Congress shall make no law an or the free , or the freedom of or of the , or the right of the people to and to the government for a of .
Vladimir Putin does it, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is does it, so too does Kim Jung Un. With just one week in, Donald Trump seems headed in the same direction. Here in the United States of America? What’s to stop him? Ah that pesky First Amendment protecting freedom of speech and of a free press. Even so, apparently White House Senior Counsellor Steve Bannon missed that class in his civics course leading him to assert that the press “should keep its mouth shut”. Perhaps he also forgot that he is no longer lord of Breitbart but a government official. That’s the same government to which his boss pledged allegiance on January 20 and to which he himself swore specifically to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” two days later.
It seems clear now that the Trump administration is bent on subverting or restricting any voices that might disagree with or question it. First came the then President-Elect’s attack on the intelligence community and now, in office, their assault on the press. Press secretary Sean Spicer used his very first appearance before them in the White House Brady Press Room to berate the press for denying that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest ever. When challenged on this, Kellyanne Conway defended his contention as presenting “alternative facts”. Considering that “alternative facts” are in fact untruths – in this case record crowd size claims debunked by aerial photographs – we must all be deeply alarmed when they are being spouted not only by his aides but by the president himself. To put it bluntly, Obama may have been falsely called a liar by Rep. Joe Wilson in 2009, but sadly the title does fit for this president and his inner circle.
Attacks on the press and the fostering of “alternative facts” are two ominous signs since both have characterized authoritarian dictatorships. What’s frightening is that Donald Trump’s campaign already evoked such associations, which is one of the reasons many of us believed he could never be elected in this democracy. It was frightening then and is part of what set us on edge on November 8. Now we have good reason to feel that our worst fears are coming to pass. In many ways, these fears have been further reinforced by his executive order imposing a ban on some Muslims entering the country, probably illegal under U.S. law. Making the discriminatory nature of his ban even more egregious, the NY Times reported, “Mr. Trump also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims”. Reflect again on the text and spirit of the First Amendment.
In one disastrous week, Trump has sown the seeds of trade wars, further alienated one of our closest neighbors, raised the specter of heightened Muslim-Christian tensions and sought to thwart the Founding Fathers by ignoring the Constitution to which he swore allegiance. This is not a matter of disagreeing with policy, something good people can, and often should, do. This is a potential threat to everything we hold dear. It is a commander-in-chief raising his middle finger to the women and men who have spilled their blood across the globe defending the flag upon which he now treads.
Republicans met this week to plan ahead for the government that they now control. If I’m right that our democracy is under threat, then these Americans in particular are facing perhaps their greatest test. So, too, is our Supreme Court facing what could be its greatest test, certainly in the post-Civil War era. Will both legislatures and the judiciary treat checks and balances seriously or will they become a rubber stamp? From what we’ve seen thus far, the press is not rolling over, not keeping silent. Will our elected and appointed officials step up as well? We the people will be watching. We will remain in verify mode for at this juncture we have absolutely no reason to trust.