Demonizing Trump Demonizing the Media

Feeling pedantic so I got to jump on this antihistorical “Demonizing the press is how dictatorships start” meme going around (currently popularized by Senator John “Am I Criticizing the Right Thing? I Have Compromised my Values so Many Times I Don’t Know Anymore.” McCain).

Dictatorships don’t just “start”. They coincide with very dictator-friendly conditions — usually a history of strongly centralized authority over the press, finance, security, business regulations, movement across borders, etc. along with a culture of obedience (and sometimes even affection) for a Ruler. They coincide with conditions of significant anti-foreigner/anti-minority feelings among a mostly homogenous population, usually based in recent history of conflict and grievance…and not “they took our jobs” grievances but “they took our territory” grievances. Jews in Germany for example were .75% of the population (~505k people out of a total population of 67m).

Remember this was some of the founding logic behind the American experiment: use geography and a constitution to break out of the old context/pattern of Feudal/Monarchical Europe.

So when Hitler, Stalin et al. do “start” their dictatorships, that doesn’t begin with demonizing the press as an institution. They amplify the xenophobic anti-liberal popular sentiments that already exist in the press and use that to take over or shut down the smaller, more politically progressive press institutions. Dictators aren’t known for their original ideas, but for being a kind of Thug Celebrity that rallies and popularizes and organizes bad ideas and their adherents into a powerful movement. Hitler, that Poster Child for Evil, got a lot of his ideas from the free press of the era (for example, the popular sentiments of Austrian mayor Karl Lueger).

Now as to the “demonization” of the press in the USA…that is a question of degree once you look outside the Red Cloud of Rage most of us get when viewing the @RealDonaldTrump Administration.

The “new press” displacing/reforming the “old press” is a recurring pattern in the USA, not a little bit tied to who is literate enough to read them, how much time they have to read, and how enfranchised they are to act on what they read. Start with the competing maelstrom of pamphlets in the American Revolution, enter the Muckrakers, and then the explosion of alternative online media in our recent years.

If the “traditional press” was doing such a fantastic job, then why the popularity of Huffington Post, Radio Free America, Wikipedia, the Daily Show/Colbert Report, the Daily Kos, Mother Jones, etc.? Because most existing media is usually catering to/captured by established interests. That’s what happened during Vietnam, during the Civil Rights Era, and during the Bush ’43 Administrations. Folks seem surprised that “alternative media” isn’t just a tool for progressives and the Left.

Anyone remember the interaction between the Occupy Movement and the mainstream press? And how many of us today pull our news from our preferred online sources, or even our preferred online *summaries* of other online sources? Anyone paying attention to the role of sites of 4chan and Reddit in the online vanguard of @RealDonaldTrump’s pre- and post-presidential propaganda?

None of this is to defend President @RealDonaldTrump. This is to add a little clarity to the phenomena of dictatorship and anti-press press in the USA.

Because you can’t out-lie a liar. I get the value of narratives and stories, but that doesn’t work when you start talking about history — especially not researchable history.

Clarity matters, especially if you want to hit President @RealDonaldTrump where it counts: in his patterns. Specifically, the patterns of thought and power that he emerged from into the highest political office in the USA: a false paradigm perverted by age/income/gender/ethnic biases; misguided distributions of rights, wealth, information, and trust; unjust exclusion from markets of ideas and goods; and other crap.


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