Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, may be retiring but his speech on President Trump and the press is worth hearing.
Flake said Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the news media was reminiscent of Joseph Stalin. The phrase was so damaging to individuals that Nikita Khruschev later prohibited its use by the Communist Party.
Flake also said Trump’s use of the phrase “fake news” was an attack on the truth. Flake called on his colleagues to join together in speaking in defense of the truth.
While Trump’s rhetoric can be hurtful to the press in this country, its most pernicious effects are abroad, Flake said.
He lists dictators who he believes have been emboldened by Trump’s words. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, for example, when confronted by a report that 13,000 prisoners had died in his prisons, responded with, “Well, this is a time of fake news.”
From Russia to the Philippines to Egypt and Venezuela, absolute rulers are imprisoning, and sometimes executing, members of the press at an alarming rate.
In a recent column Senator John McCain said 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017, while 21 died in pursuit of their work.
The greatest ill of all this, in Flake’s view, is the way President Trump’s angry words are eroding the institutions of democracy and spreading distrust throughout the world. The global trend toward absolutism is far outpacing the trend toward freedom, in his view.
McCain believes Trump does not understand the effects of his words abroad as Ronald Reagan did. “We can’t afford to abandon America’s role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world,” McCain wrote.
The press in this country gave the statements of both senators good play — more evidence that President Trump has not repressed anyone in the news business here.