As Americans sees the rising number of their fellow citizens becoming victims of COVID-19 (coronavirus), they are simultaneously losing confidence in the “leadership” of Donald Trump. From the beginning he downplayed the threat that the virus represented, insisting that the number of those affected was small and that it would shortly be zero. He could not have been more wrong. On Thursday the number of cases in the U.S. surpassed China.
And while the virus infections and fatalities go up, Trump's mental state spirals down. He is sinking into a defensive posture that resembles closely the behavior of paranoid authoritarians who perceive enemies all around them. And one of the most common reactions by such persons is to clamp down on what they believe is a hostile media. Thursday's Coronavirus Task Force (which he really has no business attending) opened with Trump accusing the press of being “corrupt.” That's nothing new for someone who has repeatedly referred to the media in Stalinist terms as “the enemy of the people.”
More troubling is that now Trump is going after a progressive group that produced an ad recounting Trump's failure to respond to the budding pandemic. Priorities USA compiled some of Trump's own dismissive statements and juxtaposed them with a chart showing the virus's rate of growth. This upset Trump and resulted in a “cease and desist” from the Trump campaign organization. Here's the ad that triggered President Snowflake:
It's bad enough that Trump would try to intimidate a political group by infringing on their First Amendment rights. But it's even worse than that. The Trump campaign is actually threatening to revoke the broadcast licenses of any television station that airs the ad. That's a fascist strongman's solution to pesky critics who dare to speak out. According to a report in Bloomberg News, Trump's campaign warned that…
“Failure to remove the ad 'could put your station’s license in jeopardy' before the Federal Communications Commission, the campaign said in the letter. 'Your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements.'”
First of all, let's establish the fact that the stations do not have any obligation to comply with the Trump campaign's request that they do not air the ad. That request has no legal standing, and would likely fail to succeed if tried in court. The ad is comprised of Trump's own words, and they were presented in a manner that reasonably represents their meaning. However, the campaign appears to suggest that the campaign has some ability to influence the FCC, a federal regulatory agency whose members are appointed by the President. That would be a wholly improper arrangement and an unlawful abuse of power on the part of the White House. What's more…
“The FCC doesn’t appear to have grounds to act against the stations for airing contentious ads, said Jack Goodman, a Washington broadcast attorney, said in an interview. The ad 'is core political speech' protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech, Goodman said.”
The primary complaint by Trump's campaign concerns an audio clip of him referring to criticism from Democrats, saying that “This is their new hoax.” Trump asserts that he wasn't referring to COVID-19 itself, but to the Democrats criticism. However, in the full context of his remarks he is itemizing events that he considered to be hoaxes. They included the investigation of Russia's efforts on behalf of his 2016 presidential campaign, and his impeachment over his attempts to coerce the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. In both of those incidents his allegations of a hoax referred to the charges themselves, not criticism from Democrats. So why would his meaning be any different for the third item in that list?
This isn't the first time that Trump has tried to use the courts to prohibit free speech. He is currently suing the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN for defamation. Trump is known for filing lawsuits – or threatening to – to harass his foes. But this time he has the power of the presidency to bolster those threats with punishment from agencies that are beholden to him. It's the sort of authoritarianism that he so admires in his pals Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong Un. But it is anathema to American democracy and he must not be allowed to get away with it. So feel free to circulate the ad above, far and wide.
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