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Americans know better, even if Trump doesn’t

We native-born Americans — most of us, anyway — have no real concept of life under a despot except from what we read. We have been raised on a daily diet of liberty and cut our teeth on the right to free speech. Because of that, it’s not surprising that our appreciation for these cornerstones of our democratic and civil society may sometimes dull. 

That’s why Donald Trump’s continued attacks on the press as the enemy of the people should be treated by all as an assault on core American values. No one thinks Trump will ever become a maniacal totalitarian, but knowingly or unknowingly he’s using their tactics in ways that could damage what most of us hold dear. That’s more than just a little troubling.

Last week, the Boston Globe asked newspapers around the country to publish editorials and opinion pieces about the importance of a free and independent press. Hundreds responded, and they included publications whose opinion pages are considered conservative and liberal. 

Trump argues that his critics are biased, and so much of the coverage of what he does is unfair. But newspapers in the days of our founders were far more biased than anything we read today. Still, our forefathers knew a free press was critical to a free society, and so enshrined these freedoms into the Constitution.

The problem isn’t that Trump argues against criticism of his initiatives. Let’s debate the merits of the recently passed tax overhaul, his plans for curtailing EPA rules, his foreign policy, his trade objectives and more. That’s politics, and it’s what has been going on in this country since its founding. 

No, the problem is his inciting of his supporters to take a similarly dim and outrageous view of the media itself, calling it “the enemy of the people” and his favorite line about all the “fake news.” There is formal censorship and then there is censorship by intimidation. Trust me, I attended the Trump rally in Asheville during his campaign and never have I had the kind of adrenaline rush — like when you sense imminent danger — that I felt there as he assailed the news media and my media badge around my neck like a neon sign.

After the tragic attack on the newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland,  I wrote that small and large newspapers alike knit communities together because we are part and parcel of our communities. One of my staff members will miss work regularly to volunteer at a school event while another rarely misses the chance to donate blood. Another co-worker leads one of Haywood County’s most active nonprofit organizations, another has given countless hours to a public art committee and another loves her work with Big Brothers-Big Sisters. Some of the most meaningful years of my life were spent coaching kids in baseball, soccer and basketball and also helping create a local swim team.

Some of the people mentioned above also get out and report the news. They strive to inform, to report news in proper context, and to be objective. Sometimes we fail, but more often than not it’s just a factual report that will we hope will help our friends and neighbors know their community better and make informed decisions when it comes time to debate issues or elect representatives. 

Do we have political opinions? You bet, and you’ll find those expressed in our opinion pages or in personal columns — not in the news stories. 

Trump, other politicians and all of our readers are absolutely justified in calling out errors and bias in news reporting. But attacking the press because they don’t support his views and calling them enemies of the people is both ridiculous and dangerous. Americans know better, even if our president doesn’t.

(Reach Scott McLeod at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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