Trump, the Newspapers and the Danger of Unanimity

Threatened by the structural crisis they are going through and beset by Donald Trump’s growing aggression, the newspapers have chosen the wrong way to defend the righteous cause of press freedom.

To (poorly) paraphrase the American Constitution, I believe there are two truths that many of us consider “self-evident.” The first one is that Trump is most likely the worst and most dangerous president of the United States of all time. His hatred of the truth, his aversion to multilateralism, his transactional vision of the world and politics, his profound ignorance and his pathological amorality created a new paradigm in U.S. domestic politics and international relations that will survive for many bad years. The second truth is that freedom of expression and the existence of a free press are the foundation of any real democracy. Obviously, in theory, we could have a democracy that fully respected all procedural rules without a free press. However, this would be a weak form of democracy, a merely formal democracy. With an ill-informed, or even deliberately uninformed electorate, we can hardly argue that electoral choices are really free. In order to be free, to have a real democracy, the existence of an informed society is a fundamental requirement. And to fulfill this requirement, I don’t know a better instrument than a vibrant, professional and plural media system.

Now, these two “self-evident” truths should lead us to applaud without reservation the generous initiative that, under the leadership of The Boston Globe, led more than 300 American newspapers to publish, on the same day, editorials that denounce Trump’s speech against the media and his attacks upon freedom of expression. However, I do not share this enthusiasm that is, I admit, widely spread. I’ll explain why.

This initiative is as generous as it is counterproductive for two reasons. First, it is dangerous for the American press to settle into an anti-Trump crusade. It is one thing to defend freedom of expression; it is another to give unconditional support to the fight against the president. Paradoxically, this would provide a great service to his cause because this is precisely the ridiculous thesis he has defended − that there is a media crusade against his presidency.

But the bottom line was not even mentioned. The fundamental problem is that it is very dangerous to have the press united, in a concerted way, around any unanimity. If I stand for a free press and radical freedom of expression (a radicalism that is, in fact, increasingly threatened by the linguistic conventions of the politically correct), with complete enthusiasm and without any reservations, it is because I believe in a plural system where there is a fight, in daylight, in the domain of rationality, between contradictory ideas and conflicting arguments. Because I expect that the media system, as a whole, exposes me to different theses and opposing agendas.

In the day that the press unites, all together, around a cause (however generous and obvious it may seem), it will be destroying all the foundations that impel us – dangerous liberals – to defend it against everything and everyone. The press should not be seen as a power, not even as a counter-power. It shouldn’t be treated as a single thing, much less as something monolithic or unanimous. Its strength, its purpose, its contribution to a free society, are based precisely on its internal plurality.

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