Creeping authoritarianism: If Gianforte wins, it’ll make things worse.

Ben Jacobs had been working on an article about the Montana race for the past few days. It was published yesterday and in it, Jacobs notes that Greg Gianforte was not a fan of Trump last year during his gubernatorial run. But that changed after Trump won and Gianforte decided to run for Zinke’s seat. Then, of course, this happened:

The billionaire Republican congressional candidate’s assault on Ben is garnering much deserved attention. If you haven’t already, it’s worth pausing for a moment to read the bigger story Jacobs was reporting on with his colleague Paul Lewis.

Together, they interviewed several Montana voters and attended a number of Gianforte’s rallies. There is a ten minute video segment they put together that is worth watching. It showcases competing views of Trump, Quist and Gianforte among Montana voters. It also has some breathtaking views of Big Sky country alongside a discussion of public lands. Watch it till the end and you’ll be rewarded with a comment from a Quist supporters who calls Montana “white man’s country” and says it will take a while for people to turn against Trump, we are only a few months in.

Trump, and what he’s unleashed, is directly related to the assault. In a statement, Gianforte’s campaign tried to paint it as a tussle with a pushy “liberal journalist”. They’re clearly hoping to trigger the far-right’s distrust of the media in general. If we go by the comments at this local news stations’ story, they might have succeeded to a degree. Inciting hatred towards the media was one of Trump’s strategies throughout the election campaign. He called the press “the enemy of the people”. Some of his supporters took it up another notch and used the Nazi’s term “lugenpresse”. Reporters, who were held in a pen at Trump’s campaign rallies, were the object of constant verbal abuse by then candidate Trump, and sometimes threats from his supporters.

In some ways, Trump’s distaste for journalists and protesters follows in the footsteps of other Republicans who have marinated their hatred of a skeptical media for decades. But Trump has taken it to an extreme, thanks to his affection for strongmen and their authoritarianism. In the American context, this is echoed in his constant praise of Andrew Jackson, whose administration used the powers of the state to further a genocidal campaign of Indian removal. Trump’s admiration for authoritarians isn’t limited to the past. We have a president who told Philippine president Duterte his extra-judicial killings of alleged drug addicts was a “great job”.  Turkish president Erdogan has arrested innumerable journalists and political opponents in the past few months and ordered his bodyguards to beat up protestors outside the Turkish embassy in DC. Trump has praised him effusively. 

There is a reasonable chance Gianforte wins, even though Montana newspapers have pulled their endorsements and the sheriff’s office has filed an assault charge against him. Over 250,000 Montanans have already voted, that is likely to be over half the turnout (there are 699,000 registered voters). Montana doesn’t permit early-voters to change their minds.

If Gianforte wins, there will be an attempt to paint this as a validation of Trump’s statement that he ”could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. If Gianforte wins, expect Republicans to believe that even more than they already do. They will act accordingly and support Trump, which will make the next 18-40 months a worse authoritarian nightmare than they already are.

We have to resist that narrative and emphasize that Americans will not stand for politicians who encourage, or are complicit in assaults on reporters and protesters. We all know we haven’t ever lived up to those ideals, but we do need to keep restating them if norms are to be maintained.

And we need to keep insisting that reporters be free to do their job. What’s truly remarkable about yesterday’s events is that Jacobs didn’t miss a beat after he was slammed to the floor and punched by Gianforte. He got right back up and started asking questions again:

Cross-posted at | @subirgrewal