But we just had an example of Trumpian rhetoric no reasonable person can or should ignore. Which is not to say. of course, that most Republicans inside or outside of Congress will pay it the slightest attention, or that most Americans will have the hair on the backs of their necks stand up quite as straight as it should when they read it. But it needs to be put out there anyway.
President Trump said at CPAC:
A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they (sic) are. They are the enemy of the people. … But I am only against the fake news, media or press. Fake, fake. They have to leave that word. I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. … And they shouldn't use sources. They should put the name of the person. You will see stories dry up like you've never seen before.
Leaving aside the point that he obviously meant anonymous sources (he clarified that point elsewhere; hard to write a news story without any sources at all!), that's true. But can he really think that we don't understand that even real sources of true and valid stories would dry up? Or is that perhaps, the point?
Now I have added the emphasis in this next quote because the word he uses ought to scare anyone who respects the Bill of Rights. Note that he does not simply say, as he did in the quote above, that the media should use the name of the person they're quoting, thereby ensuring that even a reliable source giving accurate and even vital information will never again come forward. He goes on to say, "They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name." This from the man who promised while campaigning that unfriendly newspapers would "have problems' if he were elected and went on back then to say,
One of the things I'm going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we're certainly leading. I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We're going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected.
And who decides whether they're "purposely negative and horrible and false?" Who decides what is "fake" news? The president?
Even if it's someone else, the point remains: the President of the United States has openly called for government control and censorship of the news media and even promised to do something which under the Constitution and the law he not only has no power to do and is in fact forbidden to even try to do. He promised to repeal freedom of the press by presidential fiat! Of course, he won't do that; he was betrayed by his own notorious ignorance of even the fundamentals of the Constitution, and by now realizes that it's beyond his power. Yet somehow this totally escapes the notice of just about everybody who voted for him! Are they really listening to the guy?
Dumb question! Of course, they aren't! If they'd been paying attention to what he's been saying lo these many months, they never would have voted for him in the first place!
But I digress. Can it really be that the President doesn't understand (or thinks that we don't understand) that the reason the sources would dry up is the very reason why they're anonymous in the first place- that they could lose their jobs if their identities were revealed? If the story puts the President in a bad light- and I"m speaking here about a 100% true and accurate story- the source knows that he or she will be fired if his or her identity discovered by the president. Truth or falsehood doesn't enter into the reason why a president- any president- naturally wouldn't want the media to use anonymous sources. What matters is keeping the dirty White House laundry private, free from the prying eyes of the American people!
But the really telling thing about the statement is that Donald Trump, of all people, should have been the one to make it. Was there ever a public figure more accurately described as someone who "makes up stories and makes up sources?" Constantly? Like virtually every time he speaks?
Freud would call this "projection." It's a defense mechanism that consists of ascribing one's own negative characteristics to others. But it also reflects a classic technique totalitarians historically have used with great effectiveness. If you can discredit the press as liars, you can tell all the lies you yourself want with no danger of being called on them! If you can intimidate whistleblowers into silence, your dirty laundry is safe, no matter how dirty it might be.
But the most striking feature of the President's ascription of his own most prominent failing to the media is the self-loathing it reflects. Narcissists are actually people with fragile egos- a phenomenon President Trump's notoriously thin skin illustrates eloquently. And here he is, chastising the media for his own most characteristic public habit: making up "facts" off the top of his head.
Seldom has any American president uttered a single paragraph that is so revealing- or so frightening.