McCain: Trump is ‘flirting with authoritarianism’ … that’s ‘how dictators get started’

Our Dear Leader Donald Trump escalated his attacks on the news media Friday afternoon when he tweeted that outlets such as the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN are not his enemy but “the enemy of the American People.” Trump calls the media ‘the enemy of the American People’:

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It took the president two tries to properly post his message . . . The first tweet, which was quickly deleted, contained a number of extra spaces and listed the Times, CNN and NBC, ending with this conclusion: “SICK!” The second tweet added ABC and CBS to the list, while removing “SICK!” Both tweets labeled those organizations as being “the FAKE NEWS media.”

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Thursday night, the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign websites posted a 25-question “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey.” The survey formalized Trump’s attacks and his insinuation that media outlets are working against the American people. It’s unclear what, if anything, the data will be used for, and participants are required to give their name, email address and Zip code.

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The social-media ads driving people to the survey were paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee that splits its proceeds between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Just to be clear, it is not just the always insecure Twitter-troll-in-chief who is declaring that the “fourth estate” is the enemy of the American people, it is the Republican Party establishment. All Republicans are tarred with Trump’s assault on the media unless they publicly renounce it.

Arizona’s angry old man, Senator John McCain has had enough, and has publicly said so. Without ever mentioning President Donald Trump by name, McCain used a speech in Germany on Friday as an international platform to blast his fellow Republican’s policies and worldview. McCain slams Trump — without using his name — in speech warning of ‘flirting with authoritarianism’:

Republican Sen. John McCain delivered a withering critique of President Donald Trump in a speech Friday that highlighted fractures within the GOP as the new administration struggles to overcome a chaotic start.

Speaking in Germany at the Munich Security Conference, McCain didn’t mention the president’s name, according to the prepared text, while he lamented a shift in the United States and Europe away from the “universal values” that forged the Western alliance seven decades ago. McCain is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

McCain, who has openly quarrelled with the president, said “more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

The senator lamented the “hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims.” During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to stop Muslims from entering the U.S. and shortly after taking office issued an executive order banning travellers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

McCain also said the alliance’s founders would be “alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.” While bashing the news media for being dishonest, Trump has ignored facts and sought to blame others for his miscues. Trump tweeted Friday that the news media are “the enemy of the American people.”

The senator said he’s aware there is “profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership.” But he said that’s not the message they would hear from him or other American leaders “who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend.”

McCain continued his critique of Trump in an interview with NBC’s “Meet Chuck Todd.” That’s how dictators get started’: McCain criticizes Trump for calling media ‘the enemy’:

Sen. John McCain spoke out Saturday in defense of the free press after President Trump lashed out against the news media several times over the past week, at one point declaring it “the enemy of the American People!”

Such talk, McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC News in an interview set to air Sunday, was “how dictators get started.”

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“In other words, a consolidation of power,” McCain told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd from Munich. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

The 80-year-old Republican senator was responding to several tweets by Trump over the past week, in which he repeatedly attacked the media as “fake news.” In one widely shared tweet Friday, Trump said the press was “not my enemy” but that of the American people.

In the backlash to the tweet, #NotTheEnemy began trending, with people sharing stories about journalists who had dedicated their lives to — and, in some instances, paid the ultimate price for — reporting the news.

In the “Meet the Press” interview, McCain told Todd that a free press was central to a functional democracy, even if news organizations’ stories challenged those being held accountable.

“I hate the press. I hate you, especially,” he said to Todd, who laughed. “But the fact is, we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” McCain added. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

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This week, McCain appears on the cover of the Feb. 20 issue of New York magazine, where he candidly discusses operating in the Trump administration in a nearly 5,000-word profile by Gabriel Sherman, the magazine’s national affairs editor.

In one particularly strongly worded exchange, McCain does not hold back on how he views the severity of alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.

“The severity of this issue, the gravity of it, is so consequential because if you succeed in corrupting an election, then you’ve destroyed the foundation of democracy,” McCain told Sherman. “So I view it with the utmost seriousness. I view it more seriously than a physical attack. I view it more seriously than Orlando or San Bernardino. As tragic as that was, the far-reaching consequences of an election hack are certainly far in excess of a single terrorist attack.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said later, would not stop “until the cost of going forward is too high.” (As for why his Republican colleagues were not more vocal about demanding investigations of Trump’s Russian connections, McCain told Sherman pithily: “I frankly don’t know. It’s not a chapter of ‘Profiles in Courage.'”)

In the wide-ranging profile, which covers everything from Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch to Trump’s poll numbers, McCain also defends the news media in relation to leaks that have come from the Trump administration.

“In democracies, information should be provided to the American people,” McCain told Sherman. “How else are the American people going to be informed?”

The dramatic headline on the cover of the magazine — “McCain vs. Trump: Just how far will the senator go?” — is in many ways an oversimplification of their relationship, a facile understanding McCain himself pushes against throughout Sherman’s piece. At one point, McCain dismisses the idea that he could be swayed by Democrats seeking to protest Trump’s agenda.

“These are the same Democrats that shredded me in 2008,” McCain told Sherman. “I get along with the Democrats, but please, I’m not their hero. They’re trying to use us. We will work with them, but have no doubt, their agenda is not our agenda.”

And McCain’s criticisms of Trump could hurt Democrats in other ways, The Post’s Dave Weigel notes in his analysis of the latest crop of McCain-centered headlines:

Pushed by their party’s base, Senate Democrats have been moved from generally supporting Trump nominees to mostly opposing them. . . . But right now, progressives view the Democratic Party warily. They can ill afford a story line in which Republicans such as McCain (or Evan McMullin, or Joe Scarborough) are the real leaders of the opposition.

Still, McCain told Sherman he was not concerned about Trump’s administration becoming an “authoritarian regime.”

“I just don’t think it’s possible in our society,” he said in the profile. “There’s too many checks and balances. The danger is not Trump perverting our Constitution or taking too much power; the danger is the polarization of America.”

John McCain’s political base is the Beltway media, they created him and keep his “maverick” myth alive. McCain has little or no influence within the GOP, other than his puppet boy Sen. Lindsey Graham. McCain will never be seen as “the real leaders of the opposition” to Trump, as Dave Weigel suggests. Only Beltway media villagers who genuflect before McCain would think so.

McCain has always done what he does best, surrender in the face of opposition. He caved when president George W. Bush issued a signing statement effectively bypassing McCain’s “torture amendment.” McCain stood sheepishly alongside Bush looking down at his shoes as Bush spoke to the press about his signing statement. This is the most enduring image of John McCain (I wish I had saved a copy of the photo).

When Trump pursues his authoritarian agenda, McCain will huff and puff to his Beltway media base, but he will do nothing to stop Trump — he has no influence within the GOP to do so. McCain is venting about the Russians, but has he used his position as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct an investigation? Of course not.

McCain’s words ring hollow.

UPDATE: So far this year, McCain is voting with Trump’s position 94% of the time. As a factual matter, the senator is a Maverick in Name Only. McCain’s maverickyness ends when actual voting in the Senate begins. (h/t Steve Benen).

6 responses to “McCain: Trump is ‘flirting with authoritarianism’ … that’s ‘how dictators get started’

  1. Where the United States NEEDS immigrants to stabilize the population base and to provide labor for farming/harvesting shows one of the side-effects to socio-economic success-in-progress in our country and other western countries like ours.

    In the last twenty-five years of three pre-Trump presidencies our society has changed to accept a new social normal and far greater exposure to potentially dangerous non-Judeo/Christian beliefs from other countries and now within our own from mass migrations from those countries to the west. Not that the majority here follow Judaism or Christian beliefs as a rule, but that over time the basics of the Golden Rule have thankfully become our way of life, except for the destruction of humanity within many large cities, etc.

    The regular population (ordinary people) are not particularly concerned with politics, owing to their being busy with their work, and raising or being a part of a family. The fight over truth is between the news and the echelon of government with the authority to institute power for and against the people.

    Why the Middle East (except for Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, etc.) is so unstable for their populations of ordinary people is not reported, though it would seem the purpose is to destabilize our western way of life.

    With the belief in many of our accepted institutions (medical and medicines fields, the food industry and seeds/fertilizer business) eroding, we must now sort through ALL that has become normal in our lives for the truth about what is changing the course of humanity, as something is shortening the life of the population of ordinary people.

    Even now reasoning through the evidence has become difficult as perception of our reality has become so divided among the people. Some day we may not be able to reason, as many are not allowed in other countries.

  2. ““When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”

    I laughed when I read this because, while it is true, no one is trying to shut down the press. McCain threw it out there for the media to eat up and so they would pay attention to him.

    ““When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.” / “McCain has always done what he does best, surrender in the face of opposition.” / “…McCain will huff and puff to his Beltway media base, but he will do nothing to stop Trump — he has no influence within the GOP to do so.”

    Thank you for pointing out that McCain can whine all he wants but his only influence seems to be with journalists who are looking for prominent people to slam Trump. And they can always count on McCain to mouth off on anything once he sees which way the wind is blowing so he know what to think that day. He’s a sad old man who should have retired a long time ago.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      I don’t like McCain. So we agree there, Steve, but the rest of your comment made me laugh.

      Trump is absolutely trying to shut down the press by claiming they’re somehow fake, and that’s working with his base. Counting the number of times that this makeup wearing draft dodging crybaby says “fake” could break your calculator.

      Steve Bannon flat out said the press needs to shut up.

      The Trump White House issued gag orders on most of the Federal government in week one.

      Here’s a fun Trump tweet:

      The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

      The expression “shut down the press” means to discredit the press, to bully them into writing only flattering fluff pieces, and calling them the enemy of the American people is a very un-American thing for a US President to say.

      You have mentioned many, many, many, many times that you served in the military that you swore to defend the Constitution.

      Let me remind you what you swore to defend:

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

      During the campaign Trump said this:

      “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” he said. “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

      And just a few months ago you were not a supporter of our whiny thin skinned crybaby POTUS, but you seem to be now. Odd, for a person who constantly talks about honor and service to be so flip floppy.

      BTW, every time President Crybaby says “failing NY Times” the NY Times gets another 100,000 online subscribers, and their online numbers are up over 3 million now.

      • “And just a few months ago you were not a supporter of our whiny thin skinned crybaby POTUS, but you seem to be now.”

        You know, Tom, you are absolutely right and it embarrasses me to no end that it seems to be working out that way. That is never my intention but somehow, someway, I seem to wind up defending him on the dumbest of things. Sometimes that is because I am in favor of what he is trying to do, but not usually. Like I said it is embarassing to me…

        “The expression “shut down the press” means to discredit the press, to bully them into writing only flattering fluff pieces, and calling them the enemy of the American people is a very un-American thing for a US President to say.”

        I am more literal than you. When I hear “shut down the press”, I think of actual dictators who have literally stopped the news from being published. I don’t think of it in terms of discrediting it, bullying it, etc., as you do. I think Trump is wrong in carrying out this verbal war with the press. It seems to me it is unecessary and unhelpful. I wish he would stop. I agree with you it is not very presidential.

        “Trump is absolutely trying to shut down the press by claiming they’re somehow fake, and that’s working with his base.”

        Yes, it does work with his base, but it only adds to the press’s credibility with the rest of the population. As I said, I wish he would stop because it is a waste of time and energy. But if he ever actually tries to shut down the press, I will march with you in protest…

        “The Trump White House issued gag orders on most of the Federal government in week one.”

        Yes, he did, but that has nothing to do with the press.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          The gag orders have everything to do with controlling information which is 100% about limiting a free press.

          • “The gag orders have everything to do with controlling information which is 100% about limiting a free press.”

            From that perspective, I understand what you mean. Touche’!