actually is made up of a conglomeration of many local television licenses. NBC and “the Networks” are not bad for the country. Trump is bad for the country.
Trump probably doesn’t even get it that he’s allowed to tweet asinine material and lies while demeaning and belittling people because of First Amendment rights, which he wants to take away from specific media outlets and individuals. We know he doesn’t get it that the Federal Communications Commission, formed by a Congressional act, licenses the local television stations that make up a major network, even in Trump-friendly places like Mississippi. There’s no one license to take away.
Tillerson is right on the money. Trump IS a moron, but his moronic behavior—because he’s president—has become a threat to democracy and freedom of speech in this country.
Trump’s remaining apologizers will view what I’m writing here as hyperbole, arguing Trump’s Twitter account is all theater and no substance. It goes something like this, See, Trump really doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t really mean, say, half of what he tweets or says. Trump then later told reporters after his tweet that the press could write they want, but the threat was already made, and it remains a threat that must be taken seriously. Then Trump lashed out again:
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
Once a leader of any country starts publicly and consistently threatening to shut down media outlets in extremely specific ways in an obvious ploy to silence truth, then the word fascist becomes a way of describing that country’s government, which in this case, unfortunately, is the United States of America.
The country’s founders wrote and approved the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, because they could anticipate moronic “leaders” such as Trump threatening to shut down particular news outlets or trying to stop free expression by the public. Here’s the First Amendment in its entirety:
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.
Note the specific reference to “press” in the amendment. It simply doesn’t get clearer than that. Trump’s tweet certainly violates the amendment’s core meaning and intent. Trump is trying to suppress freedom of speech when he threatens through presidential power the “Networks” or tries to stop the free expression of NFL football players who don’t stand up before their games when the National Anthem is played. The Republican-majority in Congress, of course, is not going to do anything about Trump’s attempt at suppression. The GOP is complicit in the tyranny.
Fascist leaders must absolutely and monolithically shut down the free press and stop freedom of expression in order to hold any real power, and that’s what Trump is trying to do however clumsy or moronic it may appear. That he has not been able to take down the press so far doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t happen. Just because the Trump-era seems like a never-ending nightmare doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t get worse. We need to be prepared that it can and will get worse.