Over the weekend it was revealed that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was planning to denounce President Donald Trump in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. Amid the frequent criticisms Flake has often expressed previously, this speech stood out in that Flake planned to condemn President Trump’s attacks on the media as “Stalinist,” particularly the president’s use of the term “enemy of the people.”
Flake already has taken to the refined air of the United States Senate before to express his disagreements with the president, such as in October last year when he made a fiery condemnation of Trump during the Senate session. The prior speech was on the heels of Flake’s announcement he would not seek re-election amid rock-bottom approval ratings and polling numbers among both Republicans and the general public in Arizona.
Flake faced immediate and harsh backlash from conservatives for his leaked speech and his interviews on the Sunday shows talking about how he believed the president was invoking Stalinist terms and styles. Rather than apologizing for such inflammatory language, he attempted to clarify his comments on Monday, including saying in a strange doublespeak tweet “[t]here is no comparison between POTUS & Stalin” and then in the same tweet proceeding to compare the president and Stalin in rhetoric.
Flake’s comparison is absurd, both on the surface and after deeper reflection.
President Trump’s feuds with the press consist of arguing with them on social media, making fun of them, and denouncing them either directly or through surrogates while giving them ratings on their shows.
It is undeniable that, even as president, Trump and his supporters have been treated unfairly by the media. Studies have shown the overwhelming majority of coverage, up to 90% in recent months by some measures, has been deeply negative.
Do many, even supporters of the president, agree with his rhetoric and style? Of course not.
However Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, in contrast, is not known for engaging in public mockery and feuds with the ‘Soviet mainstream media’ or his critics in general. He simply had them arrested by the hundreds of thousands and murdered, banished to remote and tortuous Gulag labor camps, or exiled in remote Soviet villages on the Central Asian steppe.
To compare President Trump’s treatment of the press with Joseph Stalin ends up having a greater inflammatory effect as well. When comparisons are made, sadly too often nowadays, between politicians and figures that are primarily known for their tyrannical actions, the result is not to merely compare certain attributes in isolation with those historical figures.
Rather the main effect, and often goal, is to associate a current figure with a historical figure or tyrant who is primarily known for their evil acts and horrific crimes.
Stalin directly purposefully engineered the deaths of tens of millions of people, tormented hundreds of millions more, and intently set the stage for almost half a century of revolution, war, and totalitarianism around the world afterwards.
To associate Trump, no mater his excesses, with Stalin and even remotely liken them to one another is simply unfathomable.
Whatever Flake’s intention, the result was that he has launched an extremely inflammatory attack on Trump that demeans the office of president of the United States and consequently our country and its institutions.
The office of the president deserves respect. The president is the only semi-directly-elected representative of our entire nation. The presidency is the office of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan, and so many more. It inherently demands courtesy, even if the current occupant’s rhetoric may often not be agreeable.
During Trump’s presidency we’ve sadly seen his critics too often engage in criticisms that often are so intense and outlandish that they do not only attempt to demean the current occupant, but result in the office itself being tarnished.
If Flake had stuck with his original quasi-walk-back and simply left it at “[t]here is no comparison between POTUS & Stalin,” that, coupled with a formal apology to the American public for his unbecoming conduct, would perhaps have been an appropriate action to make amends for his otherwise irresponsible rhetoric.
Sadly, Flake has chosen to not apologize for his actions and seems intent on going on the rarified floor of the Senate on Wednesday and comparing the president of the United States to a totalitarian monster who organized the horrific suffering of hundreds of millions.
Senator Flake’s actions are morally wrong. Not everyone agrees with President Trump, and particularly his rhetoric, but the office of the president of the United States commands and deserves a critical minimum of deference and esteem.
It is a shame we’ve strayed so far.