While speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention, President Trump made an unintentional reference to George Orwell’s 1984 in attacking the media.
On Monday, the editors of the Kansas City Star urged Trump to truly listen to the needs of concerns of veterans in an editorial that ran Monday, one day before the convention.
“The president should take this opportunity to do something he’s not known for, and that’s to listen — and we mean really listen — to some of the heroes who will be on hand to hear him. They surely will have something to say to him about the realities of war and the horrors of combat,” the Star’s editorial board wrote. “Those insights would be good for Trump to hear now as he continues to rattle his saber at foes around the globe.”
However, despite the paper’s pleas, Trump turned the speech into a political rally, talking up his accomplishments and attacking his opponents — including the media.
“Don’t believe the crap you hear from these people — the fake news,” Trump said during the rally. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
By telling veterans to not trust the media and only trust his words, Trump is setting a dangerous new precedent, both for American press freedom and for the presidency itself. The profession of journalism is the only profession explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, as the founders saw the need for a free press that would hold power accountable with honest, truthful reporting.
However, Trump’s insistence that veterans and his supporters should reject what they read in the media brings up one of the most chilling parts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which the main character, Winston, lived under totalitarian rule and worked for the Ministry of Truth, which ironically specialized in rewriting history to manipulate public opinion.
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” Winston said.
Trump’s insistence that his supporters ignore what the media reports is not surprising, considering he’s long since referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.” But a society in which journalists can be shot to death in their own newsrooms and hedge funds can gut community journalism to reap massive profits for themselves will ultimately lead to the extinction of true journalism.
The recent mass layoffs of half of the New York Daily News’ staff — including its top editor — will mean that residents will have even less knowledge of what their elected officials are doing with their tax dollars, leading to a less-informed public. When combining the hollowing out of local news media with the President of the United States using the power of his office to attack the profession of journalism, it’s no wonder that the U.S. ranks #45 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, behind countries like Romania, Taiwan, Burkina Faso, and Chile.
Regardless of whether or not any American supports President Trump, Americans should, in theory, prioritize the protection of the First Amendment more than an elected official temporarily occupying the White House for a small number of years. President Trump using his cult of personality to urge his supporters to see him as the sole purveyor of truth is nothing short of authoritarian and anti-American.