This election year has seen norms in political activity be swept away by Donald Trump’s continued rejection of decency and honesty as he tweets his way through a failing presidency. The observations that Trump is either pitifully ignorant and/or severely demented are impossible to dismiss. His symptoms range from bizarre assertions about windmill cancer and toilet flushing, to intense paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and authoritarian aspirations.
In recent weeks Trump has also been escalating his war against the media that he repeatedly refers to in Stalinist terms as “the enemy of the people,” which he did once again Sunday morning. Now Trump has set out on a path of litigation that is rooted in hostility and vengeance against the constitutional protections of a free press. This is behavior that reeks of fear, desperation, and the all-consuming mania of an unbridled persecution complex. It began with the announcement a week and a half ago that his campaign is suing his perennial nemesis (in his diseased mind), the New York Times for defamation. And in the short time since then, Trump has announced additional lawsuits against a couple of other perceived foes, the Washington Post and CNN.
Virtually every legal analyst who has commented on these lawsuits considers them not only frivolous, but dangerous. They are intended to inhibit free expression and punish those who dare to criticize Dear Leader. It’s a pure dictatorship play by a president who has repeatedly expressed his admiration for tyrants like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Xi Jinping. Each of these suits explicitly attack published opinions articles, not hard news. For instance, these are the specific citation in Trump’s legal complaints that he is alleging are defamatory:
New York Times
“There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”
The lawsuit cites a June 13 opinion piece by Greg Sargent that said Trump “tried to conspire with” a “sweeping and systematic” attack by Russia against the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also cites a June 20 opinion piece by Paul Waldman that asked “who knows what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign, now that he has invited them to offer their assistance?”
“The Trump campaign assessed the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020 and has decided to leave that option on the table.”
All of these articles are expressing opinions that are rational, fact-based, and affirmed by authoritative sources. Some are even affirmed by Trump himself. After all, he did ask Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on national television. What’s more, an extensive investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller found that “Trump and his campaign welcomed & encouraged Russian interference.”
To this day, Trump continues to openly solicit political assistance from hostile foreign countries. And his actions prove that he is working in concert with our adversaries to boost his reelection prospects.
While Trump’s wrathful litigiousness is an assault on press freedom, and has an unambiguous chilling effect on journalists, there is a silver lining to his abhorrent conduct. Should any of these lawsuits ever see a courtroom, Trump will be obligated to comply with discovery orders to turn over documents relevant to his complaint. So the defendants can require him to produce materials that he has been refusing to provide to prosecutors and investigators in Congress. And should he do so, he will almost certainly reveal incriminating evidence that could subject him to criminal indictments.
Consequently, it is highly unlikely that Trump will pursue these lawsuits. He may try to use them for publicity for awhile, and to run up the legal fees for the defendants. But in the end he will probably run away (or try to), as he has done throughout his life. However, he may not be able to escape if the defendants countersue and seek a declarative judgment asserting their rights under the First Amendment. In which case, he might still be required to submit to discovery and even testimony. So even though his intentions are loathsome and anti-American, this could still wind up being kinda fun.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.