Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sen. Jeff Flake identifies the real "enemy of the people" in Senate speech

In a preview of Flake’s speech, Amber Phillips (Washington Post) said that Jeff Flake isn’t just comparing Trump to Stalin. He’s comparing Republicans to Stalin’s enablers.

A sitting U.S. senator plans to give a speech this week comparing the president of his own party to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. That in itself is remarkable.

“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,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) plans to say in a speech about President Trump classifying the news media as “the enemy of the people.”

But Flake’s warnings about Trump are even more significant than comparing the president to a Soviet dictator. When Flake criticizes the president, he is criticizing his entire party for standing by such a leader.

The speech was given yesterday (Jan. 17) on the floor of the Senate - with just two other senators in the chamber. Dan Nowicki at The Republic reports on Wednesday’s Sen. Jeff Flake speech: Trump ‘charting a very dangerous path’ with media attacks.

Sen. Jeff Flake on Wednesday issued a passionate defense of “truth” while defending the American media from President Donald Trump’s sustained attacks on its integrity as “fake news.”

In a major floor speech, Flake, R-Arizona, urged his Senate colleagues to act as a check on Trump and unite "to turn back these attacks, to right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.”

“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not,” Flake said. “And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the press for his own purposes should be made to realize his mistake and to be held to account.”

Flake continued: “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.”

A Congress that does nothing adds to the danger, he said.

In his speech, Flake looked back on 2017 as a year in which “objective, empirical, evidence-based truth” was “more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.”

“It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be simply called old-fashioned falsehoods,” he said.

“It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people’ was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.”

Not surprisingly the right-wing, led by Trumpian mouthpiece Sarah Suckabee Handers, took a completely phony high road claiming for Trump truth, honesty, apple pie, motherhood, and the American way. They responded in other words, with bullshit.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, later voiced umbrage at Flake’s suggestion that Trump’s anti-media words are inspiring dictators to crack down on the press.

Sanders slammed Flake over his long-time advocacy for liberalizing U.S.-Cuba policy, saying Flake recently visited Cuba “and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government.”

“He’s not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression. He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers,” Sanders said. “And he is, I think, looking for some attention. I think it’s unfortunate.”

Sanders added that the White House welcomes the media and takes journalists’ questions every day “and to act as if we’re anything but open to the back-and-forth exchange is utterly ridiculous.”

You might notice that what Sanders had to say had nothing at all to do with Flake’s criticism of Trump’s attacks on the press. Like I said …

Flake continued with an even sharper message.

When a figure in power calls the press “fake news,” that person should be the target of suspicion, not the media, Flake said.

Local GOPlin dingbat Kelli Ward jumped into the right wing circus:

“It is unfortunate that the retiring senator from Arizona feels he must escalate his perpetual assault on President Trump’s character to such a dangerous and indecent level,” Kelli Ward, a Republican candidate for Flake’s Senate seat, said Tuesday in a written statement. “If Sen. Flake does follow through and deliver this shameful and offensive speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, it will be an utter embarrassment to Arizona and I will condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I call on all my fellow candidates running for his seat in Arizona to do the same.”

Flake got some preemptive support in his effort Tuesday from his senior Arizona Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain, who in a Washington Post guest column similarly blasted Trump for trying to undermine the U.S. media with his “fake news” attacks.

McCain authored the op-ed in the Post: Mr. President, stop attacking the press. Snippets follow.

[The] assault on journalism and free speech proceeds apace in places such as Russia, Turkey, China, Egypt, Venezuela and many others. Yet even more troubling is the growing number of attacks on press freedom in traditionally free and open societies, where censorship in the name of national security is becoming more common. Britain passed a surveillance law that experts warn chills free speech, and countries from France to Germany are looking to do the same. In Malta, a prominent journalist was brutally murdered in October after uncovering systemic government corruption. In Poland, an independent news outlet was fined (later rescinded) nearly half a million dollars for broadcasting images of an anti-government protest.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s attitude toward such behavior has been inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

We can do this by encouraging our partners and allies to review their laws and practices, including the abuse of defamation and anti-terrorism laws, to better protect press freedom and ensure that they do not unduly shrink the space for free speech. We can authorize U.S. foreign assistance to support independent media outlets and programs that create greater media pluralism. We can do more to foster conditions in which freedom of expression and information can thrive, including working to change increasingly political attitudes toward journalism. And we can condemn violence against journalists, denounce censorship and support dissidents and activists as they seek to speak the truth.

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Sadly, and dangerously, Trump’s behavior indicates anything but truth and transparency. In Scriber’s opinion, that marks Trump and his Republican enablers as clear and present dangers to our democracy. Trump is the real enemy of the people.

You can read the full speech at Sen. Flake’s web site or here at

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