By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
John Edward Dalberg-Acton, a 19th-century British writer, historian, and politician is less well-known by name than by the oft-quoted words he penned in 1870: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Within the same paragraph, however, Dalberg-Acton wrote what should be an equally remembered observation that seems particularly apt to our current president and his relationship to the press: “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
At the time, Dalberg-Acton, a Catholic, was directing his criticism towards the papal office and its presumed infallibility. But his words apply equally to the secular realm and resonate today as the president and his cabinet seeks to drown out and delegitimize any of its critics.
Being elected president did not confer infallibility upon Donald Trump. We wish it had. Instead, the nation (and, indeed, the world) has been assured by his most recent rambling press conference that President Trump still embodies the worst character flaws of candidate Trump.
While his core supporters will continue to view his thin skin, arrogance, rudeness, crudeness, and self-absorbed vindictiveness as “authentic,” the messianic devotion they display for the “strong leader” is misplaced and dangerous to our democracy. There is little the man could do to shake their allegiance, so pointing out that the emperor has no clothes falls on deaf ears.
But Donald Trump did not become president because of his core supporters alone. Many voters in blue-collar counties went for Trump because they had lost hope that the Democratic party could reopen shuttered factories. There were also many Republicans who simply felt it was all an act and that Trump would change after he became president. They were wrong.
Donald Trump and his loyalists believe that having won the presidency he is entitled somehow to the unquestioning obedience of the nation. But that is not how a democracy works. While the Democratic members of Congress may be in a minority, they still have a voice. Several Republican Senators are also putting country before partisanship as they witness the bedlam of this administration.
Then there is the press. In a democracy, the press has a responsibility to report the truth. Sometimes that is going to hurt the image of progressives, as was the case with the WikiLeaks exposure of the Clinton emails. Other times it is going to hurt Republicans or the president, as it has by revealing evidence of Russian interference in the election process and contacts between the Trump campaign and known Russian intelligence operatives.
An incumbent administration’s disapproval of certain news coverage does not make it “fake news.”
Let the president insult and demean the members of the press. Let him call reporters names to their faces and try to bully them. Let him continue to tell untruths to mask the truth. Let him dodge and weave and distract. Remind us as you call a member of the federal judiciary a “so-called judge” or a sitting United States Senator “Pocahontas” that holding the office of president will never be the same as acting like a president. By doing so, you are remind us why we need freedom of the press and that the words of Dalberg-Action hold true to this day.