When you’re thinking free and open society, you’re thinking Donald Trump, right?
Six weeks before the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks published an archive of hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the Democratic convention, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, foreshadowed the release — and made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.
(The Times immortally invaluable Charlie Savage put this all together)
So, one could have initially, if one ignored the Russian angle cast this as an attempt to throw a corrupt and evil “democracy”, the world’s great evil and enemy of freedom, into a state of real higgedly-piggedly. But that’s clearly not the case.
Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.
First, citing his “personal perspective,” Mr. Assange accused Mrs. Clinton of having been among those pushing to indict him after WikiLeaks disseminated a quarter of a million diplomatic cables during her tenure as secretary of state.
“We do see her as a bit of a problem for freedom of the press more generally,” Mr. Assange said.
I’m going to ignore the middle part, where he is mad at Mrs. Clinton for moving to indict him after, you know, breaking the law. I get why he sees her as an enemy, but did that really come as a surprise? Regardless of what you think of the justice or efficacy of the Wikileaks diplomatic dump (and I think they are a different type than Snowden’s heroism), it stands to reason that the US government would be miffed. I get why Assange sees her as an enemy, but really, shouldn’t take it so personally.
It’s the first and third bits that are either idiotically naive or completely sinister, depending on where you stand on Assange. Seeing Clinton as “a bit of a problem for freedom of the press” is fair: the Obama Administration has a terrible track record on press freedom, and Hillary has never been known for her openness, exactly. I think being peeved at the cable dumping, in which legitimate diplomatic communication was exposed and lives were put in danger, doesn’t in and of itself mark her as an enemy. But I get it.
However, the contrast is, and was known at the time Assange made these statements (about six weeks ago) Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. He’s made it…very clear where he stance on the media, the role of antagonistic journalism, and the role of the press in a free society, which is: fuck the press. If they aren’t subservient to him, they are useless. He’s shown it in his willingness to excommunicate anyone who is “unfair” (by which we mean fair) to him. He’s shown it on his ravaging Twitter feed, where he demonstrates that trying to keep the media in line is a bigger goal than talking about policy or anything else. This tweet— “I was at
@FoxNews and met Juan Williams in passing. He asked if he could have pictures taken with me. I said fine. He then trashes on air!”– is a perfect example of his childish authoritarianism.
Not all his authoritarianism is childish and petulant (though really, aren’t those the emotions at the heart of tyranny?). He has made it very clear that he intends to, or at least wants to, “open up libel laws” so that he can sue unfriendly press out of existence. He’s been trying to do that for decades. One could argue the pursuit of this power is one of the driving goals of his Presidency. So even he won’t be able to open up libel laws, as that wouldn’t come close to holding up in court, he’s clearly a man who wants to quash press freedom, either de facto or de jure, in order to burnish his own heroic image. Not exactly an ally of an open society.
So when Assange says Trump is “completely unpredictable”, he’s lying, or else he’s not paying any attention, which doesn’t strike me as plausible. Trump has made it very clear he’s a huge fan of waterboarding, and of even more torture. He’s been clear about that his entire run. That Assange chooses to ignore that, and, worse, accommodate it, raises a few questions about motivations.
The charitable interpretation here is that Trump is an agent of chaos, will rattle America, will end the neoliberal agreement that is underpinning much of the world’s immorality. He’s ignorant about who Trump actually is, and underestimates the racism and nativism that undergirds the campaign, focusing on globalization and isolationism.
That’s actually dovetailed with the uncharitable interpretation, which is that Assange sees the US/EU as the real enemies, and any of their enemies– including the ruthless and literal-press-murdering Putin regime– as his friends. That’s pretty sinister, but when someone sets himself against one party, in this case the war-mongering, trade-hawking, and press-stifling US (and all these are legitimate charges!), he tends to cling to any port in the storm.
You are free to question if he is pro-freedom, merely anti-West and pro-Russia, pro-authoritarianism if it’s the right person, or anywhere in between. I don’t think there is a cut-and-dry answer, though I lean toward him being a bit of an authoritarian creep with libertarian clothes. All I know for sure is that with friends like these, freedom doesn’t need the many enemies it already has.