A deadly challenge to the foundations of democracy is underway

We are under attack by the enemies of Western democracy. It is a war that is already claiming very real casualties on the front lines.

On June 29 a gunman barricaded the back door of the Capital Gazette newspaper and then entered the front door with a blazing gun, brutally murdering Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who had covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant who had just been hired that past November.

That attack serves as a canary in the cage moment for one of the foundational pillars of freedom and Western democracy and should act as a clarion call to the populists and demagogues currently infesting our public offices and trolling social media sites that they are going too far in their vilification of the press.

In recent days we have witnessed the most powerful man on earth, a man putatively holding an office that was once heralded as being the leader of the free world and stalwart defender of democracy, vilifying the media as an enemy of the people. Fascism, it seems, is once again on the rise and some of us can still remember how that all worked out last time for humanity. How long will it be before brown shirts once again bash in the doors of newspaper offices to wreck the press? We have seen it all before. Jackboots freely crushing in the heads of those who would speak truth to power and suppressing the public’s right to know.

Think it can’t happen here in the bastions of democracy? Think again—it is already happening.

The office of the president of the United States was once held by people like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who (futilely as it turns out) warned of the dangers presented to his nation’s democratic institutions by the military-industrial complex; John F. Kennedy, who stood nose to nose with the despots of the Soviet Union instead of colluding with them to subvert his nation’s democracy; Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought a New Deal to America’s downtrodden and guided his nation through the horrors of the Second World War; and (was it really so very recent?) Barack Obama, America’s first Black president who seemed destined to finally start his nation down the path of laying the odious legacy of slavery and civil rights abuses to rest.

Now? Not so much.

In the wake of the demise of a free press and public transparency of government action come the Pravdas, partisan newsletters masquerading as sources of “news.”

With recent developments such as official press releases coming out of Queen’s Park that bear a distinct resemblance to 1930s Comintern pronouncements and an Ontario premier who has used taxpayer’s funds to set up a “news” channel reminiscent of the failed effort he and his brother hosted briefly on the now defunct Sun TV channel, we can’t count ourselves safe from this disturbing trend south of the border.

American authorities have convincingly determined that America’s (and Canada’s) enemies have been leveraging social media to undermine our democratic institutions. Sadly, the click-bait formulation of those social media posts plays perfectly in the genre, with those who profit from playing on people’s prejudice and darker natures amplifying their subversive reach.

The unfettered rhetoric of the demagogues and populists who are vilifying the press for their own political profit mean that there will be more Capital Gazettes in our future. Let us fervently hope that this trend reverses.

We can all play our own small part in defending the democracy that our forefathers gave their lives to defend in the trenches. It’s simple. Don’t forward and share reactionary and divisive posts on social media, even if they are something you tend to agree with, without checking the facts. Be your own censor, shut down the trolls and throw your support behind your local and national media outlets. Take action, before we all wind up paying the price.