Day 36 — Last Friday the President’s criticism of the media reached its peak. He took to Twitter to blast the New York Times and CNN, stating that “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country.” He then escalated his assault on the media by banning reporters from the NYT, CNN, and other news organizations from attending Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Friday press briefing. This decision demonstrates the administration’s use of presidential authority to undermine those who may check Trump’s decisions, while awarding sources it deems “friendly.” Dan Baquet, executive director of the NYT, expressed his dismay over the decision, saying “free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” Ironically, it was Mr. Spicer who two months ago advocated for open access for the media, saying that it is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” and who now seems to follow the President’s directives.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the White House
Politico obtained a draft of the House Republican proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, which outlined a plan to roll back Medicaid spending and raze subsidies based on people’s incomes. Parts of the plan would be enacted immediately with others would not take effect until 2020. In lieu of subsidies, the bill starting in 2020 would give tax credits to individuals based on age, not income. For those under 30, the proposed credit is $2,000, while that figure would double for individuals over the age of 60. Lawmakers are torn on several issues, including Medicaid and the structure of the tax credits. Republicans want to privatize insurance and strengthen the individual insurance market. They also want to impose penalties on individuals who fail to retain annual insurance. This penalty may come in the form of a 30% increase in premiums for the first year after re-enrollment. The idea is to incentivize people to constantly maintain insurance and to prevent them from only enrolling once they become sick.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Obamacare has recently seen an unprecedented rise in popularity among citizens. A Pew Research Center poll released Friday concluded that 54% of respondents approve of the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, across the nation, angry constituents have been grilling their representatives at town hall meetings about the uncertain future for those 20 million who may lose coverage when Obamacare is repealed. Republican representative Mo Brooks of Alabama believes that the recent protests by “very active” Obamacare supporters will prevent his party from repealing the healthcare act. He thinks that the pressure put on some representatives in swing districts by protestors will prevent those representatives from voting to repeal. He offers that Republicans will have to amend the healthcare act in lieu of a complete repeal. President Trump has expressed his support for certain aspects of Obamacare, such as the provision allowing for young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 when they are dropped off of their parents’ plan, among others. It is unlikely that a complete repeal will be realized, as Trump wants to keep in place some of the provisions of the ACA.
In other news, Republican lawmakers have introduced, or are planning to introduce, legislation to curb or prevent protest in at least 18 states. Some of these proposed bills would increase punishment for blocking highways, ban the wearing of masks during protests, and, in Arizona, would seize the assets of protesters who engage in protests that eventually turn violent. A justification used amongst Republicans endorsing these bills is the necessity to counter the rise of “paid” or “professional” protesters hired to cause commotion, a claim that is exaggerated, according to experts. Some of these Republicans maintain that links connecting George Soros and liberal activist groups exist, and that he may be subsidizing the protests despite a lack of concrete evidence. Democrats are fighting these proposals by highlighting existing laws preventing the blocking of roads and highways. It is doubtful that any of these laws will pass on constitutional grounds and several of these bills have already been shelved in committee, meaning they will not pass.
The silencing of the media is the first step taken by dictators and fascists. While Trump has not yet escalated to that point, nor can he in the framework of the American legal system, it is terrifying that he cannot accept any criticism. As the executive editor of the Times noted (and Sean Spicer!), it is absolutely vital that the press has autonomy and there is free media access. The “fourth estate,” in reference to the media, is the unofficial fourth branch of government for this very reason: it acts as a check on the branches of American government but has no official recognition as a governmental organization. It has never been more important for the press to report accurately, and to keep Trump honest. American citizens deserve the truth, and the news cannot come in the form of a 140-character tweet. What is maybe more frightening is the idea that almost half of the country has now discredited the traditional media players as legitimate, seeing their candidate do the same. It is impossible to deny that some of his base now refers to CNN, the NYT, Politico, and other sources as “fake news,” following the President’s lead. The American public needs reporting from both sides of the political spectrum and, more importantly, it needs the facts. It is a strange universe that Americans live in when an anchor from Fox News, a traditionally right-wing news agency, speaks out in support of CNN, a traditionally left-leaning news agency, and does not support the administration’s banning of several media outlets.
The proposed bills to curb protest across the nation are a direct attack on Americans’ constitutional rights to organize and protest. While not a single one of these bills should pass on constitutional grounds (and if they do they will be shot down by a federal judge), it is disturbing to think that some Republican lawmakers want to curb American citizens’ inalienable first amendment right to peaceful assembly. Instead of silencing those who hold different beliefs, Republicans should be receptive and listen to the people’s concerns. For now, I would love to see Americans keep protesting and keep advocating for the rights that they are guaranteed by the Constitution. If anything, continued protest will put pressure on Trump and Republicans in Congress. American citizens have already scared some Republicans away from repealing Obamacare, and that is valuable. In the end of the day, the government is supposed to represent the interests of the American public, not impede on their constitutional rights.