A damaged press: Democracy under threat

Carlos Centurion and Nate Southcott

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Photo credit: Getty Images
Freedom of the Press news headline on a copy of the US Constitution

The world has many issues, but a recent, troubling development has been the continued threat to freedom and democracy. Freedom House is self-identified as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.” They are a group well known and well respected in United States political circles for their annual report: Freedom In The World.

Recently however, the report has been a disappointing sight. Freedom In The World 2018 speaks on the 13-year net downward trend in freedoms globally. Titled “Democracy in Retreat,” the report paints a grim picture for democracy.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, there was a general surge in democracy and freedoms as the United States exerted pressure on foreign governments to adopt a democratic approach and revolutions against tyrannical governments grew more common.

That trend of growth of freedoms continued until the early 21st century. 9/11 changed the game again. As extremist terrorism grew and the world’s leading democracies were distracted by it (and other issues), the dictators and autocracies of the world took advantage of the opening to consolidate power and crack down on dissent.

Freedom In The World has a 100 point scale that is used to rate each country as well as a 7 point scale (1 being high and 7 being low) for three categories: freedom rating, political rights, and civil liberties. For example, a Free state like Canada has an aggregate score of 99/100, while a Not Free state like Russia rates at 11/100.

The United States has not been promising. During the politically tumultuous year of 2018 the United State’s aggregate score… stayed the same. From 2017 to 2018, the United States has kept an overall score of 86/100 and remained firmly Free.

However, 2018 was still significant to the individual category scores. The country’s “freedom of assembly” score increased due to less violent demonstrations (compared to 2016 and 2017) and less restrictions on the right to peacefully assemble. On the flip side, there was a decrease from 3/4 to 2/4 of the nation’s “equal treatment of various segments of the population” score due to violations and increased limitations of the rights of asylum seekers and other migrants, and well as increasingly blatant biased policies (such as the executive travel ban associated with Muslim-majority countries and the separation of families at the border) enacted by the Trump administration.

The United States is historically a free-world leader and international advocate of democracy. Unfortunately for the world, this role is being left behind by President Trump and his administration. Although they have established many problems in the political and legal sectors, the most terrifying impact of Donald J. Trump’s rise to power is his almost single-handed dismantling of the power of the press.

The fourth estate (as the American press has long been known) does its job by reporting on the deeds and misdeeds of those in power, allowing the people of the United States to put the weight of knowledge behind public opinion. The press allows the people to force politicians to play the game of politics as clean as is possible, and forces them to respond to public opinion; or else they will lose their seats in their next election.

President Trump’s rhetoric of referring to major news sources as “fake news”, just because they are doing their job by reporting on many of the flawed and dangerous actions he has taken on the campaign trail and in office, has done a decent job of rendering the press powerless.

When people stop believing in the press and their publications (as long as the publications are accurate and more or less objective), politicians are no longer held accountable by the public.

When people even start trusting the (easily disprovable) statements of politicians over the publications of the press, they leave the door open for politicians to mislead the people, with their unknowing consent.

President Trump is not the only president to have a bad relationship with the press. President Nixon, before resigning, had his administration attempt to revoke television licenses and press passes for the Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers scandal. Before modern America, Thomas Jefferson had a poor relationship with local newspapers, calling them “polluted vehicles”. (Source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.history.com/.amp/news/presidents-relationship-with-press)

Despite not being the only president to have a tense relationship with the press, he has nearly single-handedly started a war on freedom of the press during his reign.

Trump is not quiet about his dislike for certain media outlets. He repeatedly takes to Twitter to attack stations after they break a story that paints him in a negative light, and has even directly ordered a reporter’s press pass to be revoked after he asked the hard questions (source: Jim Acosta). You’d have to be living under a rock to not hear about Trump’s continued feud with major news channels such as “fake news CNN”, or major newspapers, including the The New York Times. (Source: Twitter.com)

JD Crowe/[email protected]
A comic depicting the current White House’s approach to objective facts.

Trump is a trailblazer. He is a trendsetter, carving a path straight to censorship of the media. Since his start of the war on journalism, many of his supporters and advocates have a distrust of news, often forging their own “alternative facts”. The rise of anti-vaxxers, multi-level marketing companies selling essential oils for sickness, and ‘alternative’ news sources spreading fake news can all be attributed to Trump and his attack on one of democracy’s essential freedoms. (Source: here)

Trump made the term “fake news” viable and popular. His administration coined the term “alternative facts”, when Kellyanne Conway defended Sean Spicer’s false statement about the number of attendees at Trump’s inauguration. Fake news and alternative facts, in this instance, are not instances of contradicting reports. Rather, it’s propaganda. Trump is deliberately spreading propaganda to delegitimize the press.

The spread of propaganda is not new to America. Many times during the world wars the government spread propaganda to garner support for troops. The most infamous instance of the massive spread and belief of propaganda was during the Cold War, when America came under siege of the Red Scare. However, never in American history has a president spread false claims and flat-out lies like Trump has. And further, Trump does it because he knows his vocal and dedicated fan base will wholeheartedly believe in their false leader no matter how wrong he is.

Trump knows exactly what he is doing. It’s telling that Trump shows more and more signs of being a dictator, and he is becoming more and more bold. The recent Trump Tantrum™️ of shutting down the government for not getting his funding for an unnecessary border wall is literally what the founding fathers did not want. Further, he has now declared a national emergency to get the funding. He had no limits or bounds on what back-assed way to get what he wants. Who knows? Maybe Russia will influence the election enough for him to win in 2020. Again.

Trump sits in a glass tower atop a rich history of the hardship and struggle of others. The spread of his propaganda and his attack on the media is a clear case of Trump trying to build a imaginary wall around his administration, which is plagued with secrets and instability.