THE BLOG
01/27/2016 01:16 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Why Donald Trump's Decision to Skip the Next Debate Is Actually Serious Business (Opinion)

Donald Trump just fired himself from the next Republican debate.

At a press event earlier this evening, Trump announced that he "most likely" will not participate in the Fox News debate scheduled for Thursday night because Fox News refuses to replace moderator Megyn Kelly. A follow-up announcement by Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, further clarified that Trump is "definitely" out.

Naturally, Twitter is all up in Trump's face over the announcements, mocking him as only that social network can, primarily skewering him for being afraid of Megyn Kelly while boasting that he would topple ISIS -- in my opinion, a fair critique. During the first Fox News debate, it was Kelly who called Trump out for decidedly sexist, misogynistic comments about women in general. In part, Kelly stated:

You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

But according to the Vox article from which that quote was derived, this was a planned attack on Trump by a faction within Fox News, and by Rupert Murdoch in particular. Murdoch once tweeted:

For more on the history of Donald Trump's war with Megyn Kelly, see this ABC News article.

But perhaps the Trump/Kelly feud was the opening salvo of Donald Trump's war on the media as a whole. At the same press conference earlier this evening, Trump crossed the line with a specific reporter, who began his question by quoting Trump on abortion rights in a 1999 Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert. Trump almost immediately interrupted and criticized the reporter, appearing to chastise him for not beginning the question with Trump's remark, "I hate the concept of abortion." Trump continuously interrupted the reporter whenever he tried to respond and escalated the argument, finally stating, "you're not a very good reporter":

Well, it turns out that the reporter did quote Trump correctly, at least according to a transcript posted by PolitiFact in a report detailing Ted Cruz's latest attack ad on those same comments. But Trump still wasn't done with this particular reporter. Later, when he attempted to ask Trump a follow-up question, Trump refused to allow him to ask it, instead asking over and over again, "Do you apologize?" for not reading his quote correctly. When the reporter did not give a satisfactory answer, Trump told the reporter "Okay, forget you," and refused to even allow the follow-up to be asked:

Note: This video splices together both exchanges between Trump and this reporter.

Of course, these are not the only incidents where Donald Trump has been abusive of media personalities. We cannot forget Trump's mocking of New York Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski's physical disability due to a chronic medical condition. This was followed by Trump effectively segregating journalists at campaign rallies, forbidding them from recording any protests occurring at rallies, and even threatening to "blacklist" journalists who refused to abide by the restrictions. In short, for a candidate campaigning for arguably the most publicly-visible job on Planet Earth, Donald Trump has done everything possible to prevent the media from giving public access to a large portion of that journey. And when you count all of the incidents of protesters being forcibly ejected from his rallies, it appears he is also denying the American public at large their rights to be concerned about the direction in which he would ultimately attempt to move the world.

So while we can tweet our mockery and contempt of Donald Trump on-line, there's a more serious discussion that we need to have concerning Trump's overall contempt of the news media on which his campaign has so heavily thrived. And that's his utter lack of respect for the principles of the First Amendment, which guarantees not only our rights to speak freely, but also the press' right to cover critical events in the nation, and our right to peaceably assemble in protest. Donald Trump's attitude, and his conduct at his own campaign rallies, violates every tenet of the First Amendment. Right now, Trump is proposing to skip out on an entire debate -- arguably the most important platform from which Americans can learn about the candidates -- just to spite a single journalist. I'm sure Megyn Kelly never realized she had that much power over the Republican front-runner!

But this lack of respect also extends to the American people as a whole. Donald Trump only cares about the people who show up at his rallies to support him, who are willing to serve as glorified bouncers for anyone he doesn't see fit to attend. He only cares for those who are likely to show up to vote for him, thus advancing his campaign to the next stage and keeping him in the limelight. And look how quickly he has now made so-called friend Senator Ted Cruz into an enemy.

The bigger question is how much Trump's overall contempt for fundamental American values will grow should he secure the Republican nomination (as looks increasingly likely) or even the presidency itself. America is in danger of electing a President who already tramples upon some of the most important rights given to us by the Constitution just in the act of campaigning! Would President Trump invite reporters to the White House and publicly shame them in the same manner he currently does on the campaign trail? What precedents would that set regarding First Amendment rights regarding a free press? And just as importantly, would Trump seek executive action, perhaps on national security grounds, which would dismantle the right to peaceably assemble in protest of tragedies like the killing of Tamir Rice? Trump has already decreed that "the police are the most mistreated people in this country." So we also need to be asking just what Trump would do to push back against this alleged mistreatment as more and more black people die from police violence while their murderers remain unpunished.

In just about a year from now, America may very well find out just how far Donald Trump will take his current contempt of our rights and embrace the most animalistic and angry side of America. Heaven help us all if these fears come true.