The problem with the media, both during the election and now, grows out of a general unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of where we stand today. What we have witnessed is a takeover of the country by a fascist demagogue through the offices of the FBI. There is a correct word for this–had it happened anywhere else we would have recognized it as a coup. It has been accompanied by the usual fascist rabble-rousing and scapegoating of minorities, together with a suppression of dissent that is already unmistakable and poised to get much worse. The media have been a conveniently passive accomplice—“we just report what we think people want to see.”
There is a real worry we may not be able to go back. Certainly the Germans never got a second chance, and the Athenian Greeks were never able to free themselves from demagogues once that got going. The danger to dissent is immediate. Not only has Trump been able to use social media to incite his supporters to acts of violence, but the FBI represents an underemphasized threat. They have already demonstrated their willingness to support Trump by extra-legal means, and the history of J. Edgar Hoover has shown that it can happen here.
The Supreme Court makes this a perfect storm. As we know Trump gets at least one nominee and perhaps one or two more. The Constitution is only a piece of paper; its meaning is expressed by the Court’s interpretation. The Court was the Founding Fathers’ greatest risk–despite our much-vaunted checks and balances, the Court’s power is absolute. There is no recourse either for individual issues or for the makeup of the Court itself. Together with Congress a Trump court can do anything it wants, through legalized suppression of dissent or even controlling the country by manipulating who can vote–following the attempts to do that at the state level.
For now both the media and the mainstream politicians are trying to behave as if this is business as usual. While one can respect their desire the keep things calm, there is a corresponding responsibility to defend our democracy. At the very least there must be a commitment of the media in particular to actively defend dissent. That isn’t a given, since Trump as President will have even more power to control the public dialog than he did during the campaign. But with Trump holding all the cards, without dissent the democracy game may be lost for good.