From one perspective, it’s hilarious: Trump has taken time off of his twitter feuds to engage in a ridiculously juvenile dick-measuring contest over who had the bigger crowd in DC, his supporters or the protestors. And he sends out this Sean Spicer character to make absurdly transparent lies about it, in order to back this up. As (presumably) a professional media guy, Spicer has got to be pretty deeply embarrassed about hitching his national reputation to such a transparent fib, but Trump has him doing it anyway (albeit fleeing the podium as soon as possible afterward). This is not only some good late-night-comic fodder, it’s also an open invitation for the straight news media to directly call out your administration as liars, despite their normally great reluctance to depart from “neutrality” whenever there is disagreement about facts.
But there’s another way to look at this, which isn’t so funny. In a nation with a free press, this kind of attempt to transparently invent your own fake facts is laughable… but in countries where the press is not free, it’s routine. This is exactly how news reporting is treated in totalitarian countries where the media are captive to the state. In those circumstances, the big lie is the only story the public gets to hear, and if the truth gets to them, it’s only in the form of rumor and anecdote, which might be just as untrustworthy when it comes to pinning down solid facts.
What makes this sobering is Trump’s continual attacking and denigration of the news media. He very much wants his supporters to distrust them, but even more, he wants them to stop reporting facts which contradict his stories. Why all the attacks? Because he wants his supporters to demand change, to shout down stories they don’t like — to pressure the media into compliance with his will. Consciously or not, what he is pushing for is an end to the free press. To him, a free press is the enemy. He will never stop attacking them, so long as they report news that they discover through their own lying eyes and ears, rather than the official truth of Trump.
Trump is not just making this attack out of ego or spite — he is betting his presidency on it. As long as the press remains free, Trump is a clown. As soon as it’s not, everything he’s doing starts to work exactly as he intends it to, and he can rule as strongly as he wishes.
Trump is governing in a style which can only work when the press is not free.