Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Free Speech, Maybe

Signs are everywhere.

Politico'a Rachel Blade has found "that Capitol Hill Republicans have papered over their not-insignificant policy differences with Trump, shying away from any statement about the president-elect that might possibly be construed as critical." One example she cites is how

In early December, Rep. Bill Flores made what seemed like an obvious observation to a roomful of conservatives at a conference in Washington. Some of Donald Trump’s proposals, the Texas Republican cautioned, “are not going to line up very well with our conservative policies," though he quickly added that there was plenty the incoming president and GOP Congress could accomplish together.

Little did Flores realize the hell that would soon rain down from Trump's throng of enforcers.

Breitbart seized on Flores' remarks a few days later, calling them proof that House Republicans planned to “isolate and block President Donald Trump’s populist campaign promises.” A conservative populist blogger for the site TruthFeed then warned Flores on Twitter to "get ready for a shit storm," and posted a headline that read: “BREAKING: Rep. Bill Flores Has CRAFTED a PLAN to BLOCK Trump’s Immigration Reform.”

Sean Hannity jumped in, too, featuring the Breitbart post on his syndicated radio show. That only further riled the impromptu anti-Flores mob.

"@RepBillFlores get in @realDonaldTrump way & we will burn your career down until you are reduced to selling life insurance,” tweeted one person. "@RepBillFlores you can go hang yourself!!" another wrote.

Most Republicans understand what they're dealing with in Trump and his supporters:

It's a novel form of party message discipline that stems from Trump but doesn't necessarily require the president-elect to speak or tweet himself. Plenty of others are willing to do it for him.

Evidently, many cautious Republicans have taken out a kind of inexpensive life insurance policy in which

Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters.

Little seems to have changed from early in the campaign, when at a rally in Texas the future President stated

I have respect for Jeff Bezos, but he uses the Washington Post to have political influence and I got to tell you, we have a different country than we used to have. He owns Amazon, he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems, they are going to have such problems.

Trump probably can take little anti-trust action against Amazon, and most likely has little interest in doing so. But he already has signaled that he's going after the press. Robert Reich on Democracy Now! recently explained

There is no reason to believe that the Post's reporting turns upon Jeff Bezos's concern about Amazon and any antitrust issues. But, you see, by creating this kind of conspiracy theory or this kind of paranoid notion about the press and planting it in the public’s mind, the public, or at least a portion of the public, is led to think that anything that The Washington Post, or another paper whose credibility the president-elect tries to undermine, says is [not] justified or is [not] true. And again, that is terribly dangerous in a democracy....

He’s signaling to the press that he also has the power, whether it’s antitrust or it is the IRS or the FBI or whatever, whatever he is going to be directly or indirectly in command of, he is also signaling to the press that he has that kind of power.

President Trump will have the armies to do it. What the Secret Service is unable, unwilling, and legally barred from doing, the President may be able  to accomplish with his

private security and intelligence team at his victory rallies, and he is expected to keep at least some members of the team after he becomes president, according to people familiar with the plans.

The arrangement represents a major break from tradition. All modern presidents and presidents-elect have entrusted their personal security entirely to the Secret Service, and their event security mostly to local law enforcement, according to presidential security experts and Secret Service sources.

But Trump — who puts a premium on loyalty and has demonstrated great interest in having forceful security at his events — has opted to maintain an aggressive and unprecedented private security force, led by Keith Schiller, a retired New York City cop and Navy veteran who started working for Trump in 1999 as a part-time bodyguard, eventually rising to become his head of security.

A President with his own private security force? That can be especially effective when you've claimed the media "poisons the mind of the American voter" and your rallies have been characterized by supporters who have "flipped middle fingers and lashed out in tirades often laced with profanity" at journalists who are present.  Not yet in power, he has merely asked for "equal time" because he was ridiculed in a comedy skit; significantly, not for himself but "for us," as if all his supporters had been maligned.

As a candidate, he developed a blacklist of news outlets and accused The New York Times and The Washington Post of being "dishonest." "They're going to have a lot of problems," he promised, and stated he would "open up our libel laws" so "we can sue them and win lots of money."

Fortunately, Trump's series of Nuremberg rallies- uh, er, "Thank You Tour"- has ended. However, as U.S. Representative Mark Sanford, wary of the President-elect's propensity to demand unquestioning fealty, has said, "Free speech is one of the hallmarks of our republic. If people are afraid to say what they think based on fear of reprisal.... that's not free speech."

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