A whopping 86 percent of Americans do not know that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of the press. Apparently Donald Trump, in whose presidential oath of office he swore to uphold the Constitution, falls in that group.
His repeated attacks on the free press, routinely and incorrectly calling it “fake,” have always reeked of authoritarianism. Now, though, he’s extended his authoritarian leanings by specifically floating the idea of cracking down on the press simply because he dislikes or is angered by its reports.
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
For those wondering, the First Amendment specifically forbids the government from silencing the press.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press.
The Burden of Proof Falls on Trump
Donald Trump’s talking about an unconstitutional policy borne from his hatred and anger that accompanies each leak about his train-wreck of a presidency. He has yet to identify a single instance of fake news and doesn’t seem to realize that basic logical concept that when making such outrageous claims, the burden of proof falls on him.
The burden of proof to show his views are the truth, the failure to provide which shows he’s but a goof.
Elite Cues and Political Beliefs
Unfortunately, voters don’t particularly care about logic. Political scientists have long argued that the power of elite signals — popular politicians explicitly supporting or even winking at certain ideas — leads to partisan acceptance. Voters take signals and incorporate those views into their political beliefs.
As partisanship increases, so do the value of these signals as they increasingly define and coalesce the party tribe against its adversary, the opposition.
Such virtue signaling helps the competition of ideas and is only bad for democracy when leaders attack its fundamental underpinnings. Donald Trump has routinely done this, especially with the press.
The Press’s Virtue
The press plays an invaluable role in a democracy. It enables the electorate to make educated decisions while also holding power accountable.
Our mainstream press outlets do just that. Unfortunately, Trump bristles with negative accounts and so lashes out at the institution without realization his words have profound consequences — people take seriously attempts to undermine faith in the press and come to doubt honest outlets.
It’s yet another indication of Trump’s efforts to backslide our liberal democracy by eroding faith in institutions and encouraging the ultimate political sovereigns to run from reports and facts that in any way harm their leader.