God forbid you spend any time on a white-nationalist 4Chan or Reddit page, you’ll probably see the word “Lügenpresse.”
Some might recall Trump supporters yelling the word at journalists at a rally last year. Increasingly, Trump supporters and the alt-right have adopted the term to denounce what our President would call “the fake news media”: mainstream outlets like CNN, The New York Times or NBC. As a Jewish-American, I am deeply alarmed by the resurgence of this word, and a brief history will explain why.
Lügenpresse is a German word that translates to “lying press.” It was first coined in World War I, but enjoyed widespread use under the rule of Adolf Hitler. When the German press began criticizing the Nazis in the 1930s for discriminating and propagandizing against Jews, Slavs and Socialists, Hitler used “lügenpresse” to rally the public against the media. By calling them liars and sowing distrust while painting them as the enemy of the German public, the Nazis destroyed the media’s credibility. Hitler could easily forward his agenda unquestioned, and use intense, unchallenged propaganda to gain public support for his disgusting acts of terror.
And Trump’s aides followed his lead.
“Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” said White House senior advisor Stephen Miller on CBS’ Face the Nation.
I understand the serious implications of drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, one can’t help but feel a chill when hearing the words “the powers of the President will not be questioned.”
Every time President Trump calls the media “fake news,” he is inflating the idea of the Lügenpresse. Every time he belittles a journalist, he is only validating the use of the word by his supporters. And it’s easy for moderates, conservatives, and optimists to dismiss this as a fringe phenomenon.
However, a national poll released on February 17 by Fox News asked respondents who they trusted more to tell the truth to the public – and the results were disturbing. Forty-five percent said they trusted Trump to tell the public the truth, while only 42 percent said they trusted reporters. 10 percent said they trust neither.
So what is the solution to this White House’s attempts to paint the media as the enemy of the public? How do we preserve the credibility of the free press in order to have a check on this President’s power?
The answer is moderate Republicans.
Although a rare breed these days, moderate Republicans, as well as those who consider themselves true conservatives, can save the legitimacy of the press. All they have to do is choose democracy over party.
John McCain has been the first brave Republican to speak out against this administration’s relationship with the media. “If you want to preserve Democracy as we know it, you have to have a free, and many times, adversarial press,” he said on NBC this Saturday. “That’s how dictatorships get started… by suppressing free press.”
Dictator comparisons don’t sound as crazy when they come from someone in the President’s own party.
If more Republicans condemn Trump’s attacks on the media, the optics of the whole controversy change. It no longer looks like Trump is calling out a partisan media, but that our President is actively undermining a staple of democracy enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
So, to any conservatives who have ever deemed themselves a champion of the First Amendment, now is your chance to prove yourself. Act like the members of the “Party of Reagan” as you claim, and protect the values of free speech and press he stood up for. Force the leader of your party to stop recreating the Lügenpresse.
As little as liberals would like to admit, we need you now more than ever.