The famous French historian, sociologist and political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote in his analysis of the American Democracy the following words: “America is the example of a nation where the democratic revolution has been accomplished. Here the democracy can grow in freedom.” He, as a French statesman, sought the best form of democracy and, for him, democracy was so much more than just the political system. It was also about cultural-societal and psychological consequences of the equality theory. He saw American democracy as an organism, where everyone plays their part.
Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” something I agree with because democracy has many flaws. De Tocqueville said something very interesting a good 100 years before this quote, and it’s something that remains very true in my opinion to this day: “To avoid absolute and despotic rule, we should take measures. The control of governing shouldn’t all be in the hands of the government, but also been given to elected bodies for a certain amount of time. A great check to avoid the growth of the power of the state over individuals is the collective organisation of citizens, freedom of press and independent administration of justice.”
Fast forward to the year 2017. The analysis of de Tocqueville is still relevant. We see the world of right wing populism growing and growing and, while that is the reflection of the sentiment of some of the people, we also see some of the aspects of a good democracy that Tocqueville described being neglected. Especially now in the United States of America with the Trump-Pence administration. However, this post is not about who you vote for, I want to talk about freedom of press in the United States.
With Donald Trump declaring CNN to be ‘fake news’, there has been a worrying development in press. By calling it fake news, the president has made distinction between the credibility of different news broadcasters and has made a selection between what he likes and what he doesn’t like. This could become dangerous because the free press is of vital importance to a nation, especially in translating and covering the news coming out of the White House. If there’s only a certain view coming out of that White House, people become ill-informed and both sides of the story aren’t adequately covered.
If we look at the world rankings of Press Freedom in the world as researched by Reporters without Border, the United Stated ranked 41 st out of 180 nations in 2016. It’s to be expected that they will even drop a few places in 2017 with all of the recent press conflicts. It’ll be very interesting to see how this develops, because it could eventually be very dangerous for international security. It’s not a case of a republican or democrat being in the White House; it’s about the lack of press freedom being a threat to democracy, both in the United States and across the rest of the world. The issue raises questions about what’s important to us and whether the balance between security and freedom is out of kilter.
The checks and balances to keep democracy in place, preventing us from falling into dictatorships or totalitarian governments, are very important and freedom of the press is a vital component of this. When we neglect that we risk leading ourselves into those different forms of government. Trump’s America is just an example of the shifting order and threat to freedom of press. Now is not the time to sit back and see the ship sinking, it’s time to act and fight for our rights. It’s time for true freedom again.