Donald Trump’s time in office was defined by death, destruction, disarray, and multiple attacks on democracy. Yet we must never forget that Trump’s legacy also includes an evil milestone, reached in 2018, when the United States, for the first time ever, ranked among the top five deadliest countries for journalists. For context, other “top” nations were Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, India, and Yemen. This was the same year that Trump first called the press “the enemy of the people.”

Though 2020 and the Trump administration are in our rearview mirror, the situation has gotten even more dire. Disturbingly, the number of journalists killed worldwide in 2020 doubled from 2019. We have to remember that a free press was viewed as so important to our foundational democracy, it was the only profession the Founding Fathers named in our Constitution. It’s the best, last hope against tyranny, which is exactly why authoritarians hate it so much. Trump’s purposeful attacks on the media not only encouraged violence against journalists in this country, but gave regimes elsewhere a blueprint to crack down on their own press. Dictators, from Bashir-Al Assad to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, used the Trumpian term “fake news” to justify their own violent attacks on journalists who attempted to hold them accountable. The junta in Myanmar is using a similar argument to justify shutting down internet access amidst a coup.

There were so many abuses of power the past few years, Trump’s attacks against the media became background noise. After his failed presidency came to its end, CNN tried to chronicle Trump’s most egregious acts, and his attacks on the press didn’t even warrant a mention. Although Trump left many messes that need to be cleaned up, our First Amendment protections must be given a high priority. Fortunately, there’s plenty of things that President Joe Biden, and everyone, can do to help to strengthen those protections. It’s vital for the next time we face an authoritarian leader who may have a shred more competence than Trump.

  • February 6, 2021