President Trump does not like, cannot tolerate, dissent. Trump has filled his administration with “yes” men and women, who do not oppose even his most undemocratic wishes but rather help him find creative ways to get his wishes fulfilled, no matter how damaging they might be to the form of government we inherited from the nation’s founders. Now the President wants a whole nation full of only affirmation of his every whim, full of “yes”. When has any leader had this kind of support from a nation without using the fear of death to inspire it?
Whenever the media, in any form, criticizes Trump, which thank goodness it still does, Trump lets us all see that if he had his way he would ruin that particular media outlet or make life so existentially difficult for them that they would have to get in line and praise his “very stable genius” every day and in every article. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? (sarcasm) But he is already doing this. If you read our newspapers or watch TV, news media outlets have moderated their speech to escape the President’s wrath. How many media outlets could survive total abject toadyism? We would only need one state newspaper, one TV station, etc. We would be Russia.
Every book I have ever read about how to succeed in business warns against the danger of surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you (or pretend to). Eventually your ideas will become stagnant and there will be no infusion of new energy and you’ll begin to lose your market share to companies that encourage more diversity and fresher ideas. This can happen to countries also. Once again look to the example of Russia which seems to exist on a sort of perpetual mobius strip, going forward and yet doomed to go backward in an endless loop. So not only are Trump’s tendencies unconstitutional in a republic such as ours, but to require the constant stroking, and the absolute acceptance that he alone knows what is best for America, is also counterproductive.
What Trump intends is to punish social media for allowing people (e.g. Representatives in the House) to dissent. He wants to claim victimhood, again. “The media is mean to me.” He wants social media to create algorithms that will send comments that say negative things about Trump and his policies to the trash and to take membership on social media away from individuals who post dissenting opinions.
Although he should be trying to be sure there is no foreign meddling in the 2020 election and that fake accounts, bots, and memes that are offering false information do not get into the social feed, that was not his main concern in the media summit he held recently. Instead he whined about the unfair coverage he gets, this time from some of the American people, and he thanked and gave his endorsement to any social media that has supported him, however far they wander from our norms.
Free speech is a difficult thing. When, if ever, does free speech step over a line? Is using a bot a free speech right or, in the case of elections, is it a cheat? Do we really want hidden foreign intervention in our elections? Aren’t we producing enough home-grown propaganda? The issue of what constitutes free speech on social media is complex and it will be on-going because as one clever attempt is banned, new techniques, cleverer ones, will pop up. Can we ever “clean” the web the way Panera says it cleans food? What will we lose if we are able to stop bad actors from abusing social media? Will good things be lost also? Will the whole world find free speech curtailed to the detriment of what we hoped would be the spread of freedom everywhere? A lot of people are very concerned about the answers to those questions.
The world seems to have devalued democracy these days and “illiberal” democracies (dictatorships) seem all the rage. Will America throw away 243 years of relative freedom to join the ranks of those who put their trust in one person only. If we follow where Trump seems to lead and where the GOP functions as his wing man then we will find our freedoms disappearing one by one. Trump sees the media as the enemy and thinks he can kill all media opposition to his authoritarian style and his racist policies; his style that uses lies and distractions to manipulate the media and the people until it sounds like he rules, oops, governs by affirmation. Then he will be the most popular President ever – or else!
Social online media is replacing print media and is currently in a position of power. We are in the midst of trying to figure out what brakes should be put on speech on the internet. People who are not liberal at all are using free speech arguments to justify lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theory in order to distort reality and bring about some pretty fascist outcomes. When messages are posted to sites skewed in a way that can be easily identified, it is easy to avoid those sites. But when they show up on social media they may be deliberately hiding their lack of bona fides and masquerading as factual sources. We saw this in the 2016 election when Russian bots adopted the personas of American citizens. To even create brakes that will consistently work may be impossible. What to do? What to do? What to do with the issue of a President who twists the concept of free speech until it means free speech only for him and his supporters.
Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Esquire