Opinion

Michael A. Cohen

Trump escalates a dangerous war on the press

President Trump spoke Saturday during a rally in Lewis Center, Ohio.
John Minchillo/Associated Press
President Trump spoke Saturday during a rally in Lewis Center, Ohio.

THIS WEEKEND, President Trump put the lives of American journalists at risk. In his escalating war on the news media, Trump has become a clear and present danger to the nation’s press corps.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted this out: “The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!”

This it not the first time Trump has attacked the press. He’s been calling us “fake news” the “worst people” and “the enemy of the people” (or some variation thereof) for more than three years.

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But Sunday’s tweet is disturbing evidence that he is moving even deeper into the increasingly dangerous territory of demonization and delegitimization.

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Journalists aren’t just wrong when they write stories criticizing the president and his administration. They are, says Trump, “purposely” sowing discord. They are “dangerous and sick.” They are creating conflict, enabling war and are working against the American people simply by doing their job.

As Matt O’Brien, a columnist for The Washington Post said on Twitter, “Replace the words ‘Fake News’ with ‘Jews’ and this statement would fit right in at a Berlin rally from circa 1936.”

Trump is hardly the first Republican politician to harshly attack the media. Yet, as has so often been the case over the past three years, he’s gone to a far worse place — one unburdened by common democracy or respect for the most basic of democratic norms.

By so thoroughly demonizing any journalist who disagrees with him, Trump has further degraded our already diminished political discourse. His supporters have so willingly imbibed his hateful language that the divide between conservative voters and journalists will almost certainly remain a yawning chasm.

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But as serious as this is, it’s far from the most vital concern right now. Mere weeks after five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., were gunned down in their newsroom (for reasons unrelated to Trump’s rhetoric) we cannot ignore the very real possibility that one of Trump’s loyal supporters will consider putting the president’s words into deadly action. In a society that is swimming in legally purchased firearms, all it takes is one unstable person.

Some will of course argue that this is hyperbole. That Trump is merely spouting off, and no one takes his rhetoric seriously.

Tell that to NBC News’s Katy Tur, who spoke this week of getting a message from someone hoping that she is raped and killed.

Tell it to CNN’s Brian Stelter, who along with Don Lemon, was threatened with being shot because he had allegedly labeled all Trump supporters “racist” (he did not).

Tell it to New York Times columnist Bret Stephens , who received a voice mail on his office phone in which he was told “I don’t carry an AR but once we start shooting you f—ers you aren’t going to pop off like you do now. You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people.”

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Tell it to all the journalists out there who have been threatened via e-mail or social media by Trump supporters over the past three years.

Those who believe that the president’s rhetoric is not contributing to these sorts of threats are fooling themselves — or refusing to face the reality of what he is doing. How any patriotic American can look at this language and still support this president is impossible to understand. How congressional Republicans can continue to remain silent in the face of such flagrant and dangerous attacks on journalists is one more reminder of their complicity in Trump’s degradation of our democracy.

Trump could stop this. He’s been warned about how dangerous his rhetoric is and has been asked to stop pouring gasoline on the fire. With one tweet and one presidential statement, he could begin toning down the primal anger of his supporters. But he chooses to do the opposite.

Increasingly it feels more like a question of when, not if, someone gets hurt. And if that does happen, make no mistake: The president of the United States will not be able to wash the blood off his hands.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.