Local View: Truth has become the enemy of the people

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John Freivalds

In 1882, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote the well-regarded “Enemy of the People.” In it, a local doctor (the Anthony Fauci of his day) discovers that the water feeding his town's hot spa, a major tourist attraction, is heavily polluted. Intent on saving his town, he tells the town leaders, imploring them not to hide from the truth. But the good doctor is ostracized and declared an "enemy of the people" for threatening the town's tourism industry. Left alone by the town, the good doctor states at the end of the play, “Let me tell you, the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”

President Donald Trump has used “enemy of the people” to refer to the media for not telling the truth as he imagines it, including about COVID-19.

But Trump is not the first government official to lie about a major tragedy. In my lifetime, there have been numerous instances, needlessly costing thousands of lives.

One relatively unknown instance is personally repugnant to me as someone who once traveled on merchant ships. Right after Germany declared war on the United States, Adolf Hitler flooded the East Coast with U-boats and sank 70 ships in six months, killing thousands of merchant seamen. By day the U-boats on the ocean waited to attack ships in the dead of night. The doomed ships were visible by their silhouettes against the lights of the New York City skyline and other coastal skylines. More people were killed in that first month on the East Coast than at Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy told everyone not to worry and asked the media to keep it quiet — a lot like Trump keeping COVID-19 quiet. Hitler couldn't believe the ease of sinking ships and referred to this as "happy times." In the first six months of 1942, 233 ships were sunk and more than 5,000 sailors died. Not one Nazi sub was lost.

If you look real hard, you maybe can find a memorial to the merchant seamen who lost their lives because the U.S. Navy didn't tell the truth.


Then, of course, we had the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, both of which were based on lies and were kept going with even more lies.

Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about COVID-19; Trump even refers to the pandemic in the past tense. Its importance has been downplayed to give the appearance of normalcy

But the saving face in all of this has been Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has not been politicized, in spite of all the apparent pressure on him from the government. And I predict his payoff will come this winter: I predict Time magazine will name him Man of the Year — much to the chagrin of the White House.

John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minnesota, is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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