Most presidents learn from criticism — not this one

By Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

The press must be the keyboard on which the government can play.

— Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, March 15, 1933

Donald Trump’s tantrums when he’s criticized or doesn’t get his way betray an emotional maturity that did not get beyond the “Terrible Twos.” Unfortunately, there is no one and no way to send the man-child in the White House to time out. To the contrary, grownups around him and in Congress are encouraging and enabling his behavior because it serves their own dark purposes.

There is Steven Bannon, the ultra-right hater of Islam who crawled out of the Breitbart sewer to become the most crackpot and most dangerous senior advisor in presidential history. Trump wants this warmonger on the National Security Council.

In an eerie reprisal of Goebbels' warning to the German press to print no criticism that would embarrass the new regime, Bannon declared, just six days after the inauguration, that the American press “should be embarrassed and humiliated” by Trump’s election and should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” The media, he said, is the “opposition party.”

There is Kellyanne Conway, the Trump staffer who seems to be competing with Anne Coulter to be considered the worst woman in the world. On Fox “News” she complained that no journalists who “talked smack” about Trump had been fired.

And there is, most remarkably, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the science-denying chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. In a floor speech comparing Trump to Teddy Roosevelt — that’s blasphemy, in my book — he called on Americans to get their news “unvarnished,” straight from the president rather than the news media.

Straight from Big Brother, that is. No wonder that sales of George Orwell’s 1984, a classic riff on tyranny, are soaring.

The campaign against dissent is almost anyplace you look. At the State Department, where civil servants are being warned against expressing their professional alarm over the administration’s war on Islam. At the EPA, which has been muzzled. The petulant president is even refusing to let administration figures appear on CNN, which doesn’t gush over him like Fox “News” does.

This is not simply about humoring the crybaby in the Oval Office. It’s a lot worse than that.

The scheme is to intimidate the newspapers and broadcast voices that they don’t own, as they do Fox and Breitbart. It is to poison the public’s mind against any media that dare to criticize anything about Vladimir Putin’s puppet, firming up Trump’s “base” especially.

All that is to serve the most radically reactionary political agenda in American history: making the Supreme Court a right-wing dump for the next half-century, loosing the wolves of Wall Street and the banking industry to repeat the disaster of 2007-08, abolishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, crippling environmental protection and unleashing big oil and big coal, criminalizing abortion, eviscerating Social Security and Medicare, terrorizing immigrants and wasting billions of dollars on a useless wall, erasing workplace safety regulations, plundering national forests and monuments, siphoning public school dollars to for-profit private school corporations, turning tax-exempt  churches into tax-exempt PACs, erasing scrutiny of potential native terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan, obscene tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, cozying up to Putin, and much more.

You won't hear all of this from Trump himself, but it's a compilation of what his enablers in the White House, Congress, and the less responsible elements of business and industry have been dreaming of for years, and why they supported his election despite knowing how unfit and unworthy he is.

The same happened in Germany after Adolf Hitler became chancellor with the help of industrialists who thought they could use him.

“... The Nazi consolidation of power in 1933 was characterized by an alliance between traditional elites in the military, major industry, large-scale agriculture and governmental bureaucracy,” writes the German author Volker Ullrich in his highly regarded 2016 biography: Hitler  — A Biography, Volume 1: Ascent 1889-1939.

“We will only be satisfied when we know that the entire people understands us and recognizes us as its highest advocate,” said Goebbels. “... There should be only one opinion, one party, and one faith in Germany.”

Every aspect of public opinion and cultural life came under control almost immediately, starting with radio — Hitler’s preferred medium; there was no Twitter—and extending to the press. Newspapers that weren’t banned “were softened up by economic pressure and subjected to government monitoring.” Those that still had some freedom yielded to government instructions and self-censorship, as Trump and Bannon clearly intend for the American press to do.

A scholarly 2003 article by political scientist Lawrence Britt studied fascist regimes around the world and identified 14 common characteristics.

His list: A powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for the recognition of human rights, identification of enemies and scapegoats as a unifying cause, supremacy of the military, rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, religion and government are intertwined, corporate power is protected, labor power is suppressed, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption, and fraudulent elections.

Eleven are already fully evident in Trumpistan. He hasn't suppressed labor, yet, but perhaps his Supreme Court will; the military is not supreme, yet; and our elections are not fraudulent, yet, except in Trump’s paranoid mind. But if he succeeds in making it harder everywhere to vote, as he plainly intends and as some Republican states already have, that will make 12 of the 14.

Every president, not excluding Washington, has had to deal with press criticism, and most did so with maturity and grace. John F. Kennedy’s remarks in May 1962 are classic: “I’m reading more and enjoying it less,” he said. But he went on to call the press “an invaluable arm of the presidency” — not as the keyboard Trump and Bannon would want, but as “a check really on what is going on the administration… More things come to my attention that cause me concern or give me information,” he said.

JFK put bad news to good use. Trump doesn’t want to read or hear any, which is very bad news for the United States.

Martin A. Dyckman is a retired journalist, who recently moved from Waynesville to Asheville. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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