The Atlantic

‘With Such a People You Can Then Do What You Please’

Trump’s attacks on the free press don’t just threaten the media—they undermine the public’s capacity to think, act, and defend democracy.
Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Are Donald Trump’s latest attacks on the press really that bad? Are they that out-of-the-ordinary, given the famous record of complaints nearly all his predecessors have lodged? (Even George Washington had a hostile-press problem.)

Are the bellows of protest from reporters, editors, and others of my press colleagues justified? Or just another sign that the press is nearly as thin-skinned as Trump himself, along with being even less popular?

I could prolong the buildup, but here is the case I’m going to make:  Yes, they’re that bad, and worse.

I think Trump’s first month in office, capped by his “enemy of the people” announcement about the press, has been even more ominous and destructive than the Trump of the campaign trail would have prepared us for, which is of course saying something. And his “lying media” campaign matters not only in itself, which it does, but also because it is part of what is effectively an assault by Trump on the fundamentals of democratic governance.

I don’t know whether on Trump’s own part this campaign is consciously thought-through and strategic: The evidence suggests that he is a man of instinct and impulse rather than patient multi-move deliberation. The evidence about formal and informal members of his constellation, from official advisor Steve Bannon to unofficial ally and model Vladimir Putin, suggests a far more purposeful approach. But whatever its origin, Trump’s record in office is emerging as something different from any previous president’s.

Everyone who has sat in the Oval Office has complained about the way various checks on his power—by the judiciary, the press, stated rules and unstated norms, the opposition party, and alliances and diplomatic obligations—interfere with his ambitions. Trump’s views

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