The Corner

Politics & Policy

Flake, Trump — and Stalin

In response to The Long, Hot Summer of ’68

I disagree, in part, with Rich Lowry’s latest column. He writes that Senator Jeff Flake’s association of President Trump with Joseph Stalin “is so wildly irresponsible it is its own corruption of our discourse.” Here is the relevant passage of Flake’s speech:

Mr. President, 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. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I think Rich would agree that it is irresponsible for a U.S. president to describe his opponents as “enemies of the people.” Maybe he would even agree that it is “shameful” and “repulsive.” The fact that Stalin spoke the same way does not, of course, mean that Trump is just like Stalin, and Flake does not claim otherwise. But the fact that Stalin spoke of “enemies of the people” is part of why it’s shameful and repulsive for a U.S. president to do so. I don’t think it is at all irresponsible for Senator Flake to point that out.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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