It’s hard to say what’s more noteworthy about President @realDonaldTrump’s latest tweet attacking the news media: the fact that he lifted it from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who used the phrase “enemy of the people” to justify the mass murder of tens of millions of people, or that Trump was called out on this historical link by the U.S. government-funded news outlet Voice of America (VOA).
On Friday, Trump tweeted this:
That set off alarm bells for historians and Western diplomats alike, who noted that while the phrase “enemy of the people” dates to Roman times, it gained notoriety in the 20th century because Soviet dictator Josef Stalin used it to target millions of people for execution during the bloody purges of his so-called “enemies.”
“It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania, told VOA, which was founded in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda.
The report continued:
An ‘enemy of the people’ in the Soviet Union was not necessarily a criminal, but more often someone stigmatized by social origin or pre-revolutionary profession. The label alone was akin to a terminal illness, and merely being a friend of an enemy of the people was a certain cause for official suspicion.
‘What it basically meant was a death sentence,’ Orenstein told VOA.
Soviet studies specialist Serhiy Yekelchyk added that journalists and intellectuals who disagreed with Stalin and communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin were “hated enemies.”
“I am sure you will see in this description quite a few uncomfortable parallels,” Yekelchyk told VOA.
China’s dictator Mao Zedong also used the term.
U.S. diplomat and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski was outraged by Trump’s tweet:
As were others, including former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen:
And several Russian studies professors:
And, of course, journalists, who are beginning to understand why Trump is so voraciously attacking the press:
But this isn’t the first time Trump has lifted texts and language from historically significant sources. During the presidential campaign, and then again at his electoral victory speech last November, Trump rallied his base by using the phrase “forgotten men and women.” That phrase can be traced back to a 1932 radio address delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
But it also was one of the subjects of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, in which a populist politician, with the support of a group called the “League of Forgotten Men,” rises to power through a campaign of fear, xenophobia, and promises of U.S. superiority through isolationism. Once elected, Lewis’ fictional president turns the United States into a fascist, militaristic dystopia.