I would someday be interested in an informed discussion on whether some of our constitutionally-protected rights are more important than others, or should be. For example, if you had to give up one enumerated freedom, which would you choose? (If we’re going with the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, I would give up the right to own slaves, but fortunately, that one’s already been excised.)
There are people who think certain rights are more important. For example, this editorial piece claims freedom of religion is the most important (because it was “listed as the first freedom”), though the author attempts to redefine “religion” as “dictates of conscience”. For another example, this Cleveland.com piece asks readers which right is more important, and quite a few respondents said: “the right to bear arms”.
I’m typically in the “they’re all equally important” camp — if you start removing any of them, the rest can unravel quickly. But just at this moment, I’m leaning toward the freedom of the press as the most important.
Even as Saturday’s “Women’s March” — actually more than 600 separate marches around the globe, populated by both women and men — was attended by many millions, the new president’s press secretary was vomiting self-contradictory claims about the inauguration’s crowd size a day earlier. The new administration ordered a halt to all tweeting by the Department of the Interior, after a not-so-laudatory tweet from the National Park Service contrasting crowd sizes from inaugurations in 2009 and 2017. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Trump veered from normalcy yet again and complained about media reports on crowd sizes — and he simply fabricated information out of thin air to boost his ego.
While many of the incoming administration’s plans are detestable to me, perhaps the scariest is the attempt to control information. I don’t yet suspect that they plan to forcibly control the flow of information, but that is often the next step in authoritarian-leaning governments. Currently, at least some of the “mainstream media” is doing its job pointing out the lies — examples include NBC News, ABC News, and CNN.
For now, it looks like the Trump administration’s plan is simply to deliver untruths at every opportunity, and hope that this misinformation finds occasional receptive minds. It seemed to work during the campaign — which brings up an interesting question: Why is Trump, and the group surrounding him, still acting as if the campaign is ongoing?
This is perhaps the weirdest part for me, that they never stopped running for election. Trump’s speeches, and that very strange utterance by his press secretary Sean Spicer, look like they’re still trying to win. This is the part of the process where we would expect them to be settling into offices, commenting on the nomination hearings of eventual cabinet members, etc. — but instead Trump, Spicer, and others (including lackey Reince Priebus) are arguing with photographs about popularity contests that are entirely irrelevant to governing.
Let’s not forget, in this season of abnormal posturing, that Trump has repeatedly promised to curtail press freedoms, especially the relative freedom from libel suits. We can’t know whether those promises were simply riling up his base or something that he actually intends to do, but I think it’s clear that his Ministry of Misinformation has its instructions.
Of all the freedoms we are set to defend, the freedom of the press has to be near the top of the list, if only because it’s the means via which we will learn about other freedoms eroding.