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Note to Jeff Flake: No Amount of 'Alternative Facts' Will Make Donald Trump Akin to Joseph Stalin

a collage showing Donald Trump in a black suit with a blue tie and Joseph Stalin in a grey military uniform

On Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) stood up on the Senate floor and compared President Donald Trump to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The link? Both used the phrase "enemy of the people" to refer to a hostile press.

"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," Flake declared. "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."

Flake is correct that President Trump used the phrase "enemy of the people" — or rather, "enemy of the American people" — to describe certain news outlets. This hyper-charged rhetoric is part of the president's rhetorical style, however, not part of a systematic attempt to silence dissent the way Stalin did.

This is a marked difference from Stalin, who as dictator of Soviet Russia censored newspapers, literature, pictures, and film, and whose "purges" directly caused the deaths of an estimated three million people. His policies also sparked a famine, however, leading to the deaths of 18-45 million.

President Trump's tally? A big fat zero. Trump has not silenced any news outlet, and he has not killed any political foes. The president hasn't censored books, videos, or television shows — even after the team behind the Hulu series "The Handmaid's Tale" announced that they had joined the "Resistance" against him.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump did promise to "open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money."

Responding to Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the president said, "We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts."

Trump is so different from Stalin that he would have to alter American law just to take someone to court. If Stalin caught someone writing negative things about him, the dictator didn't need to change the law or take the offender to court. He sent the word, and that person was "swimming with the fishes."

Trump's call for looser libel laws is indeed disturbing, and his dismissal of news outlets as "fake news" definitely goes too far. Flake's suggestion that it puts Trump in the same universe as Joseph Stalin is fatuously absurd, however.