“Enemy of the People”

Now that Trump has called at least some members of the media “the enemy of the people,” it’s apparently time for another refresher course in history, especially since far too many Americans have a tendency to ignore history. That tendency, unhappily, is not new either. The great Henry Ford has been quoted as saying, “History is bunk.”

History may not repeat itself exactly. It may not, at times, even rhyme, as Mark Twain put it, but history does offer lessons, and one of those lessons is that any attempt to muzzle the press, or the media, is the mark of an incipient tyrant. Such efforts are not new even in the history of the United States. When John Adams was president, the Alien and Sedition Acts were employed to punish writers and presses that criticized the Adams Administration. One Congressman wrote and published an article decrying the “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” of the administration, and was punished by a hefty fine and four months in jail. And he was far from the only one prosecuted for criticizing the government.

In the end, of course, Adams’s use of the acts was one of the factors that led to his defeat in the next election by Thomas Jefferson and the repeal of most of the acts.

Regardless of how aggressive or even scurrilous the media attacks on the President may be, history shows that political leaders who try to curb the media critical of them all too often do so as the first step toward aggrandizing themselves or even as the first step toward using government to destroy the ability of their opponents to speak so that such political leaders can obtain greater and continuing power.

Trump has every right to complain about how the press treats him, whether such treatment is accurate and fair or whether it is not. But under the First Amendment, even the President does not have the right to censor his critics, nor should he be equating criticism against him to being an enemy of the people.

Besides which, there is the very real question of “the enemy of which people?”

Trump is essentially claiming that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is an enemy of the people. Not only is that a highly polarizing view, but those of us who don’t agree with many, if not most, of his policies, are not enemies. We’re citizens as well, and citizenship brings with it the right to criticize.

Let Trump defend his policies on their merits, but not by personal attacks on those who oppose him. That’s just using the power of the presidency to bully others, and it also directs attention away from the policies themselves.

But, that too, is a well-known historical tactic of dictators and demagogues, a tactic forgotten or ignored, because too many people think history doesn’t teach anything… or don’t believe it, which may be why 43% of all Republicans believe that the President should have the authority to shut down “misbehaving” media outlets.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when nearly half of a major political party believes in censorship by the President, to me, that’s frightening.

17 thoughts on ““Enemy of the People””

  1. Alan says:

    I agree that a free press is not an enemy of the people, but having seen what the press are up to I don’t feel that they’re a free press any more. At least by and large they aren’t. Too many members of the press, and their controlling organizations, are busily pursuing an agenda of one sort or another. Often times this agenda is simply whatever will garner the most market share and attention. The reporters make highly inflammatory comments, writers produce damning headlines that are very misleading and the agencies which over see them all continue to drive the public perception whatever way works best for them.

    I feel that having some sort of check on the press would not be a bad thing at all given the excesses of the media. Utilizing free speech and the 1st Amendment as your gateway to saying what you want is all well and good but where in that right does it allow you to publish lies, encourage hate or fear mongering? The press should be just as accountable for what they publish as anyone else instead of sheltering behind the 1st Amendment.

    Now as it pertains to Trump, who is an often documented liar, bully and a whole host of other things which do not lend themselves well to being ‘Presidential’, I suspect you can take anything he says with an entire salt block. But to be fair there is some tiny smidge of validity to some of his comments regarding the press.

    I’d really like to see some censoring done of Trump, personally.

  2. M. Kilian says:

    Ironically, though Trump cannot (so far, thankfully) censor the press at current, silicon valley can seemingly deplatform people with impunity. While Alex Jones is not the greatest example, having been more of an entertainment channel for the internet than a news source, the fact that he has suddenly crossed some invisible line which prompted the big social media sites to remove his content is somewhat scary.

    Ironically, when PewDiePie (A YouTube content creator) a few years back was accused of anti-semitism by The Wall Street Journal over a joke, it was a targeted smear that lost him his current sponsorships and his partnership with Disney at the time. Instead of being deplatformed (despite it being a gross mischaracterization), WSJ simply lost reputability in the eyes of PDP’s viewership and many spectators, despite the financial hardship and stress this created for the man (not to mention his family and friends).

    Forgive me if the comparison is off, but if Alex Jones, who’s taken a lot less seriously can be deplatformed for upsetting the feelings of a few people by accusing them of nasty actions, but WSJ can devastate a man’s career with defamation and cause strife for him and those around him and not even have to apologise or “right the record”, let alone be censored, there’s maybe just a bit of a nasty bias that people have a right to be opposed to?

    I’m personally against censorship, but perhaps the fact that the playing field is grossly skew might be part of the reason people are calling for change.

    1. JakeB says:

      If, when you say “if Alex Jones, who’s taken a lot less seriously can be deplatformed for upsetting the feelings of a few people by accusing them of nasty actions”, you’re referring to his actions with respect to the Sandy Hook massacre, your comments are little short of monstrous.

      I hope that’s not what you mean.

      1. M. Kilian says:

        Alex Jones’ “actions” of speech amount to slander at their worst, for all of the effect they had.

        I’m monstrous for pointing out that his accusations are ineffectual?

    2. Lourain J Pennington says:

      A simple Google of PewDiePie shows the “financial hardship” he has undergone {not) and the “joke(s)” that upset some people.

      Alex Jones and Infowars can be accessed with an app that is available in a number of locations. He can still express his opinions, even after being “deplatformed”.

      Neither one is in jail/prison. Neither one has been censored.

      1. M. Kilian says:

        A simple Google of PewDiePie’s current financial situation reveals little regarding his current financial situation (the Adpocalypse and constant demonetization isn’t reflected in recent articles about YouTube income, nor is how much overhead remains for Kjellberg after his wealthier years), and that the jokes were just that, jokes.

        Even with their own company Info Wars will lose massive visibility internationally that other media outlets still benefit from. I never said that PDP had been censored, only that his life had been negatively impacted by a media outlet, whilst his comments regarding Sandy Hook are purportedly the prompt for the actions against Alex Jones. InfoWars may have its own platform locally, but the show has been removed from the most popular services that are used internationally (Spotify, Apple/iTunes, Youtube etc), which will hurt their publicity either way.

        Sure, not full censorship, but a good start whilst American media has not been legislated against.

        1. M. Kilian says:

          whilst THE comments regarding*

        2. Lourain says:

          People can choose not to buy a book/magazine because they disagree with the contents. Companies can refuse to support the same. Neither is censorship.
          If the no-longer-supported individuals lose income…too bad. People and companies can vote with their pocketbooks.

    3. robert rehcra says:

      I think we can all agree Alex Jones is not the person we want to use to make the case law on social media.


  3. John Prigent says:

    With apologies to the shade of Humbert Wolfe for the slight adaption:

    You cannot hope to bribe or twist
    Thank God,the modern journalist.
    But seeing what the man will do
    Unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

  4. Tom says:

    “… lies, encourage hate or fear mongering …” if present can be addressed legally.

    If these bear even a smidgen of truth, they should be and are protected by the First Amendment.

    We may not like what we see or read but that is part of the cost of what I consider to be Freedom.

  5. Lourain J Pennington says:

    Some things to think about:

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    If I disagree with someone, I will explain why. But…I don’t have to provide you with a soapbox. Bring your own.

    Despots cannot tolerate dissent, because they cannot honestly defend their actions.

  6. R. Hamilton says:

    Aside from Fox, OANN, and talk radio (and a couple of newspapers), all the rest of the press makes Alex Jones look moderate and responsible, except they’re on the opposite side. If that’s a free press, then it’s an incredibly irresponsible use of freedom, to the degree that a reminder is in order that freedoms must be used most of the time in a responsible manner, to be retained.

    1. Lourain Pennington says:

      Your worldview is an interesting one. Fortunately we live in a society where we do no have to worry about a late night knock at the door.

  7. Lourain Pennington says:

    Who decides what is responsible use?

  8. rehcra says:

    No one could possible make Alex Jones look moderate and/or Responsible. His stick is literally the opposite of that. The fact that you can’t tell that because of “the rest of the press” is a problem.

    I also don’t get your premise of ‘Freedoms must be used in a responsible manner to be retained’ to defend Alex Jones and disagree with this post in general. So I am guessing I am miss reading your intent; or am just not use to the Authoritarian idiosyncrasies.


    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Most of the press, left-leaning, will lie, or at best omit stories and elements of stories that do not corroborate their propagandistic narrative. That is not a responsible use of freedom; and except with those who already agree with their narrative, not persuasive that they should be treated with anything resembling respect or deference, particularly when they don’t grant that to others. Their arrogance makes it all too tempting to forget that free speech has to apply even or especially to the offensive, which to roughly half the country, they are. And of course most of the left has no interest in any free speech other than their own, as the big social media companies have demonstrated, along with the left-wing protesters that show up when conservatives are invited to speak on campuses.

      As for Jones, I don’t care if he’s a nut or even an agent provocateur. Because the left is worse than anything he could make up. They’re the enemy of liberty, not the fake liberty of cradle-to-grave protection from consequences, but the genuine liberty where one can either succeed or fail, live or die, without government intervention.

      So long as one doesn’t actually advocate the (admittedly entertaining as fiction or fantasy) scenario of purging the universe of left-wingers, I see NO authoritarianism involved. More like libertarianism: leave me alone to my fate or fortune and I’ll return the favor, but do otherwise at your peril.

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