What a relief it would be if it was possible to believe that US president Donald Trump had, as he kicked his golf balls out of the rough at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, a Damascene conversion and belatedly acted on the advice of Anthony Fauci, the WHO, and many other experts on infectious diseases, before he announced the media will be barred from America’s Republican Party national convention.
Trump is expected to be endorsed as the GOP candidate for a second White House term later this month. A Trump spokesman, as America’s Covid-19 deaths hover around 160,000, cited coronavirus restrictions for this unprecedented blackout.
Trump’s build-a-wall exclusion shows a previously unexpressed concern around trying to contain the virus.
So much so it requires an alternative-facts naivety to imagine it as anything other than what it is — a would-be autocrat’s attempt to silence critics and avoid the kind of disinterested assessment that should help voters decide who they might support come the November 3 polling day.
That the convention veto came just days after Trump sowed the seeds of a new kind of chaos by questioning the integrity of America’s electoral process and the result it might offer deepens the apprehension felt by anyone who respects the obligations of democracy.
He has, amazingly, suggested that he might feel obliged to regard the result as invalid.
It is not an exaggeration, nor is it in any way alarmist, to suggest that this eventuality would challenge those who have sworn to uphold America’s constitution in a way unseen since America’s civil war almost 260 years ago.
His aversion to scrutiny may be a back-handed compliment to the media but it is just another step in a pattern entrenching views that prefer a ‘firm hand’ over tolerance.
The resignation of James Murdoch from the board of News Corp, the world’s most powerful media organisation, if judged by the old rules, is another tiny step in that process.
He was a moderating voice in an organisation central to Brexit, climate denial, and Trump’s presidency. His decision followed mass resignations in EU member Hungary’s main independent news site after the company’s editor-in-chief was fired.
Thousands took to the streets of Budapest on Friday in solidarity with Index, the latest target for Viktor Orbán’s uno duce, una voce authoritarianism.
That authoritarianism meant that 150,000 judges, academics, military officers, civil servants or others were jailed after the failed coup in Turkey four years ago.
More than 100 journalists remain in jail under Recep Erdoğan’s hardline government. Russia and China have long imposed those anti-democratic limits. Hong Kong and Crimea are just two of today’s examples.
Anyone who fondly imagines that such regressions might be impossible in this calm, affluent, generally decent if not perfect republic is wrong.
The precarious viability of our media, semi-state or private, and the increasing toxicity of online commentary is a perfect echo of the conditions exploited by those who today feel free to hide behind dubiously imposed media bans.
By working to save the media, we work to save democracy.
Our choices are indeed that stark.