“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction.” – Statement by the Anti-Defamation League, 02-16-2017
“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.” – David Harris, American Jewish Committee, 02-16-2017
In Turkey, after the failed coup that was likely orchestrated by none other than Erdoğan himself, in order to curtail the power of the press, he simply had journalists arrested and shut down independent news agencies. Trump has not, as yet, figured out a way to do that, since freedom of the press is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution, so he has another tactic, another ‘trick up his sleeve’: bullying.
Throughout his year-and-a-half long campaign, Trump denigrated almost every major news outlet, except Fox and Breitbart, and banned a number of highly reputable news agencies, including The Washington Post, from his rallies and campaign events. Since his election win last November, he has continued to criticize and threaten the press, calling them “fake news”, “dishonest”, “scum” and more. We are becoming inured to it, and his rhetoric has become just so much noise in our minds. However in his bizarre ‘press conference’ yesterday, he did something that I found deeply disturbing.
Jewish reporter Jake Turx from Ami Magazine had a question about the recent episodes of anti-Semitism around the nation. He prefaced his question by saying he did not see evidence the President or his staff were anti-Semitic. He even mentioned Trump’s Jewish grandchildren. Clearly Mr. Turx wanted to be sure Trump understood that he was not levelling accusations at Trump or his staff, but merely asking a question.
“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.”
Trump interrupted, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”
Turx: “It’s an important one.”
Trump: “Not a simple question. Not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here’s the story folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.”
Turx raised his hand and again tried to speak, but was told, “Quiet, quiet, quiet. See he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”
Trump: “But let me just tell you something: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it.’ So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”
The question was not rude, insulting, repulsive nor difficult. The reality is that there has been a surge in anti-Semitism since the November election including bomb threats and hate mail. Jewish Community Centers in 27 states received some 60 bomb threats in January alone. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified some 1,600 Twitter accounts that have been used to send more than 2 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language and threats.
The question was “what is the federal government doing about this issue?” The answer was simple: The FBI and Justice Departments are investigating, and working in conjunction with the ADL and local law enforcement to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of the Jewish community. It isn’t rocket science, and it did not warrant Trump’s outburst.
When the man who is considered to be, acknowledged by most to be, the leader of a nation of some 300 million people cannot answer a simple question without twisting the question into a personal affront, then that nation needs to re-think their choice of leadership. Period. This is why hate groups like alt-right and the KKK believe they have the support of the president when they commit crimes against humanity. Trump will not even speak out and admit that such crimes are an atrocity and that his administration will work to ensure the safety of its citizens. Yet, he is adamant about reinstating his ban against people of the Muslim faith from at least seven countries in the Middle East … people who have done us no harm.
To my original point, from which I seem to have strayed, Trump’s refusal to answer a simple, straightforward question is bad enough, but then to tell the journalist to sit down and shut up, refusing to give him a chance to even finish asking his question, is a violation of the 1st amendment. The first amendment does not state “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press as long as president likes the questions they ask …”
In telling Mr. Turx to ‘sit down and be quiet’, Trump violated the reporter’s right, and perhaps most importantly of all, he violated our rights … the right of every citizen in this country. It is not the first time, and undoubtedly will not be the last, but it stands out as a blatant example of a president who takes the law into his own hands, who does not understand the very Constitution that he swore to uphold less than a month ago. He curtailed the freedom of the press yesterday every bit as surely as Erdoğan did when he ordered journalists arrested. We have already begun to lose our constitutional rights, and this is only the beginning.