Less than two years after endorsing Trump, the Topeka Capital-Journal is slamming his assault on the free press.
One of the few newspapers that endorsed Trump during the 2016 presidential election cycle has drastically changed its tune and is now denouncing the man they once hailed as "the wisest choice to lead our nation."
In an article published online ahead of Thursday's print edition, the editorial board of the Kansas newspaper issued a strongly worded condemnation of Trump's anti-press rhetoric, especially his use of the phrase "enemy of the people."
As the paper noted, that phrase has a long, dark history and has typically been used by brutal dictators to label dissidents deemed worthy of punishment (or worse) by the government.
"It’s an old phrase, one used all the way back in Roman times, as well as the Soviet Union against dissidents," the editorial board wrote. "A form even appeared in Nazi Germany, when Jewish people were called an 'enemy of the state.'"
But more broadly, Trump uses the phrase as part of his war on the free press, labeling his critics as "enemies" in an effort to undermine public trust in one of the remaining institutions that can still hold him accountable, establish a baseline of objective truth, and defend democratic values even as he relentlessly attacks them.
As the editorial board wrote, it's the job of the press to ask questions, demand transparency, and push back when those questions are met with resistance or dishonesty. As such, journalists are used to dealing with criticism, the paper noted, "But being called an enemy — and not of a politician or cause, but of the whole people of a nation — that’s something else entirely."
"It’s sinister. It’s destructive. And it must end now," the editorial board declared.
The article also expressed concern that Trump's anti-press rhetoric was creating a hostile environment in which reporters face heightened risk of being attacked by someone who takes Trump's comments literally. This comes less than two months after a gunman opened fire in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, shooting seven employees and killing five of them.
The publisher of the Kansas newspaper told CNN on Thursday that one purpose of the editorial was to remind the public — and the president — that journalists, editors, and other members of the press are regular people too, despite Trump's best efforts to suggest otherwise.
"We’re not the enemy of the people," the editorial concluded. "We are the people."
The Capital-Journal joins hundreds of other newspapers Thursday in publishing editorials criticizing Trump's assault on the free press. The effort was launched last week by the Boston Globe in response to an alarming increase in Trump's attacks on the press and individuals reporters, as well as an overall uptick in hostility toward reporters at Trump's rallies and public events.
Within days, more than 100 newspaper editorial boards had signed up to participate. By this week, that number had grown to at least 350, according to CNN.
Of those 350 newspapers, the Capital-Journal stands out as unique. Less than two years ago, the paper's editorial board it gave its endorsement to then-candidate Trump. It was one of only 19 editorial boards nationwide that endorsed Trump, compared to over 240 that went for Hillary Clinton.
In a Nov. 5, 2016 article titled "Trump is the right choice for president," the editorial board of the Kansas paper conceded that "Trump is no ordinary politician," but declared him to be "the best choice at this time to lead our increasingly disillusioned nation into its future."
"To be sure, Trump is a flawed candidate, with his years in the spotlight pockmarked by petty spats, bitter lawsuits and poorly reasoned assaults against those he doesn’t understand," the paper acknowledged.
But, it continued, "Americans are thirsting for a fresh voice and hopeful perspective."
"We believe a President Trump would be elevated by the magnitude of our highest office, his bullish tendencies tempered by the perspectives brought by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence," the editorial board wrote, adding: "We consider Trump the wisest choice to lead our nation going forward."
Unfortunately, what the newspaper didn't realize is that they were dealing with an authoritarian in the making. Instead of moderating his behavior when he stepped into higher office, Trump took in the power of the position like a drug, and lashed out at anyone or anything that sought to hold him accountable as he threw norms to the side and ushered in an era of unprecedented corruption, dishonesty, and undemocratic rule in America.
As Trump has systematically targeted and dismantled America's democratic institutions, the free press has remained one of the strongest and most effective means of constraining his abuses of power, despite his constant assaults on the press.
While the Capital-Journal surely didn't see this coming when it endorsed Trump, the paper has done what a free press is supposed to do when faced with such circumstances: give voice to the public and aggressively speak truth to power.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.