The opinion page of the July 1 edition of The Southern contained an editorial titled "We are the Capital Gazette." It was a disturbing account of a Southern Illiinoisan reporter being threatened by a man driving a truck with a shotgun in the front seat.
The title of the article was a reference to the five journalists murdered that week in Annapolis, Maryland. The gunman in that case had a personal vendetta against the paper, but The Southern's editorial went on to explain threats received by The Southern from people angered by articles published on the paper's opinion page.
The question is how did we in America get here? How is it in America that it has become ever more dangerous to be a member of the news media? There's no one simple answer, but I believe a major contributing factor is the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his accomplices in right-wing media. It's part fascist and part Orwell.
As a college communications instructor and speech/debate coach for 37 years, I taught my students that most arguments and most people have an ultimate issue, an issue that transcends reason. Find that issue and you can persuade.
Trump has found that issue for a number of sub-groups in his base. Whether his message is on guns, race, immigrants or abortion, Trump follows a pattern that demagogues have found successful, a pattern often attributed to a failed Austrian art student.
Make the lie big.
Keep it simple.
Keep saying it.
Eventually, they will believe.
Now Trump has told more than 3,000 confirmed lies since he was sworn in — so many that his base ignores his six or so daily lies because he has won them over with the big ones that focus on their ultimate issues. And no matter which of his big ones he happens to be hammering on any given day, his umbrella lie is "fake news."
It doesn't matter whether the demagogue is communist (Stalin) or fascist (Hitler), the free press is always the "enemy of the people." Remember Trump repeatedly making that claim?
Which brings us to an America where a reporter from The Southern Illinoisan is threatened in the newspaper's parking lot.
The repetition of big lies has had the effect of blurring fact and fiction and amazingly raising Trump's popularity to the mid-40s. So now, for his base, rather than being viewed as a safe guard against an existing threat to our democracy, our news media has become suspect by a growing percentage of Americans.
This is where Orwell comes in. In his book "1984," the key ingredients to controlling the masses are fear and hate, especially hate. Who better to brand as the enemy than fake news?
In "1984," every day two minutes were set aside to broadcast hate lies. Viewing was mandatory. With Trump, hate in some form is in almost every speech he gives. In "1984," there was even a national hate week. With Trump, we have a hate administration, and the press is a favorite target. He even singles out individual reporters.
Parts of two paragraphs from "1984" help explain why a reporter was threatened in The Southern's parking lot. One perfectly describes what I believe is Trump's view of blue collar America. "Work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football and beer ... fill up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control is not difficult."
The second is where I fear Trump's people are now, the ones who have drunk the Kool-Aid.
"In a way the world-view of the party (Trump) imposed itself on the people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality ..., and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. They simply swallowed everything."
By identifying the ultimate issues in his target groups and appealing through hate filled lies Trump has conned a sizable minority of Americans, causing otherwise rational people to behave in ways that are neither American nor Christian and to embolden the true haters to acts of violence.
For the first time in my 75 years, I fear for the future of America. The last best safeguard against the Trumps of the world is a free press. So, to the staff at The Southern Illinoisan, keep writing and keep telling the truth. Without our Woodwards and Bernsteins, we are lost.