“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”—Every authoritarian leader, this one the President of the United States.
It’s true, you know: If you repeat something enough times people will start to believe it, whether true or not. It is propaganda 101 and there are just a slew of recent public opinion polls that prove that, once again.
President Trump, who shares the political instincts of Josef Goebbels, gleefully tweeted Sunday about a Politico-Morning Consult poll, that found fully 46 percent of registered voters believe major news organizations fabricate stories about him, while only 37 percent rightly think that’s preposterous.
Should that continue, it would put the First Amendment, which is to say the republic itself, in considerable danger—an inference which I would be willing to bet has never once crossed the president’s mind, much less troubled it.
But since Halloween is just around the corner, allow me to provide those who are a bit more educated about and respectful of the Constitution with some things which will prove considerably more troubling than the ghosts and ghouls which may knock at your doors seeking treats.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center recently found that 37 percent of Americans cannot name one—even one—of the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
And if you think that worrisome, try this: Only 26 percent, just one in four Americans can name the three branches of government. For some ungodly reason, that is down 12 percent since 2011.
Ignorance abounds and it gets worse, much worse.
That same study found that 39 percent of Americans believe the government should be able to stop the press from reporting on any—any—issue of national security without the government’s approval. Prior restraint? What’s that?
And since so many people don’t know what’s in the First Amendment, press freedom is not highly revered. According to a study conducted by the Newseum Institute:
• 23 percent say they believe the First Amendment “goes too far.”
• 74 percent think “fake news” (And who, pray tell, gets to decide that?) should not be protected.
• 43 percent said that colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers.
• 39 percent—less than 4 in 10—believe that religious freedom should apply to all religions.
The Brookings Institute, which tracks public opinion pretty much all the time, is reporting that a very disturbing trend is starting to develop when it comes to speech, itself.
In the wake of the Charlottesville protests, a survey of 1,500 undergrads at four-year U.S. colleges revealed that only 39 percent thought “hate speech” is protected under the First Amendment, while 44 percent said it was not.
And in what is both surprising and boding ill for the years ahead, virtually all of these studies have discovered that millennials (those aged 18-29) have some downright bizarre notions about the First Amendment, its rights, and what they ensure.
As example, fully 62 percent of college students mistakenly believe that if an on-campus organization hosts a deemed “offensive” speaker, then the First Amendment mandates there also be a speaker presenting an opposite view.
But even more disturbing, almost one in five (19 percent) said it is fully acceptable for a student group “to use violence” to prevent a guest speaker from appearing on campus and fully 40 percent are absolutely all right with “the government” preventing people from making statements that are “offensive to minority groups.”
What idiots are teaching these kids this tripe and why aren’t the campus folks with good sense screaming to the heavens about how wrong it all is?
Trump and his minions cannot rightly be blamed for the existence of all this ignorance, although they certainly exacerbate it with their daily spreadings of fertilizer; but what is clear is that they are not only willing but eager to take full advantage of it, both politically and in the accumulation of unhealthy power.
What is terribly important is that this is not something that the rest of us can merely shake our heads at and throw up our hands about. Nothing less than the essence of America itself is at stake here.
This nation has safeguarded its liberties and freedoms for more than 200 years, but the now prevalent combination of ignorance and daily public attacks can cause it lose them in far less time than that.