Dear Islanders,

It is a fatal thing for a local politician, especially in a town as small as Grand Island, to talk national politics But then again, I’ve never been one to follow the traditional rules. I don’t have a strategy: I do what I believe is right, and let the consequences play out.

When President Trump was elected, I wished him the best.

I know what it’s like to have people desperately hoping to fail when you take office after a close election. I felt it. And to a much larger degree, I know our President has felt it. And that’s why I publicly stated that I hoped he would be successful (even though I did not support him) when he was elected.

And despite not being a member of his political party, I feel that there are good aspects in what he does. In rhetoric, at least, he supports and uplifts the working class, who have had their concerns pushed aside for too long. And like me, he’s not a career politician, so he came into the role with fresh eyes untarnished by years of political bias.

But I have my concerns about where he is heading—big concerns.

I still hope he is successful. He is our president, and I support him in that role. As an elected politician, however, I feel a duty to say something publicly. We are entering perilous times. The President’s penchant for bashing the media is unsettling at best, and may lead to terrifyingly catastrophic consequences in the long run.

Yes, the media can be brutal. Sometimes I cringe at what they write about me, and sometimes they misrepresent my opinions. For example, even in the pages of Dispatch (which does a great job in my opinion, of telling Grand Island’s story) there have been many times when I have read something I thought was unfair, unkind, or even just plain untrue.

We live in a free country.

But to publicly label “the media” as a threat to the American people is chilling. It’s straight out the playbook of some of the most dangerous leaders in history. From the ancient Qin Dynasty to Mussolini’s Italy, step one in The Bad Guy Handbook is to seek complete control by attacking the media and labeling any form of dissent as unpatriotic. 

Our President has already condemned ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post as “fake news.” The new administration seems to be slowly eliminating on-camera press briefings. All of this has led to a gathering distrust and disregard for the press that is almost without precedent.

It’s a dangerous mindset that is spreading. New forms of libel laws are being drafted to target media outlets in several states. Greg Gianforte, candidate for Governor in Montana, made the news after he body-slammed and taunted a reporter on tape. Yet he won by a landslide the next day.

Freedom of the press is essential to keeping us free.

I worry about a country where the “press” in general is labeled as inherently bad. I also worry about a country where renowned, internationally recognized, and historically respected sources of information are broadly labeled and completely disregarded as “fake” simply because they publish a viewpoint that someone in leadership does not like.

I certainly don’t agree with everything I see in the news, nor do I automatically take it all as truth. But freedom of speech is not exclusive only to the types of speech you want to hear. It applies to everyone. And we all have the choice to listen and make judgments accordingly.

When you see something you don’t agree with, you can complain about it. You can call it out. You can challenge it.  But that’s not what we are seeing; the name calling, the subtle (and not so subtle) calls to violence, and the vulgar insults are all far more pernicious.

It’s not about today, it’s about our future.

Dear Mr. President, I’m pretty sure you’re not reading this, since you probably think the Dispatch is “fake news” (plus it’s not in 140-character tweet format) but I have one thing to remind you of: it’s not all about you. You can turn this around. You may not be a dictator. But someday one might come. And if we tear down all the watchtowers now, where will we be when the dictator, with his wolves and hordes and propaganda, arrives?

And to you good readers, I must ask. Please support the press. More importantly, please reach out beyond your media bubble. Everyone, both liberals and conservatives, has so many choices. Focusing only on your favorite blogs, feeds, and articles allows you to create a bubble of self-affirmation and feigned innocence. But you can break that bubble of ignorance with challenging viewpoints.

And what do you do when you think one of those viewpoints is wrong? You fight back. But not with insults, and control, and fear. You fight back with better ideas and more persuasive arguments. That’s how America is supposed to work.