This is a partial list of "enemies of the people" (mostly Russians critical of the Putin regime), which was published on a Russian website called "Enemies of the People.Ru" and widely distributed by Russian media and social networks in late summer 2014. Boris Nemtsov, Putin's most outspoken opponent and #2 on this list, was murdered next to the Kremlin only six months later. The list included not only domestic "enemies," but also some westerners such as Hillary Clinton, Zbigniew Brzezinski, George W Bush, John McCain, Joe Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, Denis MacShane, and Michael McFaul, who was the US Ambassador in Moscow at the time. The neighboring countries were represented by former presidents of Ukraine and Georgia Victor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili respectively. Surprisingly, some former Soviet and Russian leaders were also there, such as Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev and Lev Trotsky. At the same time, Lenin and Stalin were missing. (See the full and larger version below)
– The Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
approved by the Extraordinary VIII Congress of Soviets of the USSR on Dec-5-1936
An enormous and completely justified effort is now going to determine how Moscow influenced the US elections last year and what the nature of contacts between the Putin regime and the Trump team have been, but in doing so, some have missed one aspect of this situation that can be seen with an unaided eye.
And it is this: Donald Trump and some of his supporters are introducing Russian terms like “enemy of the people” and “dark forces” into American political discourse, a development that can only cheer the enemies of democracy and freedom everywhere and encourage the enemies of those values in Moscow.
Words matter and changes in the vocabulary with which people talk about the circumstances around them can change those circumstances in ways far more profound than more obvious actions because they create a new situation in which things that were not possible in the old one become all too likely in the new.
And what is worse, the acceptance of such new terms opens the way to others. Now that Trump has called leading American media outlets “enemies of the people,” one of his supporters, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), is blaming unspecified dark forces for pushing the US toward a war with Russia.
Those tempted to view such rhetoric as simply overheated should remember three things:
- First, it was Stalin who used the term “enemy of the people” to justify the liquidation of his opponents and to spread terror in Soviet society, a tactic that other totalitarians have routinely copied with countless real-world victims as a result.
- Second, disgraced US President Richard Nixon had an enemies list, but they were his enemies. He did not call them “enemies of the people” because however much he hated those on that list, he remained within the American political tradition that accepts the existence of opponents in politics and the media regardless of how much one differs from them.
- And third, as George Orwell and others have pointed out, the abuse of language opens the way to the abuse of people. Calling anyone “an enemy of the people” represents an effort to strip them of their rights as a human being and citizen and makes it all too easy for those who use such terms to take the next step of get their followers to do so.
Vladimir Putin may have achieved more of his goals in undermining the US and democracy by getting some to follow his lead in language than he has so far in getting his way in policy. Tragically, unless these linguistic “innovations” from Russia are combated, the other concessions the Kremlin wants will not be long in coming.
- The nuclear fallout of Trump’s possible détente with Putin
- Moscow doesn’t expect Trump to end sanctions all at once but ‘cleverly’ over time, Markov says
- Trump’s Orwellian “rigged” campaign is straight out of Putin’s propaganda playbook
- Putin’s personality cult exceeds Stalin’s ‘by every measure’
- Talk about ‘hybrid’ regime obscures Putin’s creation of a ‘neo-Stalinist state,’ Pavlova says
- Putin’s anti-terrorism, like Stalin’s anti-fascism, all about expanding Moscow’s influence abroad, Pavlova says
- Putin ‘played no less role’ in creation of ISIS than Stalin did in rise of Nazis, Shmulevich says
- How Putin’s Russia is becoming Stalin’s USSR
- Putin’s language doesn’t threaten Russia’s neighbors but does threaten Russia, Shchetkina says