The making of a despot

In less than seven weeks in office President Trump has left no doubt that he is boastful, dictatorial, untruthful, megalomanic, vengeful, and ruling as if he were King of America, where, following historic lore abroad, “The King can do no wrong.”

His latest diatribe, accusing former President Obama of wiretapping his phone, is in line with a modus vivendi of deflecting attention, in this case from numerous top aides who met secretly with Russian officials during the presidential election campaign.

Now he has crossed a red line and accused the mainstream media of being “the enemy of the American people.” He has accused them of being dishonest, guilty of disseminating “fake news,” and portrayed them as scum.

Anyone who watched his debut at the first press conference will have noted how he only called for questions from representatives of minor media outlets, while conspicuously avoiding those from the Associated Press, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and other wider circulated newspapers, television, and radio.

It is all part of a deliberate strategy to downgrade and demonize newsmen, whom White House chief strategist and Trump confidant, Steven Bannon, has called “the opposition.”

Trump is out to debase, disgrace, and dishonor the majority of reporters. So fierce is his campaign to malign the profession that, although only president for a brief time, he would be charged with incitement were he an ordinary individual.

I write now as a journalist who has worked under a free and independent press in America, England, and Israel, yet seen reporters cowed under legal and unspoken censorship in African countries.

A free and independent press is the lifeblood of democracy. America best illustrates this sine qua non of freedom by comparing it with the media in Russia and China. In those totalitarian states the degree of dissent is always subject to the whim of those in power. Brave journalists have been silenced by the ultimate intolerance of imprisonment or murder. In those closed societies there is not even the right to investigate breaches of human rights or the conduct of governments.
In America, conversely, courageous reporters brought about the resignation of a president through dogged coverage that would never have been allowed in states run by dictators. Look no further than those who hold the reins of power in Russia, China, and most of Africa.

Incitement against journalists makes their very presence open to violence. Those honorable scribes must now tread warily, especially in the realm of Trump supporters. Masses of the president’s followers are being conditioned to look upon journalists as vermin. Describing this class as an “enemy” is equivalent to stigmatizing them as traitors.

As soon as the Nazis came to power in Germany in the decade before World War II they unleashed their fury at the media not toeing the line. Joseph Goebbels, their Propaganda Minister, ruthlessly saw to it that a vibrant press was squashed. Those who tuned in to daily reports from the BBC and others, were the only ones who knew what was really going on in and outside of their borders. The rest existed as automatons in the rigidly controlled state.

I hope we will never allow this to happen in America. The president flung down the gauntlet. It is now time for all true believers in the rights of the individual to make a stand. A free press will never surrender, so long as the Constitution exists. Reporters will have to brace themselves against the rising tide of scapegoating, and become fearless in their daily coverage.

It is well to remember the undaunted syndicated journalist, Victor Riesel. Dedicated to taking on the underworld in labor unions, he was blinded in New York in 1956 when a thug threw acid in his eyes to silence him. But Riesel returned to his crusade, defying his antagonists and touch-typing copy with renewed dedication.

Sadly, we have reached the point where journalists must re-dedicate themselves to stand firm against incitement and uphold the very foundation of a free people.

If not, then we are witnessing the making of a despot.

About the Author
Anthony S. Pitch is the author of Our Crime Was Being Jewish. He was Associated Press Broadcast Editor in Philadelphia and a journalist in England, Israel and Africa before becoming a senior writer in the books division of U.S. News & World Report in Washington, D.C