July 23rd, 2016
Donald Trump does not hate everyone in the media.
That might come as a surprise to many American viewers. After all, this is a candidate who launched a press conference ambush against the media at Trump Tower in late May, hurling broadsides at reporters who questioned the specifics of his donations to veterans’ groups. He frequently uses the term “dishonest” when referring to the media, and has taken to calling CNN the “Clinton News Network”.
But he doesn’t hate everyone.
During the primary campaign, he appeared on Sean Hannity’s television program 41 times, often for the entire hour. That’s not even counting the dozens of times he called in as a guest on Hannity’s popular afternoon radio program. Hannity’s softball questions painted Trump in a favorable light, and constituted a good chunk of the $2 billion of free coverage Trump received during the primary campaign.
Trump only follows 43 people on Twitter. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Economist, CNN and BBC are not among them. Neither is a single member of Congress. Mike Pence became the first governor followed by Trump only after he was named his vice presidential nominee.
Sean Hannity is on that exclusive list.
How does Trump choose his favored media outlets? Excellence in Journalism? Award-winning coverage of major events?
Loyalty is the central method Trump uses to determine the worth of a news network, newspaper, or journalist. In Trump’s transactional world, loyalty means dominion. You serve Trump’s purpose, you’re rewarded. You dare to stand against him, you’re branded as disloyal.
After Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of Trump’s memoir The Art of the Deal, criticized Trump’s temperament and capacity to serve as President, Trump immediately responded with threats of litigation and demands for the return of all royalties Schwartz earned from the book. Schwartz stated, “It is axiomatic that when Trump feels attacked, he will strike back. That’s precisely what’s so frightening about his becoming president.”
Google searches will reveal other entities and persons branded with the “disloyal” label by Mr. Trump, including Macy’s, Speaker Paul Ryan, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Megyn Kelly and the Washington Post.
Trump went so far as to revoke the Post’s press credentials, calling the flagship news outlet of the nation’s capital, “phony and dishonest”. Such an action was a logical extension of his attitude toward the media. Earlier in the campaign, he promised to roll back libel laws, effectively eroding the fabric of 1st Amendment freedoms.
We’ve seen such animosity toward a critical press before. In 1798, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which extended residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, expanded the President’s power to deport or arrest foreign nationals living in the country, and criminalized “false, scandalous and malicious writing” about the U.S. government.
Given Mr. Trump’s animosity toward Mexicans and Muslims, along with the mainstream media, is it far-fetched to predict that a revised 2016 version of the Alien and Sedition Acts would be on Trump’s agenda for his first 100 days in office?
Trump’s beliefs about the purpose of the media are more dangerous than those of John Adams. Adams signed the Acts under strong pressure from his party as well as his own wife. He considered them necessary war measures during a time when tension with France was at a peak.
Mr. Trump, on the contrary, wants power to strike back against perceived slights. He lashed out with attacks on Megyn Kelly following the first primary debate in August. Trump’s criticism unleashed online abuse of the journalist from his millions of supporters, and prompted Time to characterize Trump’s behavior as “relentless misogynistic abuse of a high-profile woman doing her job”.
Given Trump the Candidate’s treatment of journalists, it is logical to assume that Trump the President would cause lasting damage to the First Amendment on a level not seen since the Adams administration.
Trump is the ultimate transactional leader. He is generous to sycophants and ruthlessly retaliates against those who oppose him publicly. He doesn’t desire service, he demands servitude. He requires fealty while suppressing freedom. His brand of loyalty resembles that of a medieval lord, not the nominee of a party built on the principles of limited government and liberty. Loyalists like Hannity are granted the keys to the kingdom, while dissidents who demand journalistic integrity are cast outside the city walls.
Freedom of the press is a bedrock of the American Republic. The path to authoritarianism requires the erosion of this essential right. In Trump’s American fiefdom, writers will have the choice of becoming servile subjects or living as outcasts.
When freedom is as fragile as a public figure’s reaction to a story, it is at risk of being snuffed out forever.
Even in the event of Trump’s election, I would rather stand as an outcast than kneel like Sean Hannity. Freedom is too precious to sacrifice on the altar of servitude.