The famed question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, or, “Who will guard the guards?” is best known from Plato’s Republic. Plato argued that the just are so because righteousness is imposed upon them. When one could get away with being unjust, Plato argued, he would do so.
Our country’s founders attempted to prevent injustice by developing a tripartite government in which checks and balances would guard against the consolidation and potential abuse of power. But even this system is vulnerable, as checks and balances only work if those wielding these checks use them. When the guardians of the guards turn a blind eye, it is as if there are no guards at all.
So, that left the Free Press, a tool that was once so powerful it took down the formidable Nixon administration. But now this guardian is under siege in a way that has not been seen since 1930’s Germany.
Comparisons to Nazism should never be made lightly, and it is an insult to the memories of its victims to do so. However, the parallels between the current climate and those of wartime Germany are unmistakable.
We have a president who lies daily: from the size of the crowd at his inauguration, to the details of his tax plan, to lying about anyone who critiques him, including the press. Our president and members of his Administration have made it their mission to shut out and stamp out any critical press.
The Nazis used the term “LuganPresse” to describe both foreign and domestic critical press. The term translates in English to “lying press.” It is hard to imagine that the President did not have the term “lying press” in mind when he labeled any critical media “fake news.”
The President often tweeted barely veiled threats of violence against journalists, first tweeitng a video depicting him bodyslamming a man whose face had been replaced with a CNN logo, and later tweeeting a video of body covered by a CNN logo being run over by a train. He captioned that image “You cannot stop the Trump Train.”
The Administration’s war on the press goes beyond his Twitter attacks. His Department of Justice recently sued to block AT&T’s merger, advising that it would only allow the merger to proceed if AT&T agreed to sell CNN. This is literally using the Executive Branch to silence a critical press.
The parallels do not end with attacks on the press. Just after Thanksgiving, the President retweeted a video from nationalist group Britain First, purporting to show a Muslim attacking a disabled man. Both the British and Dutch governments immediately notified him that the video was fake, and asked that he take the video down. The President refused to do so.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when questioned about the President’s refusal to remove the fake video, responded “It does not matter if the video was fake, because the threat [of Islam] is real.” Literally, the media arm of the Executive Branch condoned the publication of propaganda against a religious group, because it deemed the religion targeted by the video a “threat.” It is hard not go draw parallels to Joseph Goebbels’ words.
Beyond the blatant bigotry (which matters), facts matter. Fomenting violence matters. Making a straw-man enemy matters. Publishing false propaganda about a group of people based upon their religion, while calling opposing Press “fake news,” matters.
Regimes that do not allow a free press oppress their people even today: Russia. China. North Korea. Now our President begins most days tweeting, “Do not listen to CNN. Listen only to Fox. CNN is fake news.” When that failed to topple CNN, he tried used the Department of Justice to force its sale. It is a slippery slope indeed, and incumbent upon us, the last of the guardians, to hit the brakes.
Contributing Editor: Howard Altman, Long Island, New York
I am an attorney and aspiring writer living in New York with my golden doodle, Barney. I cook, bake, play the piano and write. I wanted to be Weird Al when I grew up, but had to settle for the law and Twitter. You can find me on twitter @HowardA_Esq.