The old English epic poem Beowulf tells of how the beast Grendel terrorizes the people of a Danish lord. By day, the Danes rule and revel. By night, their reality shrinks to the scope of a single terrible threat. “All were endangered; young and old were hunted down by that dark death-shadow who lurked and swooped in the long nights on the misty moors; nobody knows where these reavers from hell roam on their errands.” No matter how bright the day seems, we must face the beasts that will come at night. And this is the their greatest terror: we do not know their purpose.

We face such a threat today. It was announced on November 21 that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai proposed the repeal of net neutrality rules. These rules guaranteed that telecom companies could not pick and choose what traffic is sped up and what is slowed down. We were able to be freethinking and active members of a democratic society because no private interest could cut off this or that source of news. But thanks to Mr. Pai’s actions, internet providers will now be able to manipulate traffic—just as long as they tell us how they’re doing it. As someone who was not born yesterday, and who has had to deal with telecom’s rare talent for writing fine print, I beg the pardon of the powers-that-be for finding no comfort in this pledge of corporate good citizenship.

This is exactly how the Orwellian disaster begins, not to mention an archetype of everything laughably and terribly wrong with the Trump administration. Powers in government make little half-steps in their own interest, closing a windows to the world one by one, until we have nothing but darkness and their word to trust. This is a move directly out of Vladimir Putin’s playbook. (I leave the choice of Premier or President to the reader.) Make the media one with the state. Let the money talk. Let who will cooperate, cooperate; push anyone else into the margins. The First Amendment forbids the government from restricting free speech and press. There is little difference between strangling free speech, and sitting back while someone else does it for you.

Recall the collective national panic over revelations that the National Security Agency’s program of mass surveillance had created a “dark state” which threatened our fundamental freedoms. Repealing net neutrality enables telecom giants to privatize the dark state.

This proposal is one small step toward despotism for the FCC, but one giant leap for Trump’s project of releasing as many monsters back into the “swamp” as possible. Who is Ajit Pai? Mr. Pai began public life as a Department of Justice trial attorney, spent time as a lawyer with none other than Verizon Communications Inc. as Associate General Counsel, and has since “climbed the ladder” of the executive branch. Even the circumstances of Mr. Pai’s confirmation reek of Trumpism: while the nation was mourning the Las Vegas shooting and receiving more and more distressing news from Puerto Rico, an alumnus of a telecom giant was quietly sneaked into a regulatory position, fifty-two votes in favor and forty-one against.

This administration has no qualms about welcoming the children of corporations aboard the ship of state—indeed, our Secretary of the Treasury made his name in the forge of moral rectitude also known as Wall Street. Mr. Pai was born a lamb, worked for the wolves, and has since returned to the sheepfold. His proud parents at Verizon said this: “We’re very encouraged by Chairman Pai’s announcement today that the FCC will move forward next month to restore the successful light-touch regulatory framework for Internet services.” But let’s not worry about why a telecom giant just sent a public thank-you note to one of its progeny, especially when said progeny is paid by taxpayers to curb the excesses and punish the abuses of said telecom giant.

And that question, the “why” of it, is perhaps most frightening. We really do not know where these people run on their errands. All are endangered who place a modicum of trust on what they see on screens. This action poses a threat of existential magnitude to our democracy, to our freedom of thought, and to our very identity as a free people. Every free society is and must be a marketplace of ideas, where our best ideas are proven by debate and made into reality. Either we are a discursive society, or a society that is not and cannot be free. Call or write to your senator and representatives, send a letter to your town paper, star conversations about this issue. Make it something that people talk about, that people care about.

I close, as the nature of these times demands, with George Orwell, who said, “In times of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” We are tired of “fake news.” We are tired of executive branch doublespeak. We do not want this to be the new order in America. There is no other reason to fight this fight than protecting the very essence of a free society. Think whether tomorrow’s Americans deserve the freedom to think, and act accordingly. 

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column usually runs on alternate Thursdays.