Responding to the President’s ranting, American newspapers, big and small, this week are editorializing in defense of a free and unfettered press. I’ve read several editorials, but I’m particularly impressed by the words of a weekly newspaper in a red state, The Yankton County (South Dakota) Observer.

It should be noted that South Dakota’s politics are hardly Berkeley’s. Republican Donald Trump carried South Dakota in 2016 with 61.5 percent of the vote. He won in Yankton County, with 58.8 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 34.3 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up 6.9 percent.

The ranting President, Donald Trump

“President Trump would have you believe the media’s role is to serve him,” observed an editorial in The Observer. “Criticism of his words and deeds are reframed as unpatriotic attacks on America. He calls the press ‘the enemy of the American people’ because they are counting his mounting pile of lies. There is a long and hateful history to labeling groups as ‘enemies of the people.’ Stalin, Hitler, and Mao all used those words….

“[America’s] founding fathers did not always like their newspaper coverage, but they knew a free press was democracy’s best defense. They enshrined that ideal as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment.”

Thomas Jefferson

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was the principal author of the US Constitution. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” he subsequently wrote, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Trump, for his part, has talked of suing his critics and challenging several networks’ FCC licenses. (He apparently wasn’t aware the FCC doesn’t license networks.)

Unfortunately, as the editorial from South Dakota noted, “our 45th president answers coverage of his easily disproven stream of lies by smearing the press for spreading ‘fake news.’ Trump’s lifelong love for false witness is catching on. Elected officials at all levels see his success with the ‘fake news’ deflection technique. Many have weaponized it for their own purposes.”

Having spent 35 years working at five newspapers, large and small, I have seen reporters risk their lives to get the facts. And in the relatively few cases where they got something of significance wrong, they corrected it. The bulk of the American press knows it’s their duty to keep the record straight. When Trump in one of his rants calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and says that they’re “disgusting” and “scum,” it smells to me like his colon is backed up right into his mouth, and he’s relieving himself orally.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters photo)

Meanwhile across the seas in Turkey, Trump’s doppelgänger, President Tayyip Erdogan, is using the same sophistries to rationalize repressing the free flow of information. In part because of Erdogan’s policies, the Turkish economy is in a shambles. The value of Turkey’s lira currency is collapsing, and inflation is soaring. The mainstream Turkish press, however, is too compromised and intimidated to fully analyze the problem, so the Turkish public have begun discussing among themselves — via social media — whether there will be currency controls. Erdogan wants everyone to shut up.

“There are economic terrorists on social media,” Erdogan recently declared. “They are truly a network of treason,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “We will not give them the time of day… We will make those spreading speculations pay the necessary price.”

Turkey’s interior ministry has reported identifying “346 social media accounts carrying posts about the exchange rate that it said created a negative perception of the economy. It said it would take legal measures against them but did not say what these would be,” Reuters added. “Separately, the Istanbul and Ankara prosecutor’s offices launched investigations into individuals suspected of being involved in actions that threaten Turkey’s economic security.”

The French philosopher Voltaire in the 18th century might have been envisioning a President Erdogan or a President Trump when he warned: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”