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Donald Trump seems to think the United States is some kind of banana republic. He has already defied the standards of nepotism and inserted his daughter and son-in-law into the highest levels of our government. As for robbing the Treasury like the dictators he admires, it's tough to ignore funneling taxpayer funds to his private hotels and his quickly retracted attempt to host the G-7 nations at his Doral resort in Florida. But now, in a move that cannot be seen as anything other than what it is, he has decided to expand his war on the free press by announcing that the White House would cancel subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post and order all government offices to do the same.

Despite the fact that the NY Times and Washington Post have long been considered the nation’s papers of record, Trump claims they give him “unfair” coverage. He conveniently ignores his own raging diatribes against the free press, including labeling them “fake news,” his derogatory treatment of reporters, and false claims that both papers are “failing” because they don’t laud his every move.

But there’s an old saying that “politicians shouldn’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” And sure enough, no matter what a politician says or does on any given day, the reality is that the papers will come out the next day with stories generated by their reporters, not disgruntled politicians. Likewise, their editorials are written and approved by editorial boards, not government censors.

Unfortunately for Trump, those papers have been tenacious in doing just what they’re supposed to do — report the news accurately, fact check his false claims and misrepresentations, and let readers draw their own conclusions. That’s exactly what a nation that contains “freedom of the press” in its Constitution should both support and expect.

Make no mistake, this is exactly what dictators in banana republics, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea do. Got a media outlet not praising your every move as Supreme Leader? Get rid of it. Substitute your own “official” press/media, and if some reporter doesn’t get it that negative coverage is unacceptable they’ll soon be out of a job, if not worse.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham hilariously claimed: “Not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving — hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be saved.” It’s even more hilarious since Trump spends millions of taxpayer dollars without pause flying around to his campaign rallies, renting golf carts from his own resorts for his Secret Service guards, and his dozens of Mar-a-Lago golfing trips.

Adding injury to insult, Trump’s top White House aide, Kellyanne Conway, raged at a writer for the conservative Washington Examiner that reported: “Conway threatened that the White House would delve into the personal lives of reporters if they wrote about her husband." And as reported by Axios, Trump allies are raising millions to target “CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, NY Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and all others that routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in to their coverage. We will also track the reporters and editors of these organizations."

Using the power of Office of the President to investigate and threaten reporters is a serious escalation of authoritarianism. It grows more obvious every day that Trump is cornered and will be impeached. But while a cornered animal is dangerous, trying to destroy the free press while attempting to save Trump’s failed presidency is not something our democracy can or should tolerate.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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