President Trump’s relationship with the news media has always been tumultuous, but not necessarily disadvantageous for our new Commander in Chief. Trump received billions of dollars in free advertising over the course of his campaign as media outlets across the ideological spectrum plastered each of his ridiculous quotes across their newspapers and websites. These pundits and networks couldn’t resist the allure of huge jumps in viewership as the American public became simultaneously appalled and obsessed with his ridiculous statements and candidacy. Even as the media mocked him, they helped him, and this free advertising taken in conjunction with the media’s vast overestimation of Hillary’s success, the media played a significant role in Trump’s winning the election.
Now that the election is over, however, so is the honeymoon, and the new presidential administration has been bickering with the press since stepping foot in the White House. I want to be unequivocal here: Trump’s ongoing feud with the press is the most dangerous attitude his administration has exhibited thus far.
Any individual, including and especially the President of the United States, has the right to defend themselves when they feel that they have been misrepresented. If Trump were disagreeing with the media on matters of political opinion or constitutional interpretation, I would applaud him for engaging in well-reasoned debate, a cornerstone of a functional democracy. Trump would have his followers believe this is exactly the case, and that he is fighting a media that has victimized him for his political beliefs, creating an “us-against-them” mentality and painting himself as the valiant defender of their beliefs in the face of an untrustworthy media. This is not the case.
Donald Trump is not engaging the media in an argument. He is intentionally spreading misinformation and exhibiting a classically fallacious ad hominem strategy; instead of attacking media arguments against him, he is attacking the media itself. By shouting “fake news,” the Trump administration absolves itself of the most important duty that any ruler in any democracy has to their constituents: the duty to let the power to govern remain in the hands of those who elected him by providing explanations for his policies that can be subject to and survive media scrutiny.
More simply, a democracy survives because its constituents are given the chance to evaluate their leaders and occasionally replace them if they are found lacking. We see this form of democratic government as the world’s shining example of liberalism and individuality, as each person is entitled to make their own decision as to whom they would like to elect.
These individual decisions, however, are made based on the information made available by news media. By attempting to discredit the media, Trump has attempted to take its place in the information value-chain of a democratic republic and deliver this information himself. When a leader who is supposed to derive his authority from the aggregation of constituent decisions begins to interfere with the free flow of the information driving these decisions, he is infringing not upon one political party or another, but the ethos of democracy itself.
When his administration publishes misleading and blatantly untrue numbers about his inauguration at his attendance, Trump infringes upon the free will of his supporters by removing their ability to make informed decisions. When his press secretary claims this administration will “hold the press accountable,” he betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the news media in American society. They are supposed to hold the president accountable and challenge him and inform the American people as a result. If Trump and his administration seek to subvert this process by becoming his supporters’ sole source of information, he is intentionally robbing them of their unalienable right to participate in the democratic process. People cannot exercise free will if the parameters of their perceptions are set by information supplied by the current government, an undeniably biased source.
By refusing to acknowledge these media challenges as legitimate, the Trump administration shows us that it lacks the ability to defend its actions, and instead resorts to diversions and insults. If the media is unfairly attacking Trump and his government, he is well within his rights to defend himself in the court of public opinion, but if this defense takes the form of blustering, discrediting and flat-out lying, it is unpresidential and undemocratic. An uninformed republic cannot stand, and freedom to vote without open information is hardly freedom at all.
Tyler Zelinger is a College senior from Commack, New York.