Second Opinion: With friends like these . . .

1875 has little occasion to speak about national politics. That is not because national policies do not affect on our readers. The Trump administration’s immigration policy, for instance, directly impacts some readers of, and the president’s trade wars are also felt right here in Perry, Iowa, which might otherwise seem remote from the affairs of the great world.

But editors and publishers around America took the opportunity Thursday to write about — and mostly to denounce — the president’s repeated description of the U.S. news media as “the enemies of the American people.” It would have felt unsportsmanlike for us to withhold our voice.

The phrase “enemy of the people” has a history. It has been associated with politically motivated mass murder since the time of the French Revolution in the late 1700s and is permanently associated with the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s. The phrase is drenched in blood.

It is unknown whether Mr. Trump is consciously and deliberately echoing the historical phrase when he uses it. The idea guys in the early days of his first administration, the Steve Bannons and the Stephen Millers, would surely have known the phrase’s ominous roots. It is the same with the slogan, “America First,” used in the 1940s by Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee in their opposition to U.S. entry into World War II.

So the totalitarian sound of “enemies of the people” is matched by the antisemitic undertone of “America First,” but the use of the phrase and slogan does not prove Mr. Trump is a totalitarian or an antisemite. His critics, however, do not hesitate to draw that conclusion, much as his actions last year after the events of Charolottesville, Va., were deemed racist by some critics, and his performance a few weeks ago in Helsinki with Mr. Putin were judged “nothing short of treasonous” by some critics.

Our point here is simply to repeat again what we already all know: a free press is the first and dearest freedom of self-governing Americans. Indeed, the First Amendment is greater than the Second Amendment in the same way the pen is mightier than the sword. It is easy to forget this relation in our overarmed social order, but truth will overcome even brute force, even sticks and stones and AR-15s.

That is not to say brute force cannot harm truth or retard its progress or even suppress it for a time. Ultimately, however, truth will prevail, and truth is the highest purpose that a free press serves for a free people. Mr. Trump’s rage against “fake news” is not likely to do much damage to the institution of U.S. journalism, thought other factors, mostly economic, pose a much greater danger to press freedom and independence.

Many of us admire Mr. Trump because he speaks plainly. Plain speaking is also a virtue in news reporting. But speaking plainly does not always mean speaking honestly. Whether Mr. Trump’s devotion to truth, to factual accuracy, is equal to the straight-shooting bluntness of his words is doubtful. He states so many errors as if they were matters of fact that either his ignorance of the facts makes him careless of them, or he seeks to deceive us. Either possibility is troubling. will continue to serve truth in its small way, bringing news and sports and small-town society and opinions to our readers as we always have. Mr. Trump can tweet until the cows come home. For, truth will remain our ever-fixed mark.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.