A free press will not yield to president’s attacks

WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital celebrated the 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with the customary glorious fireworks display over the National Mall. But it did so with uncommon division and anxiety in this city and the land with regard to the president who now bombastically and erratically holding the reins of power.

The problem is not so much Donald Trump’s failure in his five months in the Oval Office to deliver any of his major legislative goals, including the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. It is his repeated intemperate, ugly behavior in attacking and demeaning his political critics, especially in the American news media.

His latest pet target is CNN, seen in a doctored old video Trump posted on Twitter. In the clip, Trump is shown mauling a pro wrestler with the cable network’s logo imposed on his head.

What we now call Independence Day is set aside to honor the Founding Fathers and the document that proclaimed their demands on the English monarch. Those include the freedoms of religion, speech and the press, and the right of assembly and to petition against governmental grievances. All are incorporated in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Near the close of the Declaration are these words: “A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.” There is nothing therein, though, suggesting what could be done to rectify such a circumstance.

The remedy came 11 years later in the adoption of the Constitution. Article II, Section 4, provides for impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate for “Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” not otherwise described.

Not until 1967 did the 25th Amendment address a president’s fitness to serve. It specified how his vice president and cabinet could certify his inability “to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” The vice president would take over as Acting President until such time as the president could assert his readiness to resume, with Congress weighing in. That resolution, however, has never occurred.

In recent months, though, questions of Donald Trump’s fitness to occupy and conduct the presidency in a responsible and even rational manner have been elevated in light of his growing animus toward the American press corps.

His recognition that he can directly rally his political supporters through almost daily use of social media has triggered a war of bitter and demeaning words against the mainstream news media. He defensively calls Twitter a perfectly proper “modern presidential” communications device.

To many Americans, prominent and otherwise, Trump’s impulsive and ugly assaults have raised questions not only about his maturity but more so his mental stability, even as he delves more personally into foreign affairs. His coming European trip, during which he is scheduled to have a brief meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, becomes of particular cause for worry, if not trepidation.

Chances are the meeting will come and go as no more than an exchange of courtesies, pumped up by media coverage. But Trump’s transparent courtship of Putin during and since the 2016 presidential election, and the American intelligence community’s overwhelming confirmation of Russian hacking into it, assures heavy if not particularly revealing scrutiny.

Trump’s accelerated attack on American journalism as “fake news” — as he continues to trade almost daily in an overabundance of it himself — needs to be seen for what it is, especially after this Independence Day. It is an un-American campaign to undermine the First Amendment prohibition against “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

It is an assault both sublime and ridiculous. Certified working reporters are denied adequate access to the White House and television cameras are barred from recording daily White House press briefings, while the trained seals like briefers Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders offer only non-answers and personal rebuffs to the assembled questioners.

There’s one certainty, however, in all this. The viewing and reading public can depend on the working stiffs of American journalism to hold their ground, striving to dig out what old Watergate sleuths Woodward and Bernstein call “the best attainable version of the truth.”