In February of 2017, President Donald Trump issued one of his infamous tweets, calling the American media “the enemy of the American people.”
That was but one of thousands of reckless statements he’s made about the media, both during his campaign and since assuming the presidency less than a month before that tweet.
This one, though, was more than just a late-night diatribe. The language, we believe, was chosen quite carefully, since the phrase “enemy of the people” has a long and dark history.
When Vladimir Lenin, as the head of the Communist Party, seized power in Russia, he issued a decree regarding the nation’s fledgling Constitutional Democratic Party, an organization which supported a democratically elected republic government. That statement read: “…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….”
The intent was clear — in attempting to legitimize the brutal Communist Party as the true party of the state, Lenin painted those in opposition as enemies of the people, as if he was the only one who had the best interest of the people at heart.
In Nazi Germany, it was a label applied to any who were opposed to Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, or to any group Hitler and his party wanted to vilify — most notably those of Jewish heritage.
The Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer wrote this: “Jews are pests and disseminators of diseases. In whatever country they settle and spread themselves out, they produce the same effects as are produced in the human body by germs. … In former times sane people and sane leaders of the peoples made short shrift of enemies of the people. They had them either expelled or killed.”
In 1957, Chinese Communist Party head Mao Zedong extolled the virtues of those working to build the communist form of government as “the people,” while those working against the entrenchment of communism in both government and the economy “are all enemies of the people.”
We believe it no accident President Trump used that term in his Feb. 17, 2017 tweet, or in any number of subsequent statements. Using that terminology is a way to vilify the free press, serving as a means to drive a wedge between the average American and the media — which at its purest simply reports for and on behalf of the public.
That puts President Trump, who has draped himself in pseudo-patriotism, squarely opposite the founding fathers of this nation.
Those men, the very ones who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence, who hammered out the Constitution, who risked their lives to begin and build this nation, were absolutely in favor of a free press.
Freedom of the press was part of the First Amendment that makes up the Bill of Rights, one of the five most sacred rights those Founding Fathers sought to instill for the nation in that amendment.
This despite the fact that the free press of the day — newsletter pamphlets and early newspapers — were often vicious in their attacks on those Founding Fathers.
Thomas Jefferson was assailed by the media of the day, often complaining about its biased coverage against him. His political enemy, John Adams, used the press to levy charges of racial impurity, atheism, and sexual immorality against Jefferson.
Yet the nation’s third president maintained his steadfast belief in the need for an independent, free press.
That’s because the Founding Fathers understood one of the keys to the nation’s founding, and equally important foundational stone for its continued existence, was a free press.
The free press in America has uncovered thousands — maybe tens of thousands — of cases of corruption and abuse over the course of the nation’s history, most of which would never have come to light otherwise. The free press is the reason an out-of-control Joseph McCarthy was eventually brought down; it was the reason President Nixon’s criminal activities were made public; it was responsible for exposing Bill Clinton for being a liar and a womanizer.
In North Carolina the free press has uncovered criminal wrong doing in the governor’s office countless times over the past few decades, held companies accountable for numerous environmental near-disasters…the list could go on far longer than we have space to accommodate.
Modern media has more than its share of faults, particularly those who chase ratings points above responsible journalism, and those who openly advocate for one side or another while pretending to be an objective source of news.
But for all its faults, the press and serious news broadcast outlets still hold government and business accountable to the American people in ways no other organization has or can do.
The press is not the enemy of the people, and it’s time for the people of this nation to recognize their president’s reckless, irresponsible statements otherwise for what they are — self-serving, unpatriotic, un-American ravings of a man bent upon dividing the nation.