WASHINGTON – There is a temptation to blame the many apparent flubs of the Donald Trump administration on the president’s supposed impetuousness, on the boyishness and inexperience of this 70-year-old mogul.
As in the bawling out that Gen. George Patton got from a senior officer in the movie “Patton,” who said: “Remember, your worst enemy is your own big mouth.”
Yet everything Trump says in public is calculated – from the bombast in which he condemns the press to the dog whistles he sends to his hard-right base.
First, Trump’s dog whistle about 6 million-plus European Jews who were fed into Hitler’s killing machines.
Three weeks ago, the State Department prepared a statement memorializing the Holocaust that specifically and fittingly cited the murder of Jews. The White House blocked this statement, according to an unchallenged report of Politico.com. In its place, the Trump administration put out three paragraphs that honored “victims, survivors” and “those who died.” But no mention of Jews.
After weeks of backing-and-filling, Trump finally made a statement deploring anti-Semitism. To many, this bailed out Trump. But the Anne Frank Institute wisely said Wednesday Trump is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt. It charged that “anti-Semitism has infected” the Trump administration.
Denial of history is the very first step in creating a dictatorship. In sending this earlier signal to the KKK and alt-right, Trump joined the ranks of the worst autocrats of this hemisphere, like Argentina’s Juan Peron and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, in the contemptible practice of Holocaust denial.
If they ever see Germany and Central Europe, Trump and his policy architect Steve Bannon should make a royal progress of the death camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald; and Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died. Sadly, this same vaulting forgetfulness, this intellectual and spiritual sickness, has come to influence students and faculties at the nation’s best-financed bastions of the new “liberalism,” our most prestigious universities.
The topic of Trump’s accusations against the media is painful for this 60-year veteran of this craft, this vocation, to write about. The press, Trump tweeted, “is not my enemy, but the enemy of the people.”
Years ago, reporters were bound to strict standards of objective reporting. Then in the mid-’60s, newspapers created investigative teams and political reporters, some of whom – but not all – focused on their publishers’ objectives. Then came op-ed pages, in which many of these same reporters, including me, opined at length.
Many opinion writers tried to stay within the bounds of “objectivity,” but new stresses on “objectivity” emerged. Many publishers, who are by nature businesspeople and moderate or conservative, surrendered control of their newsrooms to junior editors and liberal reporters.
Mergers, shrinkage of newsrooms and closing of dozens of state and federal capital bureaus made this worse.
To fight the loss of market share, some editors tried dumbing-down the “product,” as they came to call our work.
Then came the internet, then Facebook and finally Twitter, all of which ushered in a new populism of home-grown “publications” and “journalists.”
There’s little doubt in my mind that, to some extent, the election of 2016 and Trump’s inauguration have transformed much of the mainstream press, or media, into a political party. Trump’s media bashing made some of this inevitable, along with grief over the defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Some media figures lost their composure by bashing Trump’s wife, Melania, and victimizing spouses of Trump supporters.
In the end market forces, not Trump, will define the winners and losers, as always. That’s because “the media” is now everybody and our freedoms are enshrined in the Bill of Rights.