Enemy of the American people

Donald Trump recently tweeted, “The news media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People.”

When Republican Senator John McCain was asked about Trump’s tweet he responded, “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free…press…Without it, we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and conservative presidential candidate, has expressed similar concerns saying that Trump has “authoritarian tendencies.”

If you care about “democracy as we know it,” you now need to know what authoritarianism is.

I started researching authoritarianism 15 years ago. Like all Americans, I was shocked by 9/11. But I was also shocked by the political changes that followed.

In a joint statement to Congress that same month, George W. Bush announced, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Did this mean that I needed to obey without question or risk being labeled as “with the terrorists?”

I understood democracy to be a battle of ideas where criticism makes us stronger. I was raised believing that to question authority is American. But this is not how authoritarians see the world.

For an authoritarian, to question is unpatriotic.

Russian President Putin is a clear authoritarian. Politicians and members of the press who criticize Putin end up either in jail or dead, silencing most of his critics.

To undermine critical voices remaining, Putin’s trolls publish a flood of fake news so that no one knows what to believe. So what does someone with “authoritarian tendencies” do who can’t (yet) arrest journalists and critical politicians?

Trump calls all news sources that conflict with his claims “fake news.”

He asks you to ignore all other sources of information, to tune out all critical voices, and trust only him. He even asks you to ignore the evidence of your own eyes.

After looking at pictures of his inauguration, he claims he had the biggest crowds ever. When confronted with the evidence that he didn’t win the popular vote, he claimed that he did because millions voted illegally.

Even now, he claims his low polling numbers are fake news.

The press confronts Trump with reality and in return, he has labeled them the “enemy of the American people.”

If this doesn’t chill you, it should.

Authoritarians always seek blind obedience.

They demand that you ignore reality if it conflicts with their story. They work to undermine the press and create doubt and confusion. They trade in fear and fake news. They tell you that they alone know the truth and can solve our problems. They don’t offer plans or evidence, only swagger.

And Trump admires no one’s swagger more than Putin’s.

The intelligence community is near unanimous in the conclusion that Russia interfered in the US presidential election in order to help Trump.

During the election, Trump publicly called for Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s emails. Despite leaked intelligence reports that Trump’s team was in regular contact with Russian intelligence during the election, Trump denied it.

Eventually, Flynn resigned because he was caught in this lie.

How far does this go? Did Trump knowingly collude with a foreign government to interfere in our election? If Trump can’t tell the truth about small things like the size of his electoral win and the popular vote count, how can we possibly trust him on the big things?

We can’t, and that is why he is telling people to ignore everyone but him.

Trump’s attack on the press is an attack on a pillar of American democracy. Trump’s inability to tell the truth and his authoritarian tendencies make clear who the enemy is, and it isn’t the press. It is time for a full investigation into the relationship between the Trump team and the Russians.

If you care about democracy as we know it, you will call your senators and representative to demand an unrestricted investigation.

The future of our democracy depends on it.

Dunwoody is professor of psychology at Juniata College.