Jeanette Strong: The enemy of the people
All leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court,” said Vladimir Lenin on Nov. 28, 1917.
If you are reading this, you’re reading a newspaper, either in print or online, and that’s a good thing. Newspapers such as the Lahontan Valley News are the heartbeat of American democracy. They are where regular people can have their say and where we learn about what’s happening in our community.
Statewide papers such as the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Las Vegas Review-Journal keep us up to date about state happenings. National papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times tell us about national and international happenings. These are all vital if we are to be informed citizens and voters.
President Thomas Jefferson believed a free press was essential to our democracy. “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” (1786) “Considering the great importance to the public liberty of the freedom of the press, and the difficulty of submitting it to very precise rules, the laws have thought it less mischievous to give greater scope to its freedom than to the restraint of it.” (1793)
We now have a president who wants to restrain the press and call any news that he doesn’t like, fake news. More ominously, he has called the press “the enemy of the people.” On Feb. 17, 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
On Feb. 24, 2017, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump reiterated this. “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 has a great affinity for dictators. Perhaps unwittingly, he has borrowed a phrase used by tyrants for centuries.
The phrase “enemy of the people” came into use during the French Revolution. Anyone who disagreed with the new, revolutionary French government was an enemy of the people and sent to the guillotine. The Nazis later adopted the phrase in referring to Jews as enemies of the German people; we know how that turned out.
During the early years of the Russian Revolution, the phrase “enemy of the people” was used by Communist dictators Lenin and Stalin to describe anyone who opposed the Soviet Communist government. Those who did so were imprisoned in labor camps. It was also used by Chairman Mao, the Chinese Communist dictator, who imprisoned and murdered millions of people.
Tyrants know that to gain control of the people, they must gain control of the press. That’s why freedom of the press and speech were included in the First Amendment. It’s why Jefferson said in 1804, “Freedom of the press … is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
Trump understands this very well. During his campaign rallies, Trump would point to the reporters in the back and berate them, whipping his followers into a frenzy. These reporters often then had to be escorted out of these rallies by Secret Service agents for their own protection. Trump has done such a good job of demeaning reporters that now 42 percent of Republicans believe any negative news about Trump, no matter how accurate, is “fake news.” (Washington Post, 1/16/18)
On Jan. 17, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke about Trump’s attempts to suppress the free press: “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 … even [Soviet dictator] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use …”
When Khrushchev’s granddaughter, Nina Khruscheva, international affairs professor at the New School in New York, heard Trump using the phrase, she told the New York Times, “It was particularly shocking to hear the language of ‘state nationalism [that] is always the same regardless of the country.’” (Business Insider, 2/27/2017)
“Enemy of the people” is the phrase Trump has chosen. He has attacked freedom of the press, speech, and assembly, three of the five rights guaranteed to us in the First Amendment. Those who follow him must ask themselves: Why is he doing this? What does he hope to gain? And why do you continue to support his attacks on our basic American values?
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.