Trump calling media “enemy of the American people” reminiscent of Stalin, Mao.

Trump Calling Media “Enemy of the American People” Reminiscent of Stalin, Mao

Trump Calling Media “Enemy of the American People” Reminiscent of Stalin, Mao

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Feb. 18 2017 9:51 AM

Trump Calling Media “Enemy of the American People” Reminiscent of Stalin, Mao

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President Donald Trump stands during a news conference announcing Alexander Acosta as the new Labor Secretary nominee in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has never shied away from criticizing the news media. But he seemed to take things to a new level on Friday when he wrote in a tweet that media outlets, including the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN are “the enemy of the American people.” (His first tweet only included the Times, CNN, and NBC and ended with the conclusion: “SICK!” But that was quickly deleted.) Both tweets did include some choice capitalization as the commander-in-chief labeled the outlets “the FAKE NEWS media.”

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course. Even a day earlier, Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference. Yet labeling the media the “enemy of the American people” seemed to take things to a new level and many quickly drew parallels to tyrants throughout history that were fond of the phrase. Although it harkens back to ancient Rome, many remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. "It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history," explained Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "What it basically meant was a death sentence.”

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The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule. A Chinese journalist, Li Yuan, pointed out the parallel on Twitter, noting that “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.”

Beijing seems to be welcoming this fresh attack on the news media with glee. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times noted in an editorial that Trump’s “war with mainstream media” would make it difficult for the president to challenge Beijing on “ideological” issues such as human rights. “His war with mainstream media makes it difficult for Trump to ally with the media on [the] ideological front against China,” the newspaper said. “Many have predicted that Trump’s presidency would exacerbate the recession of liberalism.”

Following the president’s press conference on Thursday night, a 25-question “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” was posted on the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign websites. Those who fill out the survey are then taken to a donation page where they are asked to fork over anywhere from $35 to $2,500: “President Trump is asking you to go the extra mile and make a contribution to help defend our movement from the outrageous attacks from the media coming our way.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.