The chief strategist in the White House, a man who rallied a growing white nationalist movement behind Donald Trump, is now telling the news media to “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
We should all be outraged – and more than a little unnerved.
We all know that conservative politicians have been trying to delegitimize the mainstream press for decades. And, indeed, conservatives have created a constellation of alternative media more to their liking – Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, to name the most obvious.
But with Trump, we’re witnessing something different, something more insidious. Something that seems pathological.
It was disturbing enough to see the president’s press secretary blatantly lie about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, reportedly because Trump was outraged by the television coverage.
It got worse when Trump operative Kellyanne Conway described the lies as “alternative facts,” a phrase that drew instant ridicule.
Then, Trump told a gigantic, more consequential lie when he insisted that as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants voted illegally, costing him the popular vote.
That led to Thursday, when Stephen K. Bannon told The New York Times that the media had been “humiliated” by Trump’s victory and should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
In other words, stop reporting the facts because they put the lie to Trump’s alternative reality. Just listen to Trump.
Meanwhile, the pesky journalists have reported that the administration is clamping down on information that routinely comes from government agencies.
This is what dictators, tyrants and totalitarian governments do.
To maintain their propaganda, they must muzzle the institutions that reveal the facts, the objective information that informs policy decisions. Without this information, a democracy simply cannot function.
Without a vigilant press and without the free flow of government information, Trump can lie with impunity. He can govern based on the “alternative facts” he gets from the far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists he apparently follows quite closely.
Voters, meanwhile, will have no way to get the truth.
This is a perilous situation, one made worse by the people who have Trump’s ear – specifically Bannon.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said he was “just the messenger” for the angry movement he was leading. He repeated the claim on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the day before the inauguration.
Based on the lies, fear-mongering and xenophobia-based policies that we’re already seeing, it appears that the president really is channeling a movement, one embodied by the person whispering in Trump’s ear – Bannon.
It’s important that we all never forget who and what Bannon is.
He is the media executive who, in his own words, turned the Breitbart News website into “the platform for the alt-right.” The alt-right is simply a rebranding of white nationalism for the digital age. At an alt-right gathering held shortly after the election just a few blocks from the White House, Richard Spencer – a man who has been lauded by Breitbart as one of the movement’s leading intellectuals – quoted Nazi propaganda and prompted sieg heils from the audience.
During his campaign, Trump shared links to Breitbart’s racially charged content with his Twitter followers more often than he linked to any other media outlet. Another outlet that linked to Breitbart more than any other: the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, whose proprietor on election night exulted that “[o]ur Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor.”
Now, Bannon sits at the right hand of the president and wants to silence the legitimate news media. He wants Americans to get their “news” from the website favored by neo-Nazis.
We should all be very alarmed.
Southern Poverty Law Center.
This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.