Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

‘Enemy Of The People’? Shut Up, Trump

It is vile for an American president to deploy a phrase made infamous by Nazi and Communist mass killers
Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 10.47.21 AM


The president should stop this, right now. It is disgraceful, and it is dangerous. Americans don’t talk like this. Nazis do. Communists — Russian, Chinese, and all kinds — talk like this. It is fine to criticize the media — I do it all the time — but to resort to terms like “enemy of the people” to describe the media, or anybody else, is repulsive.

There’s a history here. This week, I’m preparing to go to a conference at Notre Dame about Solzhenitsyn, and was reading yesterday his discussion about Stalin’s destruction of the kulaks (wealthy farmers) — an act that ushered in horrific famine. The secret police order that set this into motion identified the kulaks as “enemies of the people.” It is beyond shameful that an American president uses this language.

Here is a history of the use of that phrase, which began with the cutthroats of the French Revolution. Excerpt:

Though the phrase dates back to Roman times and the reign of Emperor Nero (who was declared “an enemy of the people” by the Roman Senate), it came into use in the modern period during the French Revolution. Ennemi du peuple was used to refer to those who disagreed with the new French government during the “Reign of Terror,” a period during which thousands of revolutionairies were executed by guillotine.

While it was featured as the name of a Henrik Ibsen play, its next prominent use was by the Nazis. During the Third Reich’s rule in Germany, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels referred to Jews as “a sworn enemy of the German people” who posed a risk to Adolf Hitler’s vision for the country, according to The Washington Post.

It gained its widest use by Joseph Stalin during the early years of the Soviet Union. In the nation’s early years, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin used the term vrag naroda (enemy of the nation/people) to refer to those who disagreed with the ideologies pushed forth by the Bolshevik government and, later, adopted by the newly-formed Soviet Union. This could include anyone from the clergy who did not want to adopt state-enforced atheism to writers to political opposition that questioned the ideologies of the new government. Later picked up by Stalin, such a designation could mean immediate imprisonment or removal to a labour camp.

“All leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court,” said Lenin in November 1917.

Trump has been using that foul phrase to describe the media for some time. It was never right for him to do so, but now, after this latest spate of violence, especially the synagogue massacre by an anti-Semite, the president should be shamed in the strongest terms for using that language. Come on, Republican leaders.

Here’s more about what happened to the kulaks after they were identified by Soviet authorities as “enemies of the people”:

Accounts “gloss over the genocidal character of the Soviet regime in the 1930s, which killed systematically rather than episodically,” said [Stanford historian Norman] Naimark. In the process of collectivization, for example, 30,000 kulaks were killed directly, mostly shot on the spot. About 2 million were forcibly deported to the Far North and Siberia.

They were called “enemies of the people,” as well as swine, dogs, cockroaches, scum, vermin, filth, garbage, half animals, apes. Activists promoted murderous slogans: “We will exile the kulak by the thousand when necessary – shoot the kulak breed.” “We will make soap of kulaks.” “Our class enemies must be wiped off the face of the earth.”

One Soviet report noted that gangs “drove the dekulakized naked in the streets, beat them, organized drinking bouts in their houses, shot over their heads, forced them to dig their own graves, undressed women and searched them, stole valuables, money, etc.”

The destruction of the kulak class triggered the Ukrainian famine, during which 3 million to 5 million peasants died of starvation.

As I wrote yesterday, we are all getting into the habit in this country of using demonizing discourse. It is my firm conviction that the media, being liberal, fail to see how toxic this kind of discourse is on the left. Many progressives absolve themselves of guilt for vilifying opponents in racist or sexist ways by saying that they are only “punching up.” It’s a self-serving lie.

That said, there is absolutely no excuse — none, ever — for the President of the United States to utter that phrase. Shame on him.

UPDATE: This could get very ugly, very fast. From Florida:

The windows of Volusia County’s Republican Party headquarters were found shot out Monday morning and four bullet holes were discovered inside the offices.

Police were investigating shattered glass and fallen campaign posters that littered the sidewalk outside 2841 S. Nova Road, a strip mall near Reed Canal Park.

Inside, volunteers pointed to bullet holes in the walls and ceiling.

“We have never had any kind of vandalism before at a Republican Headquarters,” Tony Ledbetter, the chairman of Volusia County’s Republican Party, said in an email Monday morning. “It’s a small strip center and no other business was vandalized, so it was obviously politically motivated.”




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now