Early Friday morning, Donald Trump once again showed us that he’s a Third World dictator in the making as he sought to silence another critic. In this case, it’s comedian Samantha Bee. Trump declared Friday by a royal edict (still presently referred to as a tweet): “Why aren’t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard.” He then added, “but that’s O.K., we are Winning, and will be doing so for a long time to come!”
If you think this demand by Trump to fire Bee is simply about Bee using the c-word on her comedy show Wednesday to slam Ivanka’s complicity in Trump’s despicable policy of separating children from parents if they cross the border illegally, you have not been paying attention. Trump has been waging a war on freedom of expression since his campaign which continues through today. His goal is to silence or at least delegitimize those who criticize him—from the news media to comedians like Bee and “Saturday Night Live.” It’s as if Trump is following page by page the “Dictator for Dummies” playbook.
Until now, much of the criticism of Trump regarding the Roseanne Barr-Samantha Bee controversy has rightly been about the White House’s swift denunciation of Bee but Trump’s refusal to denounce Barr’s racist tweet that compared former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape. Trump, who had praised Roseanne in March after her show’s premier by personally calling her and then touting her in a rally where he told the crowd the show was “about us,” has still not condemned his long time friend’s racism.
But that’s Trump. This is the same guy who refused to denounce David Duke during the campaign when first asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper. And then after Charlottesville, Trump equated the white supremacists with those protesting hate by saying there were “fine people” on both sides. And this is the same Trump, who to the delight of the primarily white crowds at his rallies, will demean visible black people from Jay-Z (as we saw again this week) to Rep. Maxine Waters to NFL players who took a knee to protest institutional racism.
Trump is a man who trafficked in bigotry and racism to win the White House. It’s vile but it plays well with much of today’s GOP base.
However, you would think Trump’s attacks on freedom of expression would trouble the right, which has long touted “freedoms.” But what Trump has done is effectively and dangerously transformed freedom of the press and freedom of speech into a partisan issue. He has made it okay for his base to cheer the silencing of his critics by literally framing them as the “enemy of the American people.” That’s why a 2017 poll found that nearly 50 percent of Republicans support closing down media outlets that are “biased or inaccurate.” (Obviously Trump and his supporters view “inaccurate” as critical of Trump.)
That’s why the right is disturbingly silent despite Trump, like other authoritarian leaders, waging a war to destroy his critics in the media. For example, in October Trump called for challenging NBC’s broadcast license for what he deemed its “fake news.” He declared last year that it was “disgusting” the way “the press is able to write whatever they want to write.” (Yeah, that’s called freedom of the press.) And recently we learned Trump personally sought to use the apparatus of the federal government to punish The Washington Post for its criticism of him by seeking to raise postage rates on Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns the Post. (Trump has tweeted in the past the hashtag #AmazonWashingtonPost so he clearly sees them as the same entity.)
But Trump’s attacks on freedom of expression go far beyond just news media. Trump also wants to silence those in the entertainment world who are vocal critics. During the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump demanded Saturday Night Live be cancelled for its “hit job on me,” as Trump put it on Twitter. And even after Trump won, he still slammed SNL as being “terrible,” clearly with the hopes of hurting the show’s ratings.
In April, Trump called for an end to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner because he objected to the way comedian Michelle Wolf had mocked his administration at the event. In response to Wolf’s comedy that focused on the Trump administration’s lies, Trump tweeted: “The filthy ‘comedian’ totally bombed. Put Dinner to rest or start over!”
And now we have Trump calling on Bee to be fired. You know who else hates comedy at their expense? Authoritarian leaders. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a man Trump loves, banned Egypt’s version of The Daily Show because of the way its comedy mocked the government. The show’s star, Bassem Youssef, had to flee the country and is now living in exile with his family.
Turkey’s strongman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded the prosecution of a German comedian for simply reading a poem mocking Erdogan. While the case did go to court, it was ultimately dropped. But Erdogan’s intended goal of silencing comedians who dare mock the Turkish leader was heard.
So for those who think Trump calling for the firing of Bee is simply about a profane (and obviously indefensible) joke focusing on his daughter, think again. This is all part of Trump’s efforts to follow in the footsteps of people like Vladimir Putin, Sisi, and Erdogan to stifle free speech and criticism. And if we don’t speak out vocally–including Republicans–Trump may actually succeed in turning the United States of America into Trumpistan.