White House Correspondents Dinner can’t go on after Trump’s toxic outburst

Last week on “Beat the Press,” I said that even though I’ve been arguing for years that the loathsome White House Correspondents Association dinner should be canceled, it had to go on as scheduled this year lest it look like the media were trying to punish President Trump.

Well, I’m going to flip-flop because of Trump’s incendiary tweet declaring that the press is “the enemy of the American People!”

Needless to say, this sort of rhetoric shows — once again — that Trump is clueless contemptuous about the role of the press in a democratic society. But let me go one step further: This could get someone killed.

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More on why Trump is right to want to eliminate nonprofit speech restrictions

Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

President Trump last week promised to repeal a law that prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing political candidates. As he put it at the National Prayer Breakfast in his characteristically bombastic style, he would “totally destroy” the ban, pushed through Congress in 1954 by Sen. Lyndon Johnson.

The proposal, predictably, was met with opposition by many observers, who argued that such a move would threaten the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

But religious leaders — and everyone — should be able to speak freely without fearing that their words will cost them money. Somehow the republic managed to survive until 1954 without those free-speech rights being abridged. There is no reason to think that restoring those rights will be our downfall today.

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Some calming thoughts on Trump coverage from a #NeverTrump conservative

One of the most eloquent conservative voices against President Trump belongs to Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and at Harvard Extension School. Last May he wrote an epic tweetstorm arguing that conservatives should vote for Hillary Clinton, whom he detested, because Trump was “too mentally unstable” to serve as commander-in-chief.

Given Nichols’ anti-Trump credentials, I thought it was interesting to read an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post over the weekend in which he argued that the media have been overreacting to some of the actions the Trump administration has taken. Among other things, he wrote:

There is plenty of fuel for the president’s critics in these actions, yet Trump’s opponents — especially in the media — seem determined to overreact on even ordinary matters. This is both unwise and damaging to our political culture. America needs an adversarial press and a sturdy system of checks and balances. Unmodulated shock and outrage, however, not only burn precious credibility among the president’s opponents, but eventually will exhaust the public and increase the already staggering amount of cynicism paralyzing our national political life.

I think this is important guidance. There are multiple reasons to think that Trump represents a unique threat to democracy. But journalists can’t run around with their hair on fire for the next four years. The best way to cover Trump is with calm, fact-based reporting — not with hyperbole that does not hold up to scrutiny.

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Trump wants to ‘totally destroy’ restrictions on nonprofit speech. I agree.

President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier today promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofit organizations from engaging in certain types of political speech lest they lose their tax exemptions. The amendment was pushed through Congress in 1954 by Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson, who was under attack by several nonprofit groups back in Texas.

Religious organizations have been complaining about the restriction for years. In 2009 I wrote a commentary in The Guardian agreeing with them, though my main concern was that the amendment prevented nonprofit news organizations from endorsing political candidates. Given that nonprofit news is becoming an increasingly important part of the media landscape, it seemed (and seems) unwise to ban such projects from engaging in what traditionally has been a vital service to their communities. I argued:

Would this mean greater influence for the likes of religious hatemongers such as James Dobson and Tony Perkins? Yes. But the whole idea behind free speech is it’s for everyone, not just those with whom you agree.

I also wrote critically about the Johnson Amendment in my 2013 book “The Wired City,” much of which was an examination of the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit news site.

I have not changed my mind. And thus I applaud our orange leader for standing up for free speech. Leaders of nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, should not have to fear that if they speak out they’ll literally have to pay a penalty.

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Sunday’s rally in Copley Square was an outpouring of decency. But what’s next?

Oke Metitin: "My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest." Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. For more photos of the rally, please click here.
Oke Metitin: “My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest.” Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. For more photos of the rally, please click here.

If you’ve been looking for decency amid the indecent acts of President Trump, Copley Square on Sunday afternoon was an ideal place to find it. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered to protest the president’s policies aimed at keeping immigrants and refugees out of the country. And notwithstanding the occasional sign with an F-bomb or with a swastika imposed over Trump’s face, they were just so nice.

Among the decent people I met was Oke Metitin, a young Nigerian-American woman who lives in Boston. She was holding a large sign proclaiming Emma Lazarus’s poem that’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”) followed by “No Ban. No Wall.” I asked her why she had come to Copley Square. “My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest,” she said. “Hopefully President Trump will get the message that this isn’t constitutional.”

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One more reason why Trump is wrong about the Jews and the Holocaust

The Ovitz family
The Ovitz family

There is so much to think about following President Trump’s illegal, un-American ban on immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries. I’ll be attending the Copley Square rally later today that’s being organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and will write about it for WGBH News.

For now, let me comment on a small piece of this. As I’m sure you know, Trump issued his executive order on Holocaust Remembrance Day, thus turning the nation’s back on a new generation of refugees at the same time that he was commemorating one of history’s most terrible events. And his statement regarding the Holocaust made no mention of the Jews because, you know, others suffered too.

In my first book, “Little People,” I explored a longstanding belief among people in the dwarfism community that Hitler rounded up all the dwarfs and had them killed. What I found actually reinforced the uniquely Jewish character of the Holocaust. In fact, dwarfs were largely left alone by the Nazis. Some may have been caught up in Hitler’s campaign to eradicate people with severe disabilities, but most people with dwarfism are healthy and ambulatory, and thus did not run afoul of the Nazi killing machine.

Members of the Ovitz family — dwarf entertainers from Hungary — even recalled being helped onto trains by German soldiers. But then it was discovered that they were Jews. They were shipped off to Auschwitz, where they became the subjects of Josef Mengele’s unimaginably cruel experiments. Incredibly, all of them survived.

You can read my chapter on dwarfs and the Holocaust by clicking here.

We are living through very dark times.

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Anti-Trump conservative pundits come to terms with Trump’s ‘American carnage’

Photo via WhiteHouse.gov.
Photo via WhiteHouse.gov

In assessing the dawn of the Trump era, there are plots. There are subplots. And there are sub-subplots. Among the more intriguing of those sub-subplots is the fate of the conservative commentariat under a Republican president who is not conservative and whom most right-leaning pundits fulminated against during the past year and a half.

President Trump has the Fox News Channel, of course. I caught just enough Friday night to see Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson smirking and backslapping over their guy’s rise to power. Some post-Roger Ailes chaos aside, the enduring popularity of Fox may prove to be more than enough to offset the influence of conservatives who are appalled at the prospect of a president who exudes demagoguery as well as several varieties of nationalism, including economic and white.

Other than Fox, though, Trump has received little support from conservatives.

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