President Trump sometimes uses the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the news media, or precincts thereof. Is this a fair description? Should Trump use it?
Andy McCarthy takes up these questions in a thoughtful article that’s well worth reading in full. I won’t try to summarize it. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts of my own.
I have no problem with Trump referring to the news media as an “enemy.” It certainly is an enemy of Trump — and I’m talking about the mainstream media as a whole, not just a few outlets.
But being an enemy of Trump is not the same thing as being an “enemy of the people.” Trump is not the people.
If the news media routinely made up stories, the harm to the public might well be egregious enough to justify calling the media the enemy of the people. But the media rarely makes up stories. The term “fake news” mischaracterizes the problem.
What’s problematic about the media is its relentless spinning of the news in one direction. The public would be better served by straight reporting, or at least a good faith effort at it.
But does spinning the news for partisan purposes make the media the enemy of the people? Not in my opinion. Indeed, after decades of media spin, the people are their own enemy if they can’t detect the spin and discount for it.
Keep in mind that the phrase “enemy of the people” carries with it an inglorious history. Lenin and Stalin used it to persecute political opponents, real and imagined. When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s cult of personality, he called for an end to usage of the phrase.
Even apart from its history, “enemy of the people” is an incendiary phrase. It has the potential to incite violence against those thus branded.
If the slur was bad enough for Khrushchev to avoid, maybe it should be bad enough for Trump too.