SALT LAKE CITY — One of President Donald Trump's strongest supporters says he has repeatedly encouraged him to use Twitter for good rather than as a "cudgel for division."
"I have likewise discouraged him from calling the press 'the enemy of the people.' Even with its flaws, the media is indispensable to our democracy," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote in a weekend op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
"Insofar as reporters are committed to objective journalism and not political advocacy, they should be treated as noncombatants in the culture wars."
Hatch's admonition comes on the heels of Trump tweeting Sunday about his White House meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger on July 20.
"Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, “Enemy of the People.” Sad!," the president tweeted.
Trump also called journalists "unpatriotic" and said newspapers are putting lives at risk with irresponsible reporting.
Sulzberger issued a statement in response saying he accepted Trump's invitation for the meeting mainly to raise his concerns about the president’s “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”
“I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” Sulzberger said.
“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,’” he said, adding the inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.
In his op-ed, Hatch said America's culture war has come to a tipping point and steps toward de-escalation must be taken.
"Something must change before anger succumbs to violence," he said.
But, the senator said, he is not calling for an end to the culture war. Intense disputes over social issues are a feature, not a flaw, of democracy," he said.
Rather, he called for a set of guidelines clarifying acceptable tactics in political warfare similar to the Geneva Conventions that set down what actions are and are not appropriate in wartime.
Hatch said there needs be a "détente" in partisan hostilities. Liberals and conservatives should commit themselves to rhetorical disarmament, he said. Communal spaces, he said, should be free from politicization.
"A concerted effort is underway to transform these neutral zones into partisan battlegrounds," Hatch said, citing calls from progressive groups to boycott Chick-fil-A or even ban it from certain cities, controversy over the NFL's national anthem policy and the "wholly unoriginal acceptance speech-cum-political jeremiad" of Hollywood awards show.
Hatch, who is retiring in January, also wants to discourage harassment of public officials and intrusions into their private lives. He applauded Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, roundly condemning harassment of members of the Trump administration.
The same Democrat who Trump calls "Cryin' Chuck Schumer" in tweets.