Sen. Jeff Flake is preparing a number of speeches he plans to give after he leaves office at the end of this term. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of them are designed to express his unwavering support for President Donald Trump's agenda.
On ABC News "This Week" though, Flake discussed one speech in particular with host George Stephanopolous: a speech on Trump's treatment of the press that compares Trump, unfavorably, to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Well, I — what I’m trying to say is, you know, you — you can talk about crowd size and this is pretty innocuous if there’s a falsehood. But when you reflexively refer to the press as the enemy of the people or fake news, that has real damage. It has real damage to our standing in the world. And I noted how — how bad it is for a president to — to take what was popularized by Joseph Stalin, the enemy of the people, to refer to the press.
And then now, today, you have authoritarians across the world using the term fake news to justify cracking down on their opposition or — or staunch legitimate debate. That’s nothing we should be proud of. And so I’m going to talk about how damaging that is. It’ll be I think on the same day, probably, Wednesday, that the president is giving out some fake news awards. And I — I just want — want the president to know that this has real consequences.
There is no question that Trump has authoritarian tendencies when it comes to the press. A longtime subject of gossip rags and entertainment reporters, Trump is suspicious of media in general, and mainstream media in particular.
He quickly adopted an anti-press stance in his presidential campaign and is now both superficially hostile to media figures — calling out CNN for its bias on Twitter, often with the use of over-the-top memes — and pushing an anti-press agenda that strengthens libel and defamation laws, ostensibly so that Trump can take action against reporters he finds problematic.
But there's a big difference between "Trump is hostile to the press" and "Trump is slowly transitioning into Joseph Stalin." The former often posts angry tweets; the latter used the state to annex and control the press, and personally licensed, controlled, and censored the media. Stalin exerted control over all artistic endeavors — not just journalism — subjecting artists, writers, comedians, performers and the like to the control and, eventually, the rubber stamp of the state.
Those who objected were sent to work camps or were killed.
Donald Trump may have a mean Twitter thumb, but he hasn't yet opened the gulags.