Donald Trump will come into possession of some powerful tools to punish his opponents and demand obedience from his allies — and only Senate Republicans can limit his powers.
The infamously — and pettily — vengeful Trump could use U.S. regulatory agencies, which don’t always operate on the presumption of innocence like the criminal justice system, to muzzle the free press, stifle dissent and reward cronies, wrote Matt Yglesias in a Vox analysis.
Media companies would likely censor themselves if Trump made an example of one of them, Yglesias warned — and he cited a couple of possible targets for such a vendetta.
AT&T is seeking permission from anti-trust authorities to acquire Time Warner, whose executives may fear the deal could be scuttled if Trump is angered over coverage on CNN, one of the media company’s holdings.
Or Trump could punish Jeff Bezos, who owns both the Washington Post and Amazon, for unfavorable reporting by pressing a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the online retailer’s predatory pricing.
Independent media aren’t as vulnerable to regulatory threats, but they’re more vulnerable to harassing lawsuits filed by Trump himself or a business ally such as Peter Thiel — who funded the lawsuit that killed Gawker.
Even Facebook, which plays a larger role in disseminating news than it will admit, could shake up its algorithm to favor pro-Trump propaganda to stay in the good graces of U.S. trade negotiators or financial regulators.
“We are used to corruption in which the rich buy political favor,” Yglesias wrote. “What we need to learn to fear is corruption in which political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success.”
Online, Trump-supporting trolls viciously harass individual journalists with racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic threats, and by dumping their private information online.
Most of those cyberbullies would probably never act on their threats, but Yglesias warned “it would only take the murder of a single opposition activist or journalist to chill dozens of others.”
“The risk is not that Trump becomes a dictator, but that civil society simply withers and dies,” Yglesias wrote.
He called on Senate Republicans to trust their initial misgivings about Trump and insist that his Cabinet picks have higher qualifications than loyalty to the president.
“We cannot allow personal loyalty to Donald Trump to be the decisive factor in staffing the executive branch,” Yglesias wrote. “Personnel is policy, and if fealty to Trump determines the personnel, then fealty to Trump will also be the policy.”