The Power a Free Press
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a Presbyterian minister in St. Louis, Missouri, who worked as an editor at the St, Louis Observer where he wrote editorials opposing slavery.
After anti-abolitionists destroyed his press for the third time, Lovejoy moved across the river to Alton, Illinois, and started another abolitionist paper. In 1837, a pro-slavery mob attacked the warehouse where he had set up his fourth printing press. Lovejoy was shot and died on the spot.
I tell Lovejoy’s story as a reminder of the importance of freedom of the press established by the First Amendment and as a witness to the forces that are always at work to undermine or destroy it.
It’s Not About Mika & Joe
I also tell that story to say that there is more at stake in the President’s Twitter tirade against “Morning Joe” and his continuing attacks on the “media” than morning headlines or cheering crowds.
Anyone who was surprised by Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough’s comments about the President simply hasn’t been paying attention. They are who they are — cable news commentators who join a long line of journalists, cartoonists, and editors who have debated, criticized, mocked, or pointed to the duplicity of our leaders throughout our history. A free press is not about whether we agree or disagree, but about the freedom to speak, write, debate, and argue with and about our leaders.
Anyone who was surprised by Donald Trump’s visceral, vulgar, sexist attack on Mika hasn’t been paying attention either. This is who he is. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current myth-spinner in the White House Press Room, told the truth when she said that the American people “knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump.” (She lied when she said the President had never in “any form or fashion” encouraged violence. Just watch the campaign rally tapes.) The President is what he has consistently demonstrated himself to be: thin-skinned, impulsive, mean-spirited, and perhaps sleep-deprived. (I’ve had crazy thoughts at 3:00 AM, too, but I try go back to sleep!)
But Donald Trump is the President of the United States and that makes all the difference. There is a “double standard.” We need our President to rise above either the praise or the critique of TV commentators. In fact, these continual attacks on the press are undermining the freedoms we celebrate on the 4th of July.
“A Nation Conceived in Liberty…”
As I’ve reflected on the meaning of this day, I’ve realized that it is my respect for the values and vision enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address that inspires my patriotism and causes my concern.
I respect the Presidency too highly to respect a President who drags the office into the fake world of professional wrestling.
I respect the flag “and the republic for which it stands” too highly to be passive when our President diminishes respect for our nation around the world.
I respect the Christian faith too highly to allow it be to coopted by a leader whose behavior is a consistent contradiction of everything the New Testament says about what it looks like to be a follower of Christ.
I respect freedom of religion (all religions) too highly to allow the church to be wedded to any political party. (When the church and political power go to bed together, the church becomes an abused spouse.)
I respect those who have given their lives in the service of their country too highly to allow their sacrifice to be tarnished by crass nationalism that masquerades as patriotism.
It’s About Us!
In the end, “the present crisis” (to borrow James Russel Lowell’s phrase) is not about Mika and Joe, and it’s not entirely about the President. It’s about us — about who we are. It’s about how we choose to live into the yet-to-be-fulfilled vision of “liberty and justice for all.” It’s about how we practice the freedoms enunciated in the Bill of Rights. It’s about how we commit ourselves “to form a more perfect union.” It’s about the way we choose to treat the people who disagree with us. For those who claim to be Christian, it’s about how we shape our behavior into the likeness of Jesus.
After the fireworks are over, may this day remind us of who we are called to be. And may we “be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that we here highly resolve…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Grace and peace,
It’s particularly about us as men. I’ve had it with people calling on the women in Congress and in the White House to speak out against the President’s vulgar attacks on women. We men are the ones who bear the responsibility for the way women are treated in this culture. Particularly white men like me who have unintentionally benefited from the coincidence that we were born white and male in a culture that historically has been infected with white prejudice to any person of any color or ethnic minority and which continues to been infected by an inbred bias in favor of male leadership.