Tony Norman: The awakening effect of a Trump reality
February 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
President Donald Trump points to a member of the media as he takes questions at a news conference Thursday in the East Room of the White House.
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Getting used to the media’s newly designated role as “enemy of the American people” is going to take some time. Being part of a profession that is consistently singled out by the 45th president of the United States as “dishonest,” “failing” and “crooked” means we should update our press credentials and business cards to reflect our sinister new status.
“Purveyors of fake news since the invention of the printing press” would fit nicely on the back of most business cards. “Dishonest people making a dishonest living with all the dishonesty they can muster,” is a mouthful and would generate universal disdain for our profession the second it showed up on journalists’ lanyards. “Fourth Estate = Fourth Reich” is just mean.
When President Donald Trump gave a press conference last week that turned into a 77-minute demonstration of primal scream therapy, the grim reality of what America has to look forward to in the next four years when it comes to relations between the media and the White House began to sink in.
Mr. Trump’s press conference showcased the kind of bloviating, score-settling, reality-denying narcissism we’ve come to expect from this president for the month he’s been in office.
Mr. Trump followed that over-the-top performance with a tweet the next day: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
He didn’t let up during his rally in Melbourne, Fla., the next day. Even as he accused the media of making up the negative stories about the White House’s month-long descent into madness and disarray, the president took a moment to make up some fake news of his own: He referred to a nonexistent terror incident in Sweden the day before.
The crowd went along with this nonsense instead of squinting quizzically and reaching for their phones for a quick fact check. Mr. Trump referred to what allegedly happened in Sweden the day before with such conviction that it was greeted by the crowd with passive acceptance.
After all, now that he’s attending his daily briefings, the president is too smart and well-informed to risk generating another iteration of the much mocked “Bowling Green Massacre,” a twice-told figment of Kellyanne Conway’s imagination, right?
But, of course he was making it up as usual. Hyping what sounds vaguely truthful, but isn’t, has been a well-documented part of Mr. Trump’s modus operandi since his days as a staple of New York tabloids in the 1980s.
What’s new in Mr. Trump’s attitude these days is his overwhelming antipathy — even hatred — for the media. This is fascinating, given that he could be said to be, in part, a creation of the mostly uncritical coverage he received for decades. Even if he’s always felt this way, he hasn’t always snarled his disdain with such authoritarian conviction.
Now that Donald Trump is president, he and his team of billionaires have become the subject of some of the most in-depth reporting, exposes, critical news coverage, passionate editorials, columns and satires produced by my profession in decades.
Even legendary editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant emerged from retirement recently to tackle Donald Trump. With an “adversary” in the White House who actively hates us, journalism has recovered much of its soul.
That’s why the nation’s most aggressive newspapers are reporting record subscription bumps and circulation hikes. The ACLU and other advocacy groups are experiencing unprecedented popularity and financial support, too. Citizens are finally learning that a healthy democracy requires work that goes far beyond showing up at the polls every four years.
“Saturday Night Live” has been reborn as a franchise largely because of the Trump effect. The very liberal Stephen Colbert is now beating the very apolitical Jimmy Fallon in the late-night ratings. Hollywood, which had once been a friendly retreat for Mr. Trump when he was content to be a reality-show character, is in full revolt.
Risk-averse millionaire athletes are willing to take a stand against him, even if it means skipping a trip to the White House to celebrate a team championship.
Speaking of risk averse — even Democratic officeholders appear to be in the beginning stages of casting off the neo-liberalism that has made them practically indistinguishable from Republicans since the 1990s.
But most important of all, huge chunks of the electorate have been roused to fury by the things that have taken place or been proposed by the Trump administration in the last month. Citizens unencumbered by the strategies of failed Democratic orthodoxy are emerging from the grass-roots fired up in ways that should frighten the calcified liberal establishment.
The result has been an inspiring turn to civic engagement on the part of millions of Americans that dwarfs anything this many citizens have been a part of since the era of civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests a half-century ago.
While Mr. Trump resorts to trying to scare Americans with “fake news,” the resistance to his presidency continues to grow along with the health and vitality of the media he attacks. The more he labels the press “the enemy of the American people,” the more it will continue to transform into the critical, skeptical watchdog it was always meant to be.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.