“Democracy dies in darkness” is the tagline the Washington Post adopted the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, right after the first White House news conference in which Sean Spicer accused the media of lying about the size of the inaugural crowd. Now, it looks more and more like Trump is planning to brazenly kill democracy in broad daylight, with the cameras running.
The Tweeter-in-Chief has been vilifying every part of the media he can’t control in an obsessive, compulsive way in countless tweets, interviews and statements, routinely calling it “the enemy of the people” or “the opposition party”. Media outlets that will carry water for him and that stoop to kiss the Trumpian buttular area, on the other hand, receive ample praise. In the Trump empire, everything that doesn’t paint a positive picture of the Donald is labeled “fake news.” As a consequence, it has already become dangerous to cover his rallies or any of his appearances and utterances. Various reporters have been physically attacked at his hate-fests and journalists are drowning in a deluge of hateful messages and death threats.
Friday saw another highlight of Donald Trump’s crusade against the media when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 conference in Osaka and the two men bonded over their scorn for journalists. “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?”, Trump said. “You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.” – “We also have,” Putin answered. “It’s the same.” Then the two presidents shared a chuckle.
As a matter of fact, Russia doesn’t have a problem with fake news – they are excellent at producing it. Perhaps Putin would have a problem without fake news – the constant stream of disinformation and propaganda issued 24/7 that is propping up his regime by projecting an image of greatness and strength that has become completely detached from reality. The price that Russian society pays for this is heavy censorship and complete control of the press by the state. Michael McFaul took to Twitter in response to the exchange between Trump and Putin, reminding everyone of this price: “This is disgusting. Thinking of all my murdered, censored, and unemployed journalist friends in Russia now.”
Censoring, controlling and streamlining the media is and always has been the hallmark of authoritarian regimes whereas a free and independent press is the hallmark of a functioning democracy. Now, – Trump isn’t Putin and he isn’t having journalists censored, imprisoned or assassinated. But he is clearly jealous of the man who can do all those things with impunity. We can’t be sure that – despite the oath he took before a not-quite-so-big crowd of Americans – he wouldn’t want to dismantle the fourth estate and American democracy if only he could.