Is this my lot in life for the next four (or more) years? The night Donald Trump won the White House, I strapped in for an expected journey of defending his administration when I wished, and criticizing it when warranted, following the pattern I had set during the campaign.
But is it also my fate to explain to people across the various political spectrums what the man means at every turn? Whether supporters or detractors, have we not yet learned to speak Trump?
In the most recent befuddlement, even among those supposedly trained to cover him, outrage can be found based on the wholly inaccurate charge that he has somehow launched an attack on freedom of the press.
As with most episodes of this type, it began with a presidential tweet: “The FAKE NEWS MEDIA … is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!”
Cue the hand-wringing among journalists who viewed this as evidence of a sinister authoritarian plot to silence them. Sprinkle in predictable pearl-clutching from the usual cast of haters, and the portrayal was complete: Trump is using the language of dictators as a sign of his wish to muzzle dissent.
Muzzle it? Has anyone met the man? He loves this stuff. He didn’t want last week’s 77-minute press conference to end. He lives to mix it up with hostile media sources, of which there is no shortage — and that’s whom he was talking about in that adolescent all-caps reference to “fake news.” He believes he benefits from such skirmishes, and there is early evidence that he is correct.
He is singling out the reporters who are taking it upon themselves to characterize his initiatives in the most sinister fashions: His immigration policies are xenophobic, the geographic travel ban was a Muslim ban, his associates are conspiring ominously with Russia. This is the drumbeat across wide swaths of the media landscape, and unlike most Republicans of my lifetime, he is not lying down and taking their dark spin.
Because we are talking about reporters tasked with objectivity, it is fair to ask: Is reporting that abandons that responsibility actually inimical to the interests of the people? It is not an unworthy point.
And yet, there was a smattering of writers and talking heads over the weekend — even Chris Wallace of Fox News — in full recoil, as if the president views every line of challenging coverage as seditious.
This is part of a larger willful blindness among those reacting to Trump, an intentional failure to grasp his obvious meaning in order to get some licks in.
So, for anyone still needing a crash course:
—When he correctly identified various crimes as a consequence of porous borders, it was not an attack on all Mexicans.
—When he lambasted one judge for abandoning the rule of law in blocking his travel ban, it was not an attack on the whole of the judiciary.
—And when he roasts various media outlets for their biases, he is not targeting the entire fourth estate for extinction at his mighty autocratic hand.
The only excuse for these blown calls is an active distaste for Trump. People are free to harbor such ill will, and express it, even for a living, if they are in the opinion dissemination arts.
His point is that he has been the target of smears from the corridors of media that are supposed to keep opinions out of their stories. The collapse of that discipline has led to America’s dimming view of media culture.
His willingness to identify and push back against the resulting affronts is a big part of why he won.