Trump has gone after the mainstream news since he started his campaign. His argument is that the majority of the popular American press is biased against conservatives and especially him. Conservatives who have felt like their causes, issues, and candidates are not only regularly unfairly reported on but, also, routinely mocked have seen Trump as the one person who has the strength and desire to stand up to the media establishment.
Trump and these conservatives are right that the popular media has let their institutional bias become too strong, doing a disservice to both their own profession and the American people. Trump no doubt possesses both the ability and determination to go, head-to-head, with mainstream news–something conservatives have been begging their representatives to do for well over a decade. Trump hitting back against the coastal media elitists has been, if anything, superbly satisfying to many on the right.
But since Trump’s inauguration, some conservatives who refuse to jump completely headfirst into blind Trump super-fandom question if he’s becoming too antagonistic of the ‘free’ press. His press conferences–indeed must-see TV–sometimes can come off as thin skinned and personal. Sure it’s satisfying for many people, including myself. It’s unbelievably satisfying. After years of being treated by the so-called fair and free, unbiased press like second-class, bigoted yokels, for once we are seeing someone more powerful than them discredit their motives and intelligence. However, is the appetite Trump is satisfying a disordered appetite; an appetite in which the satisfaction of would be something to keep tempered? Thoughtful Catholics must always consider this when something feels so good. Because, as we know, just because something feels good doesn’t make it good.
This is the question I have been pondering since his first press conference. Indeed much of the media deserves the spanking they are receiving from the president but is it right for a society that cherishes liberty and the importance of a free press to allow the most powerful (and potentially most destructive) man in the world to so diminish them? After all, the conservatives in today’s era have been unquestionably the biggest proponents of 1st Amendment speech rights. Is their current satisfaction blinding them to their own principles? To be sure, Mr. Trump is not formally attacking the First Amendment; but is his demonization of an entire industry, calling them the “enemy” of the people he serves, harmful to our nation? It’s hard to say. Anyone who knows a pinch of history understands that there can be disastrous and tyrannical outcomes to a leader who squashes a free press either by fiat or undermining. I mean, sure the press is biased and shameful but are they that out of control?
Yes, they are, is the conclusion I’ve arrived at after this weekend’s reporting on the presidents comments regarding Sweden (ask me again after the next press conference or tweet though). Trump was railing off a list of places overseas which have admitted enormous amounts of immigrant from countries known for terrorism. Trump, in his conversational, spur-of-the-moment style said:
“you look at what’s happening, last night, in Sweden. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible”
There is a blanket narrative now going viral that Trump made “unusual”, disgruntled comments implying that a terrorist attack took place in Sweden the night before that didn’t happen. I think it’s clear to any objective, thinking human familiar with current events (especially with the clarification the White House issued afterward) that the president, however, was not citing something that happened the night before in Sweden but was instead saying that Sweden has been facing an explosion of crime, including many rapes, since the unchecked absorption of many middle eastern men. “Last night” was him referencing he saw an updated news account of it the night before. This is how normal people talk (generally) when discussing things without a script or teleprompter (like most presidents).
Certainly, we are going to encounter episodes like this with a president who talks off-the-cuff about what’s going on in his head (maybe Trump has more in common with Francis than we think). There’s millions of people looking for “gotchya” moments and without a sanitized speech, there’s many more openings for this to happen. I would argue that it’s a small price to pay, though, to finally have a politician who doesn’t have a crippling fear of speaking off-script, neutered by the militant ideology of the politically correct culture.
The fact the press is running with this in this fashion shows just how out of control they are. This is a big, obvious example. Think of how many smaller, less noticeable infractions there are. They are persuading “low-information” consumers of politics news to believe that Trump is either caught in lie or delusional. The bias is extreme and institutional.
I go back and forth on what to think about Trump when it comes to various traditions, principles and institutions of America. But, right now, it’s becoming clear that the media is out of control and someone needs to fight back, even if it’s not exactly how we would do it. In a perfect world the president could push back against a hostile media in a different way, a way that might have less damaging effects in the future. But right now, this is what we have to work with. Enjoy it…but don’t lose your principles. ☩