Forget the Nuclear Codes—the War Has Already Begun

The next war is here and one of the combatants is right on your doorstep. I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean it really is on your doorstep, or in your mailbox, or on a shelf at the corner store.

For the next four years it’s the newspaper that will be under siege, and if we fretted over that possibility before, we can stop fretting. It’s done.

On Sunday, minority President-elect Trump drew the battle lines when he named Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor. Bannon of course made his name as the executive chairman of Breitbart News. If you’re unfamiliar with that group, you can gain a flavor of its operation from these headlines:

•Racist Pro-Nazi Roots of Planned Parenthood Revealed
•Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy
•Huma Abedin Most Likely a Saudi Spy with Deep Inarguable Connections to Global Terrorist Activities
•After the Pulse Club Massacre It’s Time for Gays to Come Home to the Republican Party
•The Solution to Online Harassment Is Simple: Women Should Log Off

and perhaps most telling

•Donald Trump praises Breitbart’s Washington Political Editor Matthew Boyle: “Very Good Reporter.”

I’d like to say that Bannon’s appointment was the opening salvo of Trump’s war on truth, but that was fired last spring when he promised to change the libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists, and before that when Mr. Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, recirculated a Trump supporter’s tweet about Megyn Kelly which read “we can gut her.” Supporters of Mr. Trump also published the home address of a Jewish reporter who subsequently began receiving anti-Semitic literature. That war I mentioned—it’s been going on for a while.

I said in a previous blog that demagoguery depends upon creating a new reality and convincing people it’s the truth. Trump has done that, convincing his constituency that America’s greatness has passed and that the fault lies mostly with Mexicans and Muslims, then he left it to that newly radicalized and racist constituency to take care of everybody else: Jews, Blacks, women, liberal judges, the LGBT community, et al. The enemies list is long and varied.

Another component of Trump’s new reality is The New York Times hemorrhaging subscribers. But the truth is, although there were post-election cancellations, “its subscription growth rate in the period that followed Tuesday’s result was four times the growth rate in the same period of last quarter.” People are beginning to catch on.

At our house we subscribe on weekends only, but that allows us daily access to the website. And though sometimes I’m annoyed because I have to walk all the way to the end of my driveway (sometimes in the rain!) to retrieve it, I would not give it up. Admittedly, abridging the freedom of the press is a tough sell—it would involve the Supreme Court, and unlike abortion rights, is not a liberal/conservative issue. Even so, a litigation-obsessed administration can make it difficult for newspapers to do their job—can dilute their efforts while fighting off frivolous lawsuits. As citizens of a democracy, we can no longer afford to be ignorant—to think it can’t happen here.

For one thing, it just did.

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