President Trump’s supporters have reveled in his and his administration’s assault on the media. Trumpkins were thrilled when then-chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon declared the media to be the “opposition party.” Any unfavorable news could be written off as “fake news.” With the mainstream media discredited, Trump could keep his supporters loyal and his opponents on defense. Republicans officials, out of fear or indifference or mutual disdain for the media, haven’t objected. Just blowing off Trump. Just being Trump. What could he actually do?
Well, lots, actually. The Post reports:
President Trump attacked NBC News on Wednesday, dismissing as “pure fiction” an explosive report that he had sought a massive increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
On Twitter, Trump also raised the possibility that he would support stripping the broadcast licenses of news networks that report what he believes to be inaccurate information. The tweets came after NBC News reported that Trump purportedly told senior national security advisers during a meeting last summer that he favored what amounted to nearly a tenfold increase in nuclear weapons.
No president has publicly threatened to shut down a media outlet for unfavorable coverage. This is beyond the pale, further evidence that Trump seeks to emulate the thugs around the world like Russian President Vladimir Putin (whose alleged killing of journalists Trump once wrote off, because “our country does plenty of killing, too”), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (whom he congratulated after a vote that outside observers found rife with irregularities) and Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines (whose “drug war” Trump praised despite thousands of extrajudicial killings). House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), self-styled libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), self-proclaimed constitutional conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), high-minded “thought leaders” such as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), once-independent and intellectually honest think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the entire retinue of Beltway right-wing groups that castigate the left nonstop would be horrified if a Democratic president ever suggested such a thing.
The threat acts to intimidate but also to signal to his executive-branch underlings, especially the Federal Communications Commission, that it is open season on Trump’s critics. You may recall how horrified the right was when they concluded that President Barack Obama’s hyper-partisanship created an “atmosphere” whereby the Internal Revenue Service was politicized and incentivized to go after conservative groups. Well, Obama never hinted that the IRS to shut down a conservative group; Trump has done more than hint that press outlets may face retribution for criticism.
Pass a resolution condemning the president’s moral equivocation over Charlottesville? Would be a “partisan hack-fest,” says Ryan! Investigate emoluments or self-enrichment by a president getting rich off his office? No time for that. Condemn politicizing the bureaucracy to go after perceived liberal critics? They’ve got tax reform to deal with!
Consider by contrast the Trumpian defenders and other conservatives who’ve bashed Hollywood for years who now are in full dudgeon over the failure of Hollywood elite and docile entertainment press to out Harvey Weinstein years ago for his abusive behavior toward women. Hypocrites! Enablers! Complacent! In many cases, that would be true. But for Republicans who sit silently, who enable a president who abuses democracy and violates constitutional norms, and who refused to disqualify as president a serial abuser of women to decry hypocrisy and chide others for lacking moral courage and putting politics over morality is rich — and infuriating. Unlike with Hollywood’s culture, however, voters can do something about Republican hypocrites and authoritarian enablers. There are only 391 days to the 2018 midterms.