“Lies,” “false,” “untrue” and, famously, “wrong” have been thrown back and forth between the Trump administration and the media since the campaign cycle for the 2016 presidential election began almost two years ago. When Trump’s campaign revolved around his unorthodox demeanor and candid language, he was just a candidate: He did not have legitimate power or accountability. Since taking office of the President of the United States, however, Trump has continued to dub major news outlets, including The New York Times, NBC and CNN, as “fake news.” The attack on the free press, which started out as almost comical in nature, has become a devastating issue threatening the values of the Constitution.
Only an informed and educated population can counter this assault on democracy. USC and other universities need to implement programs that foster media literacy and political awareness.
Trump’s portrayal of the media is not only appalling, but also — frankly — frightening. With today’s national political divide, Trump’s policies are under immense scrutiny from both sides of the political spectrum.
However, as the general public focuses on issues like Trump’s stance on the Affordable Care Act and his temporary immigration ban — which are, granted, issues with tremendous consequences — some of Trump’s other major power plays have gone unnoticed by the general populace.
Authoritarian tones saturate the statements and actions of the Trump administration. Trump has engaged in censorship by limiting the power of the free press and banning various outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times, from press conferences. By constantly tweeting that independent papers are “fake” and “wrong,” Trump uses his Twitter account as a platform for propaganda.
It is alarming that Trump calls media reports “fake” when there are confirmed sources and scientific data behind news articles. Though some argue that Trump is entitled to his own free speech, remember that he is not just a man sitting behind a computer screen. His words and actions hold power over millions of Americans and many countries. His words have real-world consequences, and his free speech ultimately serves to make himself more powerful.
Trump’s power shift holds our democracy as we know it at stake. An uneducated or wilfully ignorant populace is virtually a powder keg. Add in bias from social media and take away the independent free press, and there will be destruction. Trump and his administration have been called out for lying on numerous occasions, yet he has never personally admitted culpability. By not adhering to the truth, he casts doubt on the factuality of news. With enough reasonable suspicion, the population may choose to not believe in the press and defer to the tweets and reports of the executive branch.
This First Amendment problem is fixable, and could even be made irrelevant, if American citizens were educated using a variety of sources and taught from a young age to understand all sides of an issue. Education is the cornerstone for growing the United States into the great nation Trump campaigned on. Fostering an environment that stimulates students and offers ranging perspectives is integral to improving and unifying our country.
Teaching students how to think for themselves and understand those around them is something that all schools, especially universities, need to implement. At a time when constitutional rights are being questioned, political activism and diligent media are needed now more than ever — and among millennials in particular, as they will soon take the reins and assume responsibility for the future political climate.
High schools should encourage open classroom debate where students can share their thoughts. USC, and universities around the country, need to ensure that all students are politically educated. Participation from all students in political classes should be mandatory. Arguing from the opposite point of view will develop students’ awareness of differing perspectives. Making news more accessible to students and offering higher student discounts to read online articles can improve political consciousness.
The future starts with educating young people today. The Constitution is what holds democracy together, and protecting our First Amendment rights need to be the utmost priority.