Enemy Construction and the Press
59 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2017 Last revised: 29 Aug 2017
Date Written: March 8, 2017
When the president of the United States declared recently that the press is “the enemy,” it set off a firestorm of criticism from defenders of the institutional media and champions of the press’s role in the democracy. But even these Trump critics have mostly failed to appreciate the wider ramifications of the president’s narrative choice. Our earlier work describes the process of governmental “enemy construction,” by which officials use war rhetoric and other signaling behaviors to convey that a person or institution is not merely an institution that, although wholly legitimate, has engaged in behaviors that are disappointing or disapproved, but instead an illegitimate “enemy” triggering a state of Schmittian exceptionalism and justifying the compromise of ordinarily recognized liberties. The Trump administration, with a rhetoric that began during the campaign and burgeoned in the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, has engaged in enemy construction of the press, and the risks that accompany that categorization are grave. This article examines the fuller components of that enemy construction, beyond the overt use of the label. It offers insights into the social, technological, legal, and political realities that make the press ripe for enemy construction in a way that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. It then explores the potential motivations for and consequences of enemy construction. We argue that enemy construction is particularly alarming when the press, rather than some other entity, is the constructed enemy. Undercutting the watchdog, educator, and proxy functions of the press through enemy construction leaves the administration more capable of delegitimizing other institutions and constructing other enemies — including the judiciary, the intelligence community, immigrants, and members of certain races or religions — because the viability and traction of counter-narrative is so greatly diminished.
Keywords: First Amendment, Executive Power, Media Law, Freedom of the Press
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