Outgoing Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake launched a fiery attack on President Trump Wednesday over Trump’s criticisms of the media — alleging that the president pushes “pernicious fantasies,” uses Stalinist language and causes global instability by undermining the free press.
“An American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger,”” Flake said.
He also criticized Trump for describing the press as “the enemy of the people,” a phrase he said was used by mass-murdering Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies,” he said.
Flake’s remarks, made on the Senate floor, came as Trump was set to hold what he had described as the “Fake News awards” for members of the media he believes are “corrupt and biased.”
In his remarks, Flake frequently warned of the danger of despotism, which he said was the real “enemy of the people” and he reminded the Senate: “the free press is the despot’s enemy.”
“The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy,” he said. “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.”
He criticized Trump not only for his attacks on the media, which he claimed had given encouragement to dictators in Syria and the Philippines to undermine the press, but also for his own promotion of dubious stories.
“Not only has the past year seen a president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems that he has now in turn inspired authoritarians and dictators with his own language,” he said.
In particular, Flake cited what he called Trump’s “pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate.”
‘It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.’
Flake has been one of the more outspoken critics of Trump among Republican lawmakers and in October attacked his fellow Republicans for their “complicity” in what Trump is doing. In that speech, he announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2018.
Flake was supported in his remarks by fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain who, in an editorial in The Washington Post, urged the president to stop attacking the press.
“Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy,” McCain wrote.
However, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel attacked Flake, saying he’d gone “too far” in his criticism of the president, and that Trump had a right to criticize coverage that was biased against him.
“Sen. Flake, turn on the news. It’s wall-to-wall with biased coverage against @POTUS. He has every right to push back. Comparing the leader of the free world to murderous dictators is absurd,” she tweeted. “You’ve gone too far.”