We know all this, we think. Until there's no return from the path to autocracy.
The theories of media ecology suggest that the outcome of a former United States president being arrested and tried for criminal behavior will be determined not by laws but by the media. The looming trial of Fox News and the parallel trials of Donald Trump and our political system are inextricably intertwined. If, as an outcome of the Fox/Dominion trial, Fox News and its primetime anchors are muted, the outcome of legal actions against Trump are more likely to result in guilty verdicts.
As a Media Ecologist, I offer a unique historic perspective on the impact of a former United States president being arrested and tried for criminal behavior. The outcome of legal actions to hold Trump accountable will have significant implications for the future of the United States, our political and social systems, and on those who are both his most ardent advocates and opponents. There are many who view the legal actions targeting Trump as anti-American and criminal, punishable by death. Media ecologists recognize that the first apparent shifts in the transformation from democracy to autocracy are press capitulation to government rule, a populace that's empowers the press to define right vs. wrong, and the threat of violence against those who confront institutional power. When two opposing forces are unable to find common ground, the only outcomes are either sublimation of the weaker force or civil war.
Marshall McLuhan famously argued that "the medium is the message," meaning that the medium of communication is more important than the content it carries. In the case of Trump, McLuhan would understand how his use of Twitter, in particular, has enabled him to bypass traditional media gatekeepers, communicate directly with his followers, and control public perceptions following the playbook of Benito Mussolini. McLuhan would also argue that Trump's bombastic and divisive style of communication is a reflection of the medium he uses.
Neil Postman was also critical of the impact of media on society, explaining how media shapes the way we think and communicate. Applying this to Trump's style of communication, Postman would argue that Trump's use of social media and his unfiltered communication style have contributed to the polarization of society and the erosion of trust in institutions like the media and government.
Aldous Huxley, another writer who explored the impact of media on society, was critical of the ways in which technology could be used to control and manipulate people. Applying this to Trump, Huxley might argue that Trump's style of communication is a form of manipulation designed to appeal to people's emotions rather than their reason. He might also argue that Trump's use of social media is part of a broader trend of using technology to influence public opinion.
In terms of the future of democracy, Neil Postman, the founder of Media Ecology, McLuhan and Huxley would be vocal in their concern about the impact of Trump's style of communication on democratic institutions. They would understand how his use of social media has contributed to the polarization of society and the erosion of trust in institutions like the media and government. They would point out that his style of communication, which relies on emotional appeals rather than a reasoned argument, undermines the ability of citizens to make informed decisions.
Regardless of your political views, it's clear that Trump's use of social media and his communication style have had a significant impact on the political landscape. If Huxley, McLuhan and Postman are accurate predictors of the future, then we may be destined to continue down the path toward autocracy and one-party minority rule. Let's keep our eyes on the media message.