He came across as so trigger-happy during the campaign that experts were wondering where Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump's Hollywood Walk of Fame star defaced Report: Senate's Russia probe understaffed Trump won't comment on Le Pen's advancement in French election MORE would start the next war: Syria, Yemen or Iran.
They were all wrong. He has launched the next war right here at home, and it’s against the media.
Fast-forward to the White House, where he regularly blasts the “very dishonest media,” labels it “the enemy of the people,” and where, just last Friday, press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t admit The New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and others into his scheduled gaggle.
That is just what Spicer, in December, promised would never happen. We won’t ban reporters from press events at the White House, he told Politico, because “that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
Now, it would be easy to dismiss President Trump calling the media the “enemy of the American people” as nothing more than the ranting of an egomaniac. But if, as Spicer suggests, we care about democracy, we can’t. Trump’s relentless attacks on the media are dangerous, for at least two reasons.
First, because they undermine one of our most important and most revered institutions: a free and independent press, something so fundamental to the workings of democracy that our Founders enshrined it in the first amendment to the Constitution.
Any president with half a brain recognizes that a persistent and probing press not only comes with the territory, it’s essential to democracy. In December 1962, President Kennedy called the media “an invaluable arm of the presidency” and admitted that “even though we never like it, even though we wish they didn’t write it, even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt at all that we couldn’t do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”
President George W. Bush echoed that point yesterday, telling NBC: “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account.”
Second, Trump’s media-bashing emboldens dictators in other countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia to continue their suppression of the media. “It’s hard to tell others to have an independent press,” said Bush, “when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.”
As depressing as Trump’s war on the media is, it’s not all bad news. His administration has actually sparked some of the best investigative reporting we’ve seen since Watergate – on the Russian connection and Trump’s financial conflicts – especially from The Washington Post, CNN, and The New York Times.
It’s also clear that the majority of the American people aren’t buying Trump’s assault on the press. Asked by Quinnipiac University whom they trust more “to tell you the truth about important issues,” 52 percent chose the media. Only 37 percent, Trump’s hard-core base, chose him.
The majority of Americans realize that the enemy is not those telling the truth. The real enemy of the American people is a president who tries to suppress the truth.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.”