In a 2017 Freedom House report titled “Breaking Down Democracy: Goals, Strategies and Methods of Modern Authoritarians,” author Arch Puddington notes, “The rewriting of history for political purposes is common among modern authoritarians.”
Though the line was used to describe the actions of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, it fittingly applies, as well, to Donald J. Trump, president of the United States.
At a rally last night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the president characteristically whipped his supporters into a frenzy of repeated Two Minutes Hate rantings against the news media. What made it different this time, though, are the events that preceded it.
First Daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump, earlier in the day, told Mike Allen of Axios that she does not view the press as “the enemy of the people,” an assertion her father has made repeatedly, naming mainstream outlets such as The New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”
Daddy Trump followed up his daughter’s interview with a tweet saying that Ivanka was correct; it is the FAKE news media that are the enemy of the people, he wrote.
More stunning was the display that took place shortly thereafter in the White House Briefing Room, where CNN’s Jim Acosta asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders where she stood on the whole “enemy of the people” question. The press secretary—the person whose job it is to convey the administration’s positions and actions to the news media—refused to disavow the claim.
While a few in the news media rolled their eyes at what they see as Acosta’s showboating, the drama that ensued was telling. The Trump administration is so invested in creating an alternate reality that feeds the resentments of its base that its press secretary admits that she does not simply view members of the press as opponents of the administration (as many a press secretary before her has, as well); she’s OK with the characterization of the news media as “enemies” of the American people.
Not only did Sanders not reject that characterization, she launched into a litany of complaints, including the media’s treatment of her—especially comments made by comedian Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents dinner.
Acosta wasn’t having it. “You did not say, in the course of those remarks that you just made, that the press is not the enemy of the people,” Acosta replied. He continued:
Are we to take it, from what you just said—we all get put through the wringer, we all get put in the meat grinder in this town, and you’re no exception. And I’m sorry that that happened to you. I wish that that had not happened. But for the sake of this room, the people who are in this room, this democracy, this country, all the people around the world are watching what you’re saying, Sarah. And the White House, for the United States of America, the president of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people. His own daughter acknowledges that, and all I’m asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.
Sanders ended the exchange, saying she’s already answered Acosta’s question, and the CNN reporter made a grand exit from the room.
However grandstand-y Acosta’s for-the-cameras protest may have been, it was called for. At a Florida Trump rally earlier in the week, Acosta’s live shot was interrupted by jeering Trumpers, hollering “FAKE NEWS!” at him (and worse), as well as more cryptic indicators of a conspiracy theory now gripping the far right, where Trumpian anti-reality incubates. “Ask Trump about Q!” one yelled.
“Q” refers to the QAnon theory—related to the “Pizzagate” libel—which posits that Donald Trump is secretly working to break up a global pedophilic conspiracy that includes major celebrities and, of course, lots of Democrats. “Q” is the handle for a social media presence on the 4chan and 8chan boards who drops hints about the whole deal with some regularity. (Right-wing commentator Liz Crokin postulates that Q is actually John F. Kennedy Jr., whom she suspects faked his own death.)
All of this may seem adorably wacky until you consider that the advancement of the Pizzagate false narrative almost ended in the shooting of innocent people when an armed man stormed the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington, D.C., with the stated goal of protecting the children supposedly held captive in the pizzeria by Democrats with nefarious intentions.
Meanwhile, other Trump acolytes in the fever swamp either seek to foment violence, or they foment it. Alex Jones, proprietor of the conspiracy-spinning Infowars internet network, hurls the “pedophile” claim at anyone he perceives as a threat to Trump, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom he has threatened to shoot.
The Trump administration has yet to disavow Infowars, and even allowed its so-called Washington correspondent—birther Jerome Corsi—to cover the administration from the White House Briefing Room (via a temporary press pass).
Eric Trump, the president’s second son, recently “liked” a tweeted expression that is a signature of QAnon enthusiasts: “Where we go one, we go all.” (OK, so maybe Eric wasn’t cued into the Qness of that quote. But maybe he was! Only Q knows for sure.)
All this is to say that Trump is inciting violence against perceived domestic enemies, and Enemy Number One appears to be the news media. Without freedom of the press, there can be no democracy. And that’s really the point of Trump’s whole anti-media exercise. And his entire administration seems prepared to go along with it.
Talk about enemies of the people.