Yesterday the Boston Globe published a piece by Martha Bayles, “Will the media be crushed?” Bayles makes her thesis crystal clear:
“Put bluntly, it’s not enough to assert that a free press is the lifeblood of liberal democracy. We must also recognize that liberal democracy is the lifeblood of a free press. And if liberal democracy stops working, no one should expect the press alone to fix it.”
And what’s the point of a free press if there is no democracy?
Our free press has handed American democracy a lifeline more than once. Watergate comes to mind. The Guardian’s and Intercept’s articles on NSA spying on Americans put unconstitutional spying on notice. The Wikileaks State Department cable dump shed light on a hypocritical and destructive foreign policy. The public got to see what sort of mischief its elected officials were up to — and lying about. The Fourth Estate has often been a fourth pillar of democracy, albeit an unappreciated volunteer.
Bayles cites a Freedom House report — that our free press is declining in pace with declining democracy. Freedom House specifically identifies Trump’s autocratic methods as a threat to watch. But it’s not just Trump himself. For mainstream Republicans authoritarianism is now acceptable — and, like plastic forks pretending to be silverware, perfect for everyday use.
In Arizona, Republicans have proposed HB 2404, which restricts the right of citizens to put referenda on the ballot. In North Dakota, HB 1203 makes it legal to run over and kill pipeline protestors. In Minnesota, Republicans want to make protesting police killings a serious crime. Republicans in Washington state want to make protesting a Class C felony. In Michigan, Republicans proposed a bill that would prohibit unionists from picketing. Republicans in Iowa also introduced new legislation to increase penalties for protesting. The Intercept goes into greater detail on these cases.
Betraying a contempt for the Judiciary, Republicans in Florida introduced HJR 121, which permits legislators to overrule any judicial ruling they don’t like — effectively abolishing the Judiciary. In Washington, a similar Republican bill has been filed. Similar confusion with the function of the Judiciary seems to have been at work in Alabama, New Jersey, and Kansas. Louisiana Republicans have enacted a “Blue Lives Matter” law that makes “resisting arrest” — a vague and often unprovable charge already abused by police — a felonious hate crime. The law is now in effect.
And it’s only been a month since the inauguration.
The DNC has a long road ahead. For many Democrats regaining Congressional seats and rebuilding a decimated party are going to seem like the main — if not the only — objective. If we are really lucky, regaining seats by doing a better job of reaching out to working class voters will be the reason.
Democrats also have a huge todo list. They must rewind and unroll all these assaults on democracy at the state level, dismantle a heavily militarized American police state, reinstate the Constitutional holiness of warrants and probable cause, provide oversight of a surveillance machine that can easily suck up all our text messages and emails. Democrats must reform our foreign policy, end shady dealings with autocrats (Putin isn’t the only one), get rid of FISA courts — and finally (and symbolically) retire the Patriot Act.
Otherwise — what’s the point of winning if there is no democracy?