The first time Donald Trump described news organizations as “the enemy of the American people,” his presidency wasn’t yet a month old. The ensuing controversy – American presidents tend not to echo phrases from Stalin and Mao – seemed to push the talking point away from Trump’s standard lines, at least for a while.
In the first 15 months in office, the president tweeted the phrase just once.
As the pressure from the Russia scandal intensified, however, the president re-embraced the phrase with alarming enthusiasm. He labeled the media “the enemy of the people” the day before his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then again the day after.
It’s news organizations, Trump asked Americans to believe, that are the “real” adversary of the United States – not the foreign adversary that attacked our political system.
Last week, the president said the phrase “fake news” and “morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People,’” as if this happened organically. Over the weekend, the president went a little further, insisting that American journalists criticize his use of the phrase because we “know it’s true.”
“The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!”
There’s a lot to this, but I’d recommend keeping a few things in mind.
First, no one should be surprised if Trump’s incendiary language creates genuine threats that put media professionals in danger. The “enemy of the state” phrasing has been used “by some of history’s most vicious thugs” for a reason.
Second, I think Jay Rosen and Greg Sargent are correct to call this a “hate movement against journalists” that is “essential to Trump’s political style.” At some of the president’s recent rallies, his condemnations of news organizations have started to take up as much time as any other topic.
And third, I continue to believe Trump believes it’s necessary to position himself as the sole authority for truth, which necessarily means he sees journalists as a rival to be defeated.
The media may tell the public things Trump doesn’t want Americans to know or believe. It’s why the president bragged yesterday that he’s “providing a great service” by labeling journalists the nation’s “enemy.”
In Trump’s mind, his word is truth. Those who contradict his word are “dangerous.”