Perhaps the president of the U.S. is not so well acquainted with the details of how society and power works. However, don’t doubt that he knows exactly what he is doing. It is essentially about silencing everything he dislikes.
The response to Donald Trump’s Twitter barrage about “revoking the license” for TV networks he dislikes was short and concise: “Not how it works.” Just as you would explain things to a sulky child.
The source of this comment on Twitter was Jessica Rosenworcel, an experienced lawyer who, since 2012, has been one of the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission. If a license is to be revoked, this decision is made by the FCC based on the content produced. To be on the safe side, she posted a link to the FCC manual, just in case the president wanted to read it.
Another relevant little detail is that NBC, which ignited the last burst of wrath from the president, doesn’t even have a license that can be revoked. Licenses are not awarded to networks but to separate stations. Those are just facts however, not something the president is concerned with during his outbursts.
In sum, NBC is not facing a risk of being shut down or losing its license. Neither is any other organization involved in journalism, regardless of how angry their activities make the president. Trump’s actions are nevertheless serious mainly because of what Trump wants to achieve, and how he wants to achieve it.
What the president is doing is nothing less than a personal war against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is the amendment which guarantees the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peacefully, and freedom of the press.
Trump wants to silence what he dislikes regardless of how fundamental the right his call for silence conflicts with. He does this with the sharpest possible rhetoric, regardless of whether he is dealing with serious news broadcasters or sports stars who are voicing their views. In the world view of the president, they are all “enemies of the people,” “disloyal Americans,” or people “betraying the flag.”
There is only a fraction of difference between those statements and statements about “traitors of the people” and “criminals” written on placards carried by participants at the recent Nazi demonstration in Gothenburg. The values of the people behind those signs are very similar; the same can be said for leaders such as Putin and Erdogan.
Trump tries to hammer home the message with the most effective rhetorical weapon there is: repetition. He returns to the subject, tweet after tweet, speech after speech, Fox interview after Fox interview. Demagogically, he is forcing home his message, aiming to get more of the American people on his side. For a long time, Trump has been asking for tougher laws on slander, congratulating billionaires who have taken the media to court. He is also acutely aware of the power that sits with advertisers and sponsors, regardless of whether you are referring to the National Football League or the TV networks.
He may not know the rules. But never doubt that that he knows exactly what he is doing.