Trump is Like Mao and Stalin With 'Authoritarianism 101' Media Attacks: 'Morning Joe'

A woman holds up cards featuring Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Nicolae Ceausescu and Adolf Hitler. President Donald Trump was compared to Mao and Stalin on a segment of talk show "Morning Joe" after his latest attacks on the media. John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has long had a beef with the press. His crusade against his version of "fake news"—defined more by what he likes than by anything to do with accuracy—has become a hallmark of his presidency. Less than a month after taking office, in one of his characteristic ranting tweets, he said that "the FAKE NEWS media"—including The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS and CNN—"is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"

On Wednesday, he attacked again. "It's frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever they want to write," he said to reporters in the Oval Office. "People should look into it." The comments came after NBC reported that Trump discussed multiplying the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold at a national security meeting, prompting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call him a "moron" in July.

When Trump calls the media the "enemy of the people," he is "channeling Chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin," Joe Scarborough said on Thursday's episode of Morning Joe. The almost offhanded comment led into a segment discussing the latest of many "shocking things" Trump has said. It compared the American president to two of the 20th century's most infamous dictators, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, who ruthlessly ruled Communist China and the Soviet Union, respectively.

This isn't the first time Trump has recalled repressive dictators, but, according to Scarborough, this most recent remark "may be the most frightening of all" and, to use Trump's word, "the most disgusting." The president, he said, is "dismissing the most sacred right Americans have had since 1787."

"It's an attack on the media to be sure, but more profoundly, it's an attack on the First Amendment," said Mark Halperin, a senior political analyst for NBC News and a guest on Morning Joe. He went on to explain that "the whispers that you used to hear only on the left, about the notion that he should be removed or about a presidency in crisis, that is now said by people who are friends of the president, who are advisers to the president."

When Trump makes such anti-press comments, Halperin added, it only heightens concern about the president's "state of mind" and his ability to do the job.

The hosts and their guests questioned Trump's understanding of both the First Amendment and the media. Regardless of whether he is aware, news organizations "have strict protocols in place that mean that they cannot write whatever they want to write. You have to do your reporting," said Katty Kay of BBC World News America. "For someone who watches an awful lot of television, you'd think he might be more curious about the way news organizations actually gather their news."

Toward the end of the segment, co-host Willie Geist circled back to the Mao and Stalin comparison. "This is Authoritarianism 101. You delegitimize the press, you delegitimize your opponents, and then you try to destroy them," he said.

"He's saying to people who support him and the American people, 'Don't believe your eyes and your ears when it comes to things that criticize me,'" Geist added. "Any authoritarian in history has done this early and often."