Donald Trump and his Republican Party have been targeting the First Amendment, specifically free speech and a free press, ever since he first uttered the words “Fake News.” But in the early days of the imaginary post-Trump era — Trump and Trumpism is never going away — Trumpist Republicans are taking their attack up a notch as they push for government intervention in the marketplace of ideas in what is being called a “Fairness Doctrine” for the internet.
Trump spent the latter years of his one-term presidency threatening social media and other big tech companies for questioning his awesomeness — calling for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to be shut down for displeasing him — and he took steps in that direction in May, 2020 with his Orwellian-sounding executive order entitled, “Preventing Online Censorship” (POC).
Using the full weight of the federal government to enforce his politispeak, Trump’s order labeled government regulation of our speech as “free speech,” and called any resistance government messaging (i.e. propaganda) “censorship.” He also called for an “update” to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, essentially laying the groundwork for the creation of a Fairness Doctrine for the internet.
Section 230 reform became 1984-styled doublespeak for Trump and the Republican Party as a way to wage their war against the First Amendment to punish political enemies while simultaneously giving the state more control of the internet. Section 5 of Preventing Online Censorship reads:
There can be no doubt that conservative relativist Republicans have embraced this attack on the Constitution, and in a Politico.com story on the subject, we see how they are pushing for a new Fairness Doctrine for the internet.
A generation after Ronald Reagan’s regulators killed the Fairness Doctrine, freeing broadcasters from the mandate to treat opposing views fairly, the Trump-era Republican Party is fired up over what it sees as anti-conservative bias in companies like Facebook and Twitter. And a growing number of leading GOP figures are calling for the government to respond by creating legal consequences for online platforms that unfairly silence their users.
Trump himself failed to get these changes enacted, but the shift appears likely to outlast his presidency in a party that’s embracing anti-Silicon Valley fervor as a major campaign theme.
That dismays Republicans who cheered Reagan’s move — and say the current GOP proposals look a lot like a Fairness Doctrine for the internet.
“I am a big Trump supporter, but I totally disagree with the approach here,” said Mark Fowler, a Reagan appointee who led the charge for rolling back the doctrine as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. “I think it’s a blunderbuss, kind of a Panzer, heavy-handed approach to trying to control the press.”
Then-FCC Republican Mike O’Rielly expressed similar misgivings last summer after the president proposed a wide-ranging regulatory and legislative crackdown against bias in social media. “I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech ‘defenders,’” O’Rielly said in a speech in July. (Days later, Trump rescinded his nomination for a new term on the commission, forcing him to leave in December.)
The next generation of self-proclaimed “conservatives” in Congress (aka Trumpist Republicans) are big fans of finding new and improved ways to punish big tech companies and silence free speech.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) — he’s basing his 2024 presidential aspirations on taking down big tech — took the lead in this department a few months prior to Trump issuing his POC executive order by proposing a plan that could have come from the desk of Elizabeth Warren because it contained many of the ideas she advocates concerning the evil of big business.
Hawley called for an “overhaul” of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that stripped the agency of its independence and relocated it to the Department of Justice. Specifically, he proposed the creation of a single director within the DOJ who would go after the so-called “rampant abuses” of Big Tech:
“The FTC isn’t working. It wastes time in turf wars with the DOJ, nobody is accountable for decisions, and it lacks the ‘teeth’ to get after Big Tech’s rampant abuses. Congress needs to do something about it. I’m proposing to overhaul the FTC to make it more accountable and efficient while strengthening its enforcement authority. This is about bringing the FTC into the 21st century.”
Hawley’s overhaul gives the DOJ “all authority” to go after Big Tech and is so Orwellian that NetChoice vice president Carl Szabo concluded that it “would place the entirety of FTC authority under the control of a single director, giving that person the sole power to dictate the future of American business.” (emphasis mine)
Shortly after Trump issued his Preventing Online Censorship executive order, Hawley co-sponsored a bill with Trumpist Sens. Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, and Tom Cotton known as the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, a bill that delivers on demands to limit Section 230 immunity for social media platforms.
As Politico.com points out, Trumpist Republicans in Congress pushing this anti-free speech agenda disagree that their proposal to reform Section 230 is essentially creating a Fairness Doctrine for the internet.
Supporters of Trump’s efforts reject any comparison between their proposals and the doctrine that Reagan’s FCC vanquished. But the shift toward favoring government action against ideological bias by private companies is a notable trend among several of the most outspoken GOP voices in Congress, including potential presidential contenders like Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas.
At a postelection hearing on alleged censorship by big tech companies, Cruz asked congressional Democrats: “Do you really want to submit total control of the public debate to a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires, modern day oligarchs? With money and power and no accountability?”
I don’t want you to miss this. Cruz is defending Trump’s Republican Party’s goal to dismantle big tech and create a Fairness Doctrine for the internet by adopting Bernie Sanders’ talking points, calling big tech (or any other big business for that matter) an oligarchy. Ironically, if Cruz and the rest of the Trumpists in Congress succeed, they will become a defacto oligarchy: Government by the few, especially despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes.
Politico.com points out how Trump’s ideas on internet censorship, like Trumpism itself, aren’t going away.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the new chair of the Republican Study Committee, has said he plans to make the debate around overhauling the liability shield the “key centerpiece of our work” in the new Congress. He suggests that one GOP-backed bill to narrow the protections — the Stop the Censorship Act — would be a good start.
Banks said he sees a party that has never been more unified on these issues.
“It’s less to do with President Trump and more to do with the Republican base,” Banks said in an interview. “The Republican base is too familiar with Big Tech censorship and they expect the Republican members of Congress to be on the side of reforming Section 230. … This is what the Republican Party base is demanding.”
“We’ve all come full circle on this subject, moving from seeing this as a free market issue to seeing this more as a deregulatory effort to take away the sweetheart deal that Section 230 gives to Big Tech,” the GOP lawmaker said. “What was a fringe issue four years ago is now, I believe, a widely accepted part of the Republican Party platform at the moment in support of Section 230 reforms.”
Republicans used to believe in free speech and the free market, but as you can plainly see by their push to create a Fairness Doctrine for the internet, that is no longer the case.
If we are to have any chance at holding back the socialist tide threatening to consume liberty and our republic, we need to reject Washington’s collectivist politics — along with Trumpism and nationalism — while we still can.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.