Two of President Donald Trump's top critics, Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, condemned the president's reputedly totalitarian attacks on "truth" and the media this week in an op-ed and speech.
Both senators referenced Trump's boast from a January 7 tweet to hold "fake news awards" tonight that reveal "the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media."
From the floor of the U.S. Senate, Flake called Trump's constant attacks on the press unwarranted and unprecedented, and noted that the phrase "enemy of the people," which Trump has called the news media, has a totalitarian past.
"It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies," Flake said. "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. That alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party."
Flake listed a few examples of Trump's untruths, such as his insistence on the great size of his inaugural celebration crowd, and of course he brought up Russia.
"To call the Russian matter a hoax ... is falsehood," he said. "Let us be allies to the truth and not partners in its destruction."
Fact-based truth in the Trump era has been "battered" like never before in U.S. history, Flake went on, warning that without truth, democracy cannot last. Trump's rhetoric about "fake news" is being picked up and repeated by dictators around the world, Flake said.
"This feedback loop is disgraceful," he said.
McCain made similar points in his op-ed, which was published in the Washington Post on Tuesday night.
"Whether he 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. "Reporters around the world face intimidation, threats of violence, harassment, persecution and sometimes even death as governments resort to brutal censorship to silence the truth."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
McCain didn't limit his criticism to Trump. He blasted the United Kingdom for passing "a surveillance law that experts warn chills free speech," and that France, Germany, and other countries also want to adopt.
Neither senator mentioned that the most dangerous country for journalists in 2017 (outside of war zones) was Mexico, a place where the government lets you publish what you want, but won't investigate who kills you for publishing it.
If it weren't for Trump's "alternative facts," two longtime politicians heaping praise on the idea of truth and an unfettered press would seem like fodder for a Saturday Night Live skit. After all, an Obama spokesman said McCain's presidential bid in 2008 was the "sleaziest, most dishonest campaign in history," and Flake, when asked once why he didn't stick to his pledge of limiting his terms in office, admitted, "I lied."
No doubt, Flake's still sore at Trump for wrecking his career. McCain, struggling with a fatal form of brain cancer, revoked his support for Trump in October 2016 following the release of the infamous "pussy" tape and became one of Trump's chief Republican enemies.