Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate Wednesday that took Donald Trump to task for his attacks on the free press. Trump has been stomping on the First Amendment for the past couple of years with the intention of delegitimizing the only non-governmental institution that can hold politicians like Trump accountable. Trump needs to make certain that his base will reject the media when it is critical of him. And like every other cult leader, his goal is to insure that he is considered the only source of truth.
Flake’s speech dived deep into Trump’s thinly veiled aspirations for dictatorship. And he did a good job of highlighting the close relationship between Trump’s rhetoric and that of notorious tyrants of history. What follows are some excerpts of Flake’s address that are particularly relevant. And the full video is posted below.
“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”
“And of course the President has it precisely backwards. Despotism is the enemy of the people. A free press is the despot’s enemy. Which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that figure who should be the person of suspicion, not the press. […] And so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality. No politician will ever tell us what the truth is, and what it is not.”
“No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to those assaults on our institutions. And an American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame, is charting a very dangerous path. And a congress that fails to act as a check on the President adds to that danger. Now we are told via Twitter that today the President intends to announce his choice for ‘The Most Corrupt and Dishonest Media Awards.’ It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.”
“This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has this past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has now in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. That is reprehensible.”
This speech clearly expresses what’s wrong with a president who seeks authoritarian powers and disrespects freedom of the press. It’s unfortunate that Flake waited to give it until after he had announced that he is not running for reelection. And it would be nice if his words were matched with actions that actually held Trump to account. Sadly, politicians often delay any display of courage until after they’ve quit being politicians. Let’s see if Flake, or any of his colleagues, will put some muscle behind their words and do what must be done when a president so badly violates his oath of office: Impeachment.