Trump’s “enemy of the people’ attacks teetering on tyranny

Donald Trump has frequently attacked ‘the media’, interchanging ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’. The latter puts him in quite bad company. Lenin Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, and Hitler, and more recently in Venezuela, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Trump has been doing it since the start of his presidency.

NY Times (17 February 2017): Trump Calls the News Media the ‘Enemy of the American People’

President Trump, in an extraordinary rebuke of the nation’s press organizations, wrote on Twitter on Friday that the nation’s news media “is the enemy of the American people.”

Even by the standards of a president who routinely castigates journalists — and who on Thursday devoted much of a 77-minute news conference to criticizing his press coverage — Mr. Trump’s tweet was a striking escalation in his attacks.

USA Today (24 February 2017): Trump again calls media ‘enemy of the people’

President Trump turned his speech before a conservative convention into a full-throated attack on journalism Friday, saying some reporters make up unnamed sources for “fake news” and again describing them as “the enemy” of the American people.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are — they are the enemy of the people,” Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

While praising some reporters as honest, and pledging fealty to the First Amendment, Trump claimed that “the fake news media doesn’t tell the truth.” He said reporters should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, and “we’re going to do something about it.”

And on Friday (2 August 2018):

So Trump has hept portraying ‘a large percentage of the media’ (media that doesn’t say what he wants) as “the enemy of the people”.  This is an insidious assault on an imperfect and essential part of a free and open democracy.

And it is a tactic that has been done by tyrants and dictators in the past.

Brookings: Enemy of the People

In Enemy of the People, Marvin Kalb, an award-winning American journalist with more than six decades of experience both as a journalist and media observer, writes with passion about why we should fear for the future of American democracy because of the unrelenting attacks by the Trump administration on the press.

Shortly after assuming office in January 2017, President Donald Trump accused the press of being an “enemy of the American people.” Attacks on the media had been a hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign, but this charge marked a dramatic turning point: language like this ventured into dangerous territory.

Twentieth-century dictators—notably, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao—had all denounced their critics, especially the press, as “enemies of the people.” Their goal was to delegitimize the work of the press as “fake news” and create confusion in the public mind about what’s real and what isn’t; what can be trusted and what can’t be.

Image result for cartoon enemy of the people


Trump continues to call the press “the enemy of the people,” which is both disgusting and dangerous. To understand why, let’s look at the history of that sinister phrase, who has used it in the past, why, and how it fosters a higher likelihood of violence against journalists.

The modern origins of the phrase are from the French Revolution’s “reign of terror,” when people were beheaded en masse. But it resurged during the Nazi era, when Hitler referred to the “lying press” and called Jews “the enemy of the people.” But, it keeps getting worse.

It’s a Soviet phrase too, something Lenin started and Stalin continued. For Stalin, labeling someone an “enemy of the people,” meant internment at a forced labor camp and sometimes death. The term was *too extreme* for Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced it *in the 1950s.*

Mao used the phrase regularly too to label anyone who opposed his rule as an “enemy of the people.” The consequences of that label were also dire and often led to death. Mao was a murderous dictator who killed nearly 40 million people.

In modern times, other dictators have used the phrase too. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez labeled critical media outlets as “enemies of the homeland,” in the same vein. Are you beginning to see a pattern in what type of regime calls its critics the “enemy of the people?”

The phrase has also been deployed against the press in places as diverse as Myanmar (when it was ruled purely by a military junta) and Zimbabwe (when it was ruled by longtime dictator Robert Mugabe)

There is a reason that the phrase “enemy of the people” has been almost exclusively deployed by murderous dictators. To use it to describe the free press, which is a pillar of every democracy, is particularly sinister. Trump is borrowing a phrase from the worst of the worst.

In my field research, I’ve interviewed several authoritarian leaders who admit that they do *what they can get away with* when it comes to destroying the press. The White House used to be the deterrent, threatening consequences to regimes that harassed or attacked journalists.

Calling the press “the enemy of the people” encourages violence against journalists in the US. Keep in mind that he has also called the free press “a stain on America,” and “scum.” People listen to him. And a lot of crazy people with guns listen to him too.

Trump’s anti-press rhetoric puts him in a category with Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Hitler & Chavez. This isn’t partisan. Democracy can’t survive without a free press. Authoritarianism requires the press to be crushed or cowed. Trump’s rhetoric is disgusting, dangerous, and must end.

I doubt it will end. Trump plays by his own rules as much as he can.

And it isn’t just Trump. He has his lackeys supporting his attacks on media – see Sarah Huckabee Sanders refuses to dispute claim that media is ‘enemy’ of the people.

And Trump has recruited an army of supporters who make excuses and defend his assaults on the media, and attack ‘the media’, and denigrate and try to discredit those who condemn his insidious attacks.

So does he see media that holds him to account is an enemy of his ambitions? Or an enemy of his ego?

I think it’s both. His presidency is teetering on tyranny.

Trump, US ‘exceptionalism’

If Donald Trump is still watching Fox News he will love this: Donald Trump, exceptionalist

A lot of the world could be rather worried though.

If you wondered what American exceptionalism looks like, the 59,000 pounds of U.S. warheads raining down on Syria’s air force is a pretty good snapshot.

America, the apex power of the world, does not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. We forbid it. Another country used chemical weapons – repeatedly – in its civil war, so the United States punished that nation by depleting its military.

So now a precedent has been set by Trump and praised – to draw the US further into the Syrian civil war all someone (it doesn’t really make any difference who)needs to do is gas a few kids and circulate video of it. Or maybe just threatening would probably be enough, the Trump regime has made it clear it won’t rule out ‘pre-emptive strikes’.

There are other countries in the world with the capability to deliver that kind of firepower and spend something approaching $100 million to send a message about the rules of war. But only the United States has the wherewithal to do so without even breaking a sweat.

There may some sweating to come over the consequences though. One sneak attack does not win a war.

And, we dare say, that no other country in the world combines such capabilities with our moral authority.  As much maligned, sometimes rightly, as America’s overseas interventions have been, no great power in history can match our track record of the use of force without conquest.

It depends on how you define ‘conquest’.

Members of Congress, Democratic and Republican, want President Trump to get congressional authorization if he intends to keep up the strikes or undertake, ahem, a forward strategy of freedom to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power and install a Western-style liberal democracy in his place.

But as for the legality of this attack, there’s not much to debate.

Legality, morality, sensibility, who cares if you have the biggest bombs?

We arrange our thinking and pursuits very much around questions relating to the word “can.” Those are simpler since they relate more to the other understanding of being exceptional — can we do it? The hard ones are about “should.” The application of American power, exceptional or not, should always be governed more by the latter than the former.

But as for the question of what America’s rightful role in the world is, Trump, after many years arguing the opposite, has placed himself firmly on the side of the exceptionalists.

Where did the term American exceptionalism come from? Stalin, and it wasn’t a compliment.

In 1929, Communist leader Jay Lovestone informed Stalin in Moscow that the American proletariat wasn’t interested in revolution. Stalin responded by demanding that he end this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” And just like that, this expression was born. What Lovestone meant, and how Stalin understood it, however, isn’t how Gingrich and Romney (or even Obama) frame it.

Neither Lovestone or Stalin felt that the United States was superior to other nations — actually, the opposite. Stalin “ridiculed” America for its abnormalities, which he cast under the banner of “exceptionalism,” Daniel Rodgers, a professor of history at Princeton, said in an interview.

As the Great Depression enveloped the United States, Stalin’s argument — if not his bluster — seemed well grounded. “Exceptionalism was a disease, a chronic disease,” wrote communist S. Milgrom of Chicago in 1930. “The storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism,” the American Communist Party declared at its convention in April 1930.

Trump the trigger happy exceptionalist may have just kicked off a disease for which there is no vaccine.

Stalin compared to Hitler

A post at Whale Oil makes an interesting point, comparing the near universal condemnation of Hitler to far more lenience to Stalin’s extraordinarily brutal rule. I’ve seen plenty of information about it but it has seemed fairly distant and impersonal

In Giovanni Tiso’s fondness for “Grandpa” Stalin there are two personal accounts of life (and often death) under Stalin.

First in the post from a friend of Slater’s who’s family is Russian.

My family fled the Soviet Union during Stalin’s purges of the 30s, abandoning everything, their friends, family, worldly-possessions, because they were terrified of what would happen to them as former farm owners. Most of their family who stayed behind were either murdered by the NKVD or sent off to Siberia, only a handful managed to survive the remaining years of Stalin’s reign.

I remember growing up that my dedushka would nearly break down if we tried to ask him about what life was like in Russia before he and babushka left. He’d point out the millions of people who’d died as a result of Stalin’s purges, power games, agriculture reforms and ethnic cleansing, that’s before he pointed out the two brothers and one sister he’d lost in the years following their decision to flee.

People in the west seem to forget that Stalin was every bit as ideologically nasty as Hitler, intentionally murdering millions of people for reasons just a batty as those Hitler advanced. Yet for some reason, he’s not seen as reprehensibly evil as Hitler.

There’s debate over the number of deaths that can be attributed to both Hitler and Stalin but both wreaked a savage toll on their own populations and also in other countries.

There is also a comment from Lucia Maria, someone who will be familiar to many around the blogs.

My father was a child prisoner in a Soviet gulag in Siberia during WWII. He was transported from Poland to Siberia on train in compartments made for cattle, not humans, during winter.

When the USSR became allies with the West, all Polish prisoners were given amnesty – my Dad’s family was split into those who were directed to the Polish army in the USSR and those that were not army material (ie mother and children).

The second group were sent to Kazakhstan to die of starvation. Amazingly enough, my dad survived this, when those sent to bury the family found some of the children still alive.

Anyway, I don’t have a strong reaction to people such as Giovanni anymore – there are just too many of them. But yes, the comparison of Stalin to Hitler is one I had to stress to my husband recently. Most people just don’t get it.

I guess a significant difference is that we haven’t fought world wars against Russia as we have against Germany.

But give or take a few million lives Stalin was as bad a genocidal brute as Hitler was.

Another difference is that Nazism largely died with Hitler and hasn’t been given any credence by anything other than small groups of extremists.

In contrast many seem to have excused or ignored Stalin’s barbarity because he represented a political ideology they supported.

These same people strongly oppose much of what the US does and stands for. The US is far from unblemished in it’s worldwide inferences but has been nowhere near as bad as Hitler or Stalin, different plant degrees of difference.

Both Stalin and Hitler deserve similar levels of condemnation – as much as can be given.Joking about grandpa Stalin is akin to joking about uncle Hitler. I don’t know why anyone would want to be related to either in any way. Even in jest it would be a sick joke.

For the record Calculating the number of victims cites various sources with most estimates being between 15 and 30 million deaths attributable to Stalin and his policies (which include famines).

Update: Tiso knows what it’s like to be associated with tryants:

(There is, besides, the crass ignorance of the comment. When she was seven years old, my mother was made to line up along the train tracks outside her village and salute Hitler’s train as it passed at speed on its way to Rome. This is my history, you pathetic fool.)

Tending Fascist