A healthy democracy requires a free and principled press to thrive and survive. A critical step in the process of ending a democracy in favor of a dictatorship is the destruction of the free press. The first step in this process is to inflame the passions of the populous by dividing it against itself, usually by a demigod who exploits their worst fears. In our system of democracy, when the first step is done successfully, the demigod (who in our case is the leader of the executive branch of our government) first takes over the entire government and places it under his control. Then he takes over the court system and finally takes over what we consider the unofficial fourth branch of government, also referred to as the fourth state – the free, unbiased press. As we sit here today, the take over of government is nearly complete, evidenced by the acquittal of the president by the Republican majority in a trial without witnesses, even though most of them freely admit the president is guilty of the things he was accused of. The courts are being packed almost on a daily basis with ideologues completely beholding to the president and his warped ideas and soon its takeover will also be complete. The last nail in democracy’s coffin will come when the legitimate press first loses its credibility and then is intimidated out of existence by threat of imprisonment or bankruptcy by the dictator. These changes have been slowly taking place right before our eyes, and yet we still remain divided against each other to the delight of the dictator.
It saddens me to say that just as the government and the courts have been active participants in their own demise, so has the fourth state. It began innocently enough. With the advance of technology and telecommunications and cable networks, broadcast journalism became more enamored with profits than in maintaining its responsibility to insure the integrity of its reporting. Broadcast news became entertainment. The problem with that is when you do it, you blur the lines between fiction and reality. For example, you started to see things like established journalists appearing in movies, playing themselves in their actual roles as network broadcast journalists, in all kinds of action fantasies and TV dramas. When you do that, especially to a largely uneducated public, the people are never sure if what is said, is said to entertain them or to inform them. In that climate, in steps the demigod claiming to his followers that all media except the media that is favorable to him is fake and they believe him. Now, not only do they not believe the mainstream media, but also they only listen to the media that promotes his propaganda.
Consequently, American democracy is hanging by a thread. The next election is now a vote for democracy verses dictatorship. I know Trump supporters think they can control him once he assumes full power. People who support dictators always do. Instead, in the aftermath of an electoral victory by Trump you will see mainstream media immediately be sued in the Trump courts for deformation of character or treason. Once he has silenced them, he’s got you. In the beginning you’ll feel good that all the media you have disagreed with has been silenced, but then, he’ll start coming after you, not in mass like the liberal media, but one at a time like you’ve seen him do with all his former associates who he believes have crossed him. He will levy the same charges against you that he levied against the mainstream media – that you are undemocratic and a threat to national security. No one will question him. It will be easier for your friends to side with him than risk their own family and security. I remind you again that only about 20% of Germans in the 1930s were hardcore Nazis. That was all that was needed for them to take over the entire country to the catastrophe of them all.
In a previous post, a paraphrased an old story presented by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book, How Democracies Die. In these critical times, it bears mentioning again. The story goes like this:
In ancient times, there was much enmity between the stag and the horse. One day in fit of utter frustration, horse begged the man to help him vanquish the stag forever. “I’ll help you”, the man said, “but I will need to put a bridle in your mouth to guide you in battle, and a saddle on your back so I can ride you comfortably. Of course, when the task is complete, I will remove those things”. The horse agreed and true to his word, the man vanquished the stag forever.
“Thank you!” said the horse. “Now, please take the bridle out of mouth and the saddle off my back so I can live free again”.
“No”, said the man. “You never know when you will need me again. I think I’ll leave things just as they are.”