From Shanghai to Paris to Moscow, the world has been watching to see how the U.S. election is affected by the latest terrorist bloodbath on our soil, this time in the shadow of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
Newspapers in those cities and in many others focused attention on the mass murder of 49 revelers in a gay, Orlando nightclub and what might be expected from either a President Donald Trump or a President Hillary Clinton. It escaped no one that the latest horror would become a factor in the campaign. Nothing, not even the sorrows of the bereaved, takes a backseat to political opportunity.
While Clinton spoke against anti-Muslim rhetoric, Trump leapt into the darkness with all four feet, snarling at President Obama’s lack of passion in addressing the Orlando slaughter and condemning him for refusing to use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” in identifying the enemy.
These charges are familiar enough, but this time Trump went a step further, suggesting that Obama resign from office and, conspiratorially, that there’s more going on than we know. Defaulting to his customary template, Trump shifted responsibility for these thoughts to “people.”
“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump said Monday on Fox News.
“And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
And who are these people who can’t believe “it”? Trump’s Twitter followers? The tiny voices in his head? For certain, they’re not The Washington Post journalists whom Trump now has barred from his campaign events.
Why? Because the Post accurately reported Trump’s words, noting the obvious implication that the president of the United States was somehow in league with the terrorists. Maybe it’s only the “people” thinking this, but Trump’s modus operandi is well known by now. His book, tedious even to Dick and Jane, is wide open.
In a normal world, Trump would be booed off the stage. Instead, he is applauded (by some) for adding the Post to his list of journalistic organs denied access to his campaign.
The applause is disheartening and is evidence that newspapers are little understood or appreciated. This is owing in part to a few notorious fabricators, who were duly punished, as well as a vast array of alternative news sources. But mostly to blame for the demonization of the media broadly are faux news media outlets, Republicans and their cohorts.
For decades now, conservative news sources, many of which are aggregators dependent on the mainstream media for their bread and butter, have joined radio hosts in blasting traditional news sources. Kill the messenger is their operating principle. Republicans who benefit from this portrayal of the media tender their silence in errant gratitude.
The fact is, Trump hasn’t needed any help in exposing his prevarications, exaggerations and just plain awful behavior. His words and deeds speak for themselves. Thus, the idea that there’s some sort of anti-Trump cabal in the Post newsroom is nonsense. And picking a side between a bombastic fabulist like Trump and one of the most-respected editors in the country, Marty Baron, shouldn’t cut any fresh furrows in anyone’s brow.
That is, not if one values the First Amendment, because you can be sure that Trump does not.
Already, he has said he wants to “open up” libel laws so that people like him can more easily sue newspapers. This isn’t only unlikely to happen but would prove otherwise problematic for Trump. Among other criteria, libel law requires evidence of defamation of character, the implicit presumption of which would seem to inoculate the accused in Trump’s case.
More troubling in the long term is Trump’s apparent assumption that he can block a free press — much as tyrants, potentates and dictators throughout history have done. Undoubtedly, a state news agency would suit him fine — all the news Good Citizens are fit to read.
Our allies and enemies, meanwhile, will have noted that a possible president Trump, who used the deaths of innocents to essentially indict President Obama of colluding with terrorists, would do all in his power to undermine the oldest democracy in the world.
It is hard to sell freedom when at least a sizable portion of the country promoting it seems no longer to understand what it means.
Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.