For liberals,and anyone with a fundamental love of our democracy, the two months since the election have been one long anxiety attack. Like most really bad anxiety attacks, this one has been fueled not just by fear, but also uncertainty. We know Donald Trump is bad, but the question is, how bad? Was Trump's bringing-fascism-to-America act just a campaign ploy, one that he will drop in favor of being a bog-standard Republican when he steps into office? Or are we really looking down the barrel of an authoritarian regime that suppresses dissent and has no regard for the norms of democracy?
Unfortunately, the past week's events suggest Trump is going with Door #2: Authoritarian regime that shows strong indicators of sliding into fascism. Doubly disturbing is that there appears to be no resistance from the Republican ranks on Capitol Hill. In fact, at least one Republican congressman, House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz, is taking the initiative to instigate authoritarian crackdowns of his own.
Trump's first press conference since his election was a three-ring circus that only helped cement his reputation as an unhinged liar, but he did make disturbing amounts of progress on intimidating the press.
Trump took a divide-and-conquer strategy during that press conference. He zeroed in on CNN and BuzzFeed, attacking them as "fake news" for printing reports — reports that are 100 percent true — that a dossier implicating Trump in Russian espionage efforts was presented by intelligence officials to both Trump and President Obama. He then praised other outlets for not running with the story (though some did), a rather unsubtle effort to turn journalists against one another.
The information in the dossier is not verified, but then again, CNN and BuzzFeed never said it was, just that it was considered credible enough to be included in a security briefing. Not that the details really matter; it's all pretext for Trump to play an authoritarian game as old as time: single out a victim out from the herd to attack, as a warning to other journalists who have thoughts of publishing unflattering news stories.
These middle school bully-style tactics worked, Will Oremus at Slate reports:
BuzzFeed was so anathematized that by presser’s end, fellow journalists were picking up their lunch trays and moving to the other side of the cafeteria.“I can understand why President-elect Trump would be upset” with BuzzFeed, said CNN’s Jake Tapper, a co-author of the very story that had just been impugned in the press conference. “I would be upset about it, too.”
To put my fellow journalists on blast for a moment: You should be ashamed of yourselves, letting this doofus whose rhetoric literally sounds like that of a mustache-twirling comic book villain manipulate you, using the same tactics as some schoolyard bully.
Aren't journalists supposed to be skeptical, independent-minded and brave? Stop being so goddamn gullible and cowardly. Trump wants to intimidate and silence the media, and he's using a screamingly obvious divide-and-conquer strategy. Quivering in your boots and hiding in the back in hopes he doesn't pick on you next is not the behavior of an honorable Fourth Estate. Stand up for your colleagues, even if they work for competitors.
Speaking of pants-wetting quisling hacks: Chaffetz made it clear this week that not only is he unlikely to investigate the myriad of likely conflicts of interest that Trump brings with him to office, he will instead lick Dear Leader's boots, by using his power as the chair of the House Oversight Committee to harass and intimidate critics of the Trump administration.
Chaffetz is threatening to subpoena Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, because Shaub correctly described Trump's efforts to reduce his conflicts of interest as "meaningless." That opinion was issued after Trump's lawyer Sheri Dillon gave a lengthy rundown of Trump's plan, so any fool who was listening learned plenty enough to realize that the Trump plan to end conflicts of interest is to talk a lot and do nothing that actually divests him of the conflicts.
But even though Shaub heard the same lengthy description everyone else heard, Chaffetz claimed, "“He seems to be acting prematurely at best, without doing investigations or thorough looks."
"We need the Office of Government Ethics to act ethically. Ironically, that’s not what they’re doing," Chaffetz said in a statement that is so devoid of any relationship to honesty that it once again makes you wonder if the Republican Party is in fact a comic book-style international supervillain organization like Hydra.
The real irony here is that Chaffetz is supposed to be heading a committee that roots out corruption in government. Rather than lift a finger to investigate Trump's business interests or his purported links to Russian espionage or his involvement in the scam Trump University or the bribery scandal involving former Florida attorney general and soon-to-be White House employee Pam Bondi, Chaffetz is using his power to intimidate a public official for offering a reasonable comment based on publicly available evidence that Chaffetz himself is free to look at, if he had a moment's interest in actually rooting out government corruption.
Trump isn't even in office yet, and already he and his supporters in Congress are making moves to silence dissent through intimidation. Any hope that he was simply going to be a terrible president who still leaves our democracy mostly intact, like George W. Bush, is flying out the window.
As the last institution standing that has any real power to resist Trump's authoritarian agenda, the media must not give in to these scare tactics. Journalists need to stand up for each other and for anyone, including federal officials, who uses their right to express dissent or criticism of the Trump administration. It's a cliché, but one that matters now: Stand together or we fall separately.