Trump’s War on the First Amendment Has Drawn First Blood

If we lose Freedom of Speech and Press, what else does America have?

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States of America. And he is ordering his soldiers into battle.

His soldiers are his supporters who create and discriminate fake news to discredit anyone who opposes him. His soldiers are the acolytes who tell the American people not to believe his opposition. His soldiers are the police officers who suppress journalists’ rights to report on current events.

Trump’s soldiers are at war against the First Amendment.

In 2016, Trump Drew the Battle Lines.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump was steadfast in his version of the truth. A version of the truth that turned out to just be false.

Lying is not a violation of an infringement of the First Amendment. But after Trump won the 2016 election, he gained an immense power: the bully pulpit, power of the presidential platform. Before taking office, he began to abuse it.

In December 2016, he tweeted for the first time about the existence of “fake news”. But he wasn’t talking about election interference or automatically generated articles that target naive articles, he was referring to a negative CNN report about his financial assets.

The message was clear: any criticism of Trump was a form of falsehood. Anyone who voiced these criticisms was un-American.

Within a few weeks, the phrase “fake news” was now a common pejorative attack on mainstream media sources. Over the course of his presidency, the phrase would be used against any dissenters. His protesters lobbed the words against peer-reviewed journalism like they were throwing Molotov cocktails at soldiers.

In 2017, Trump Declared War.

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) . . . is the enemy of the American People!

Over the course of his presidency, trust in the media has evaporated to historic lows, plummeting eight points. For his own supporters, the number of people who trust the media is approaching single digits. Kellyanne Conway infamously declared the use of “alternative facts” on live television — an administration’s endorsement of falsehood.

Trump distinguished himself as the only source of trustworthy information — he undermined every federal investigation into him, he attacked any reporter who published an unflattering article, and he verbally criticized journalists at his press functions.

Trump declared himself the sovereign of truth and the monarch of trust. Anyone who disagreed must be peddling fake news. Anyone who disagrees must be an enemy of the state.

This rhetoric is not new. It was used against dissenters of Nazi and Soviet propaganda.

If someone wears the Jewish star, he is an enemy of the people. Anyone who deals with him is the same as a Jew and must be treated accordingly. — Joseph Goebbels, German propaganda minsister, 1941

During his presidency, Trump issued his declaration of war.

In 2020, Trump’s Soldiers Drew First Blood.

The first strike was made against social media.

Donald Trump is now attacking Twitter for providing non-partisan fact-checking icons next to his tweets — the ones that inflame violence or support the suppression of democracy. Twitter did nothing to censor or remove his words, just fact-check them for their readers.

In a dramatic fit of irony, Trump is now attempting to censor Twitter’s platform itself — committing a violation of free speech against the social media platform.

This law is unconstitutional but that hasn’t stopped Trump before. With his majority on the Supreme Court, it’s unclear how this will play out in the coming months.

But before the dust began to settle, Trump’s forces issued their second attack.

The second strike was made against journalists and their bodies.

Kaitlin Rust: I’m getting shot! I’m getting shot!

James Dobson: Why are they doing that? They obviously see the camera.

Kaitlin Rust: They’re aiming directly at us!

A black CNN reporter was arrested on live television for no stated reason.

The NYPD slammed riot shields against an NYPD-authorized journalist until he couldn’t stand up.

A reporter named Linda Tirando was shot on live television by police forces. She lost her eye to the bullets and will face immense difficulties in her career as a photo-journalist without depth perception.

Linda Tirando after being shot by police | Photo courtesy of Linda Tirado.

The violence is not just against Americans. A Turkish reporter was shot by police. An Australian journalist was assaulted by American cops on live TV. Foreign journalists are being treated like they’re reporting in third-world countries in the middle of violent regime-change, not the United States of America.

After only three days, a whopping 125 violations of free press have been recorded by the non-partisan Committee to Protect Journalists. And that’s from only three days. These numbers can only grow from here.

The message is clear: journalists are not welcome in the United States of America.

I shudder to imagine what Trump’s third attack is going to be.

Why Is This a War?

War-like rhetoric is incendiary; designed to inflame the public’s opinion against a certain group or idea. It’s a rallying cry. A chant. A presidential seal of approval that we are united against an enemy. Even if that enemy is a pillar of our democracy.

Nixon’s War on Drugs; America’s War Against COVID-19; Bush’s War on Terror.

Wartime has historically been a time to unify the American peoples. By indicating a common enemy, a president can use his bully pulpit to strengthen American values. By creating an imaginary “Them”, a president can strengthen the American “We”.

But the “Them” that Trump has chosen is nothing less than the First Amendment and those who support it. The “Them” in this war are the men and women who report on the truth and do their best to make it known.

Trump’s version of “Them”, of the enemy, is nothing less than a founding ideal of our own democracy.

We Are Not At War.

Until this incendiary rhetoric recedes, which is unlikely any time soon, we must understand that the press are not soldiers in a fight.

When a reporter dons a microphone, when a cameraman records current events, when a journalist publishes a critical article — they do not deserve to have their rights and bodies violated by Trump’s soldiers. They never signed up for war.

Journalists are investigators and disseminators of truth. They are protected under the First Amendment to speak their own truths and report on the president, whether their reporting be critical or effusive.

They are not soldiers.

Until our President recognizes this fact, and until his supporters and police officers stop violating journalists, our democracy is in danger.

According to journalists at the Washington Post, democracy dies in darkness. In Trump’s America, a reversal of this phrase may be more accurate.

Free speech dies in democracy.

A queer, herbivorous, leftist Viking. I write about society, justice, and popular media. UChicago grad. Based in Iceland.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store