It’s hard to know how to describe Trump’s behavior these days. Is he in a defensive crouch? Or is he Thor, atop a mountain, laughing and hurling thunderbolts down on his enemies?
A couple of months ago, we were all outraged when reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and others were excluded from a White House press briefing. It came on the heels of one of the man-baby’s regular episodes of “lashing out”, in that case against his “unfair” treatment in the media.
At the time, Dean Baquet, executive editor at the NYT, said that “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.” The Wall Street Journal was allowed in, but said they hadn’t known about the exclusions, and “had we known at the time, we would not have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”
In other words, Trump crossed a line that no other president had ever come near. Of course, he was unrepentant, shrugged it all off, and ignored the howls from critics, who, after all, he had already identified as the enemy of the American people.
The precedent was set, and yesterday he upped the ante. It was unfortunate timing, coming on the heels of the shocking firing of F.B.I. director James Comey, but Trump entertained Russian officials at the white House, including Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States.
Not wanting to answer any potentially embarrassing questions, Trump decided to exclude all American media, even FoxNews, and allow only the Russian media in to record the event. To repeat: the event was covered by the Russian state-controlled media, while the independent American media was shut out.
I’m pretty sure there is now nothing Trump could do that would cause his supporters to demand that he follow any of the conventions of the presidency, or of a democracy for that matter.
It’s as if the country is now divided not between Republicans and Democrats, or Liberals and Conservatives, but between two opposing tribes who are locked in an all-out battle for supremacy. On the one hand, you have people who believe in the rule of law, the tripartite system of checks and balances, a free press, minority rights, and a government working for the benefit of all its citizens.
On the other, you have people who don’t care about any of that, or about conflicts of interest, or officials using their power for self-enrichment, or to benefit the few at the expense of the many. They only want to punish the other side, even if it means their own lives will be diminished as their “leaders” enjoy the spoils. Every abandonment of normal behavior or slap in the face to a perceived enemy is fully justified and a triumph.
The two sides can no longer agree on facts, or even history.
Until very recently, just months ago in fact, Americans understood their enemy to be the totalitarian or authoritarian governments around the world, with the Russians at the head of the line, and were united in our struggle to protect the “American Way”. But now, overnight, our government has aligned with the Russians and has identified the enemy as the American system itself, and those who want to protect it.
And the truly befuddling thing about it is that half the American people seem to be cheering it.
In related news, this week all of Trump’s campaign statements have quietly been removed from his web site. You can still buy his merch there, though.