Some of the worst damage Donald Trump is doing to the United States is displayed in the latest Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, which was released a few days ago. The US, the home of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – which brought freedom of the press into being – has fallen to 43rd of 180 countries in the Index. He says he intends to seek amendments to the libel laws to circumscribe press freedom more.
Reporters Without Borders says that “Donald Trump’s rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom were marked by high-profile media bashing, a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news.” The US now ranks behind Belize and Burkina Faso and just ahead of Romania and Botswana.
This is worse than a tragedy. No country can function as an effective democracy if the integrity of its press is in question. It is no accident that RSF’s top countries in the world for press freedom – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – are also invariably listed as the world’s best-functioning democracies. It is also true that across Southeast Asia, for instance, democracy is dying and its press along with it. The press in Thailand, with its repressive military government and its draconian lese-majeste laws, has fallen to 142nd in the RSF Index. Malaysia, with its newspapers owned by government political parties, has fallen to 144th; Singapore, which has intimidated its press into recumbency, is 151st; Brunei, 156th; Vietnam, 175th; China, 176th. And so it goes.
Hong Kong, which until recently boasted the arguably the most influential press in Asia, has fallen six points to 76th in the past year alone. “Despite repeated warnings by media freedom organizations, the erosion of Hong Kong’s media independence vis-à-vis Beijing is now under way,” RSF said. “The media are finding it more and more difficult to cover sensitive stories about the Hong Kong government and Mainland China, and the need to protect their editorial positions from Beijing’s influence is increasingly noticeable. The purchase of Hong Kong media by Chinese Internet companies such as the Internet giant Alibaba is extremely disturbing.”
Even more disturbing, of course, is the purchase by Alibaba’s Jack Ma of the South China Morning post. The effect of Ma’s purchase was immediate, and it is becoming more ominous all the time. It is not lack of a responsible English-language press that is killing hopes for democracy in Hong Kong. It is clear, as Asia Sentinel reported on May 3, that the Chinese government is bent on squeezing the life out of the one country-two systems concept.
As far as the United States, the press has been under fire for a long time. It hasn’t been helped by the economics of the situation, with the US Labor Department registering 271,800 lost jobs in the newspaper sector since 1990 – 59.7 percent of all the jobs. Some 36 percent of magazine jobs have disappeared. At the same time, internet publishing and broadcasting employment rose from 30,000 to 198,000 in the same period but those figures are misleading. It has been said, with considerable justification, that editors exist to protect reporters from themselves. In Internet journalism, there are far too few editors and too many publications are far too polemical.
That brings us to the man who told the American people he intended to “drain the swamp,” words that fall far too easily off the lips of a man who spent his career as a real estate promoter, a profession known to drain swamps, to be followed by orders to build housing tracts on them, to be followed by floods, to be followed by requests for federal funds for levees. This particular real estate promoter is best remembered for four entries into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Trump’s chief policy adviser – for now – Stephen Bannon is a former vice president in an investment bank, Goldman Sachs. Investment banking. Remember Henry Blodgett, who was the industry’s top tech analyst for Merrill, with buy recommendations on scores of stocks while in emails to his real clients he called them his POS list – pieces of shit. Most investment bankers would make excellent shoe salesmen. They could either spin a SWOT analysis or talk about the quality of the lasts and laces. It is a matter of sincerity. It was after all Bernard “Bernie” Cornfield, an international financier who headed IOS, the original multinational investment scam and who ended up in a Swiss jail, who said “If you sincerely want to be rich, don’t fool around with steel or light globes. Work directly with money.”
Goldman and the other major investment banks but especially Goldman are interested in making money for themselves. Advising clients or raising capital for clients is secondary. And following right behind making money is making sure the law is emasculated enough to keep the SEC from nosing around in the vault for evidence. Concomitant with that is a worldview that the world is full of bumpkins, clodhoppers, yahoos and yokels whose money ought to be theirs.
These are people who have as little compunction making up confabulations to separate you from your vote as they do separating you from your money. But the rubes in the red states would rather believe them than believe their description of the lasts and laces than a diminished mainstream media, opting instead for the real estate shill and the investment banker and their propaganda deputies Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and other snake oil salesmen.
They are going to be running the US for the next few years, along with an oilman in charge of the State Department, another in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, a Bible-thumper in charge of the schools, a bizarre brain surgeon in charge of housing, a Texan who couldn’t remember the name of the agency he would head in charge of the Department of Energy, a closet segregationist in charge of the Justice Department, a man who wanted to put the Ex-Im Bank out of business heading the Ex-Im bank, a man who packaged ninja loans for Morgan Stanley as head of the reform committee for Fannie May and Freddie Mac, and a long list of other carnival clowns and sideshow freaks.
But especially remember the boys from Goldman, who could sell shoes better than anybody. Gary Cohn, the former head of Goldman, is chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Steve Mnuchin is the treasury secretary, a 17-year Goldman veteran, and Jay Clayton, a lawyer whose clients include Goldman, is head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hs wife Gretchen still works for the bank. Dina Powell, a former Goldman partner, is deputy national security adviser.
A bankrupted real estate promoter and a flock of investment bankers, especially Bannon, are saying journalists are enemies of the people. If this prevails, the US is going to join a lot of those Southeast Asian countries, down around 175 in the Reporters Without Borders’ index. And the quality of American democracy will be down there as well.