In a searing speech on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Sen. Jeff Flake denounced President Donald Trump for his sustained attacks against the news media, going so far as to compare his rhetoric to that of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
In the remarks from the Senate floor, Flake, R-Ariz., pointed to the Soviet Union’s 30-year dictator as seeming inspiration for Trump’s attacks against the press, singling out a phrase that each used to refer to their interpreted opposition.
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake said. “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.”
Flake, long an outspoken critic of the president, planned his speech to coincide with the announced date of Trump’s “Fake News Awards,” which the president publicized in a Twitter post at the beginning of the month. Already delayed once, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called such a ceremony a “potential event” Tuesday and did not provide details about it when asked at the day’s press briefing.
Last February, Trump drew widespread condemnation when he tweeted that the “FAKE NEWS media” was not his enemy, but rather “the enemy of the American people,” a charge his critics felt took his disdain for the coverage of his administration beyond his usual attacks.
Flake characterized the president’s attacks as “shameful” and “repulsive” Wednesday and accused him of inspiring autocratic leaders throughout the world — citing denials of news reports by heads-of-state in Syria, the Philippines, Venezuela, Myanmar and Singapore.
“This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President,” said Flake, addressing Trump. “Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.”
The speech was the senator’s second such address targeting Trump from the Senate floor in the last three months. In October, Flake passionately decried what he called the “regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals” under the president as he announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018. An emotional Flake said at the time: “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country,” including “the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”
Despite his impending retirement, the senator called for the new year to be empowered with opposition to the ongoing assault against the truth.
“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth – more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government,” Flake said, adding, “2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it.”
Flake concluded his speech by calling on his Senate colleagues — whom he acknowledged have all likely faced news coverage they “felt was jaded or unfair” — to “stop excusing, ignoring — or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth.”
“For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost,” he said.