PRESIDENT Trump’s relentless, dishonest attacks on media might be seen as a back-handed compliment to those who report on his inanities, ineptitude, and his disdain for much that is good in our world but far too many of his supporters swallow the Barnum and Bailey harrumph hook, line, and sinker to make that indulgence possible.
Stalin and Mao used terror to silence opposition but Trump, realising he cannot yet go as far as Turkey’s Islamic strongman masquerading as a democrat, President Recep Erdogan, and close troublesome media, must play a different, far more insidious card.
Mr Trump’s paranoid accusations, once mildly entertaining because they were a novel expression of a deep insecurity in such a very wealthy (inherited) man, are part of a campaign to intimidate those who would challenge his inner circle’s ambitions.
Have no doubt, there is an evil intent behind his attacks on institutions central to democracy.
On Saturday Mr Trump returned to his theme at an event honouring army veterans in Washington.
Speaking at the Kennedy Centre — named after a man as adept at using the media but for a far higher purpose — he offered: “The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them. The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president, and they’re not.”
Invoking a higher force — another novelty from Mr Trump — he continued “America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator. Our rights are given to us by God, and no earthly force can ever take those rights away.”
Fate, as it can, offered an immediate comparison. On the day that Mr Trump vented his anti-media spleen his predecessor Bill Clinton spoke at a memorial honouring the late German chancellor Helmut Kohl, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
In a wonderful speech he reminded the world of Mr Kohl’s core belief — essentially, that co-operation is always better than domination — a belief we, and especially Mr Trump’s administration, may have forgotten.
For anyone who cares for today’s liberal West, for this modern Enlightenment, the contrast between the men and the ideas they choose to articulate could hardly be more chilling.
America’s media is challenged by Mr Trump’s tirades and even if, delightfully, he has renewed an interest in serious media and even increased some newspapers’ sales, that media is facing the same challenges as its international peers.
Any news organisation that invests in the creation of content — as distinct from the cut-and-paste piracy underpinning parasite sites — knows that the business model that sustained traditional media has collapsed.
This media, though never perfect, was the source of everything from Watergate to the Thalidomide scandals, everything from stories about child abuse at the hands of clerics to inept financial regulators.
That is the reality Mr Trump so fears and wants to end.
The debate about how State support for media — it already exists at RTÉ — might take shape has begun.
There are many arguments on either side but it is hard to think of one as persuasive as a President Trump, unchecked, unaccountable and supported by a cohort deliberately kept in the dark.
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