Bystanders to Trump’s war on the press

Eric Berger is a staff writer with the St. Louis Jewish Light.

By Eric Berger, staff writer

Are the media the enemy of the people, as President Donald Trump has now stated multiple times and with increasing frequency?

Before we get to that, the more pressing question is, how will his supporters respond to that assertion?

The “enemy” charge comes from the same person who has told his supporters at rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers. The same person who described journalists as “horrible, horrendous people.” The same person who used that language even after the publisher of The New York Times warned him that “this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

This is no longer a matter of disagreeing about abortion or climate change or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or taxes or any of Trump’s policies. Rather, it’s about whether continuing to support the president means you condone violence against journalists.

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And I would say the answer is yes.

Calling someone the “enemy” is the stuff of wars, video games, and action movies.

When the president points to journalists confined in pens at his rallies and insults them and the crowd boos and roars, it is not only demeaning but dangerous.

To those who would say that linking support of Trump with violence is responding to hyperbole with hyperbole, I would implore you to consider what it means to call someone the “enemy of the people.” It’s the sort of phrase a general — or commander-in-chief — might have used to rouse his troops before battle. To help assuage any misgivings his soldiers might have that killing the enemy is the right thing to do.

We no longer need to wonder whether one of the president’s supporters might be inspired by him to commit a violent act.

On Thursday, police arrested Robert Chain, 68, in California after he allegedly made a series of phone calls threatening to kill journalists at The Boston Globe for what he described as “treasonous” acts against the president, according to the Associated Press. Officers found more than 20 guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition at Chain’s home.

The Globe had weeks earlier called for newspapers across the country to coordinate in printing editorials denouncing Trump’s “dirty war against a free press.”

The newspapers did not mention any of Trump’s policies. They did not say whether or not they agreed with the administration’s actions at the U.S.-Mexico border. Or with its dismantling of Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Or with his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If by “enemy of the people” Trump means that the press aims to obstruct his political goals, then all indications are that Trump is winning the war.

So to those who say that they don’t like Trump’s rhetoric but like that the economy is growing or that the president will appoint an anti-abortion judge to the U.S. Supreme Court, I would ask what you will say if someone like Chain is able to succeed in killing the enemy.

Then what, you’ll ask the president to cool it for a bit?

Or will you say that the journalists should have known better? That they should have listened to the president and stopped producing stories that aim to hold him accountable for his words and policies?

Because that’s what democracy requires, right? A scared and silent press.

Eric Berger is a staff writer at the St. Louis Jewish Light.