With Donald Trump (possibly) set to announce the winners of his much-hyped “Fake News Awards” on Wednesday, retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate about the president’s hostility toward free speech and, well, reality. Flake attacked Trump for calling the Russia investigation a “hoax,” for promoting conspiracy theories about Barack Obama being born in Kenya, and for suggesting ludicrously that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The senator also compared POTUS—a member of his own party!—to Josef Stalin and Bashar al-Assad, two men who typically are not thought of as models of great American-style leadership. The relevant passages:
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.
This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party.
(Trump called the media “the enemy of the people” in February 2017.)
Later, initially quoting a December Politico piece:
“In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, ‘You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.’”
This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. 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.
Flake has made these sort of high-minded condemnatory speeches his “thing” since announcing in October that he wouldn’t seek re-election this year. As my colleague Isaac Chotiner wrote Tuesday, though, the Arizona senator will never influence POTUS’s behavior unless he withholds his support for legislation Trump favors until the president agrees to specific demands related to ethics and good governance. Flake’s remarks Wednesday did not discuss any such tangible course of action—and, given that he becomes more of a lame duck every day, the clock’s ticking.
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