Although the great Barnum and Bailey Circus is folding its tents, American politics under our new President is opening its and I fear for our society—at least the lions at the circus were in cages. Please, let me explain.
The press, and I am referring to both the newsprint and electronic mode of expression, in the United States is under attack, and at the same moment we are all aware that our national security has been and is under attack. There is an additional impediment to our daily living and there is developing disconnect in our daily language between truth, lies and distortion. There is a distinction unless, of course, you are George Costanza who aptly told Jerry Seinfeld: “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” The issue today is the press, its place in our daily lives and its impact on national security.
The press has a twofold mission; to inform us of the facts and to have a place where people may discuss their opinions. Nothing new in that thought but it bears repetition.
The press has always been a vital instrument in American history and its development as a strong and lasting democratic society. As a matter of law, the press cannot be censored by the government. And yet the press is subject to libel laws for infringement upon individual truth. All else is fair game “but for” the rules of common decency.
For myself and my education and to find insight and overview in the thinking process, I read the foreign press, and foreign opinion magazines such as Prospect from the UK and the newspapers of record in the United States.
With the presidential election, I find we have we have three types of politically oriented people in the U.S.: the Democrat and two types of Republican. The first type of Republican who in any conversation listens, discuss and doesn’t call either you or the press liars when they disagree. The other type of Republican, doesn’t know or care how to enter into a civil conversation, and finds his or her facts in an alternative means of information gathering and employs an alternative use of the English language. I have one such Republican friend and relative on each side of that equation. Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, has just told the press “to shut up”. And Kellyann Conway said that calling out President Trump’s lies is –“Dangerous to the democracy.”
Actually, there is a fourth type of person in this country: the person who believes that he or she is above it all, who disdains all, who thinks they have no choices worthy of their most vaulted vote. So they sit back, do not vote and then complain when their secret choice is not victorious. A Republican member of Congress has informed us that it is probably “better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” And, the silencing of the press continues with the Trump administration mandating that any studies or data from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public. Political review of data from scientists, not scientific review, and not objective review before any data is shared with the public. Why?
My charge today is not to argue a brief on the historic heritage of freedom of the press. I never taught a constitutional law class, and only litigated one major constitutional issue in all my years of practice. My fear…not concern…my fear is for our security and that our national security is in jeopardy when the press cannot report to us what they see, what they learned, who is manipulating our lives and facts so that our physical well-being is placed on a dangerous path.
Because we are a nation in jeopardy—the terrorist cares less of our democratic process– it is crucial that the press has the access that makes news gathering and reporting transparent so that we – the people who ride the subway—are fully informed. There is a trite saying: if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. That is true when it comes to whom we trust with our security, how they function and what are their motives. In the end it is our lives. The secret service does not protect me, nor does it protect you.
Today our security is being placed in jeopardy in more than one area of our lives. Not merely the potential bomb on the truck or subway. The NATO Secretary General warns of a sharp increase in cyber-attacks against our military alliances that will have profound effect if fully effective and that will breach into our daily lives. It doesn’t end at the military front. He announced that in ” the latest evaluations, there was a monthly average of 500 threatening cyber-attacks last year against NATO infrastructure that required intensive intervention … That’s an increase of 60 percent compared to 2015. “
Our newly elected president calls NATO obsolete. They, he alleges, are “not paying their fair share” of the cost for defense. BUT can we, as a country, go it alone in a very dangerous world. The answer clearly is: no. The answer historically has been no.
The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have not been our walls of national defense for decades. A wall along the Mexican border will not protect us from the terrorist only the Mexican day laborer. ISIS employs other paths. It is not a question of NATO and its financial support (a profit and loss statement of who pays what) it is about lives, yours and mine and not the cost for us and our children to “live” to tomorrow. NATO is a real, not imaginary line of defense to an historical enemy of the United States who is not a supporter of democratic action. Russia has a present history of “internationally destabilizing” activities. That is reality. A collapse of NATO because of our failure of financial support would be a security disaster for the people of the US.
A second reality that must be kept under national press vigilance is that it is almost certain that this Administration will ultimately have to turn the spotlight away from a serious domestic issue and will, given its history, do so with a grand gesture or as the commentator Edward Lucas said—a “grand bargain with Putin”. An announcement of a “deal” with Putin only to be revealed and unveiled to the press by the President at the time of a self-congratulating signing ceremony and, not during any period of discussion or negations. Lucas has suggested that President Trump will enter into a “grand bargain” – a deal– to distract the American people from a domestic failure and agreeing to “a Russian troop removal from its western military district in return for America pulling its forces out of a strategic European frontline of defense.” “I think” he wrote “that would be absolutely catastrophic.” The “Art of the Deal” does not work with a known dictator who has no sense of international integrity. Only an open and free press is our hope of protecting the American people from the misadventures of any administration. A press that is unafraid of an Administration, who is unafraid of asking questions, is unafraid of stepping on bureaucratic toes including that of the President of the United States. And who will not “keep its mouth shut and just listen”.
With a management style that has been describe by one GOP strategist as “deliberate chaos”, one can only wonder what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, once again, it is the press that will bring us “the facts”, and must do so at a time the President has said he was in a ‘running war” with the media calling journalist “among the most dishonest people on earth”.
A final thought: I have intentionally stayed politically neutral when discussing security issues in my commentaries, whether they be domestic or international. With the election of Mr. Trump as president, security issues take a 180 degree turn. The security question is: To what direction will the President ultimately turn when viewing the rest of the world. “History” appears to make no difference in his equations and he appears to approach life on an ad hoc basis. The fear then becomes in the “not knowing” and the further fear is does he himself know which way he will turn and, last, the fear of our partners not knowing what he will do or say and that will impact our and their national relations and security.
Will he bail on NATO, will he stop talking to China and merely employ our naval guns, and will he allow his new friend and our historical enemy Putin to move in any direction he chose in the hope of getting some sort of deal that will appeal to his base supporters?
The ultimate issue is: what strategy is The President of the Untied States taking to the White House, and how do we, the people, know without a press reporting?