The president has agreed to attend a media-sponsored event and suddenly news outlets are gushing that it's a possible truce. Now, when has Trump ever been kind to the press?
We have all been there. At the bar. Sitting across from our dear friend—our smart, talented, brilliant friend—who is three beers deep into trying to crystal-ball their way into making a bad relationship work, looking for any sign that things are better than they really are. Analyzing text messages for secret signs of interest; going CSI on the backgrounds of Instagram photos for hidden clues about the depth of their partner’s affection. It’s understandable! “Relationships take work,” they say, after all. But being berated and shamed day after day is not work. Being told you’re worthless, or a liar, is not work. Being shunned and then petted, ignored and then noticed—this isn’t “work.” It’s nonsense. It’s abuse. And it’s eerily evocative of what too many members of the media are putting up with when it comes to the 45th president of the United States.
I’ve written before about Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s tendency to use gaslighting and other favorite tactics of domestic abusers to manipulate the American people. But the truth is that this affects journalists, too—and many either can’t or won’t pull themselves away from the dangerous fiction that Donald Trump is going to wake up one day and be a normal president.
The latest version of this preposterous charade deals with an insidery D.C. journo organization called the Gridiron Club, which hosts an annual dinner that’s a schmoozier, softer version of the comedian-clad Correspondents’ Dinner most folks are more familiar with. Presidents often attend or speak at the Gridiron Club event, and Trump has indicated he’ll go to this year’s gala, as well as not-not said he won’t skip the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, prompting some to wonder: Is this an olive branch to the fake news media?
Of course it isn’t! Dang, y’all.
Politico’s Michael Calderone, who should absolutely know better, wrote Monday that “Trump’s surprise decision to participate in a journalistic ritual suggests a desire to maintain some sense of respect and decorum.” On what planet? There is no evidence whatsoever that anything Trump does or says is done or said intentionally, with the notable exception of the thing he does most: lie.
Trump’s apparent willingness to attend a media dinner suggests no peaceful intent, because Trump has never shown that he has any desire whatsoever to maintain any sense of respect or decorum anywhere, at any time. And we should take the announcement with a veritable parade of dump trucks’ worth of salt; I won’t believe he actually intends to show up at the dinner until he’s sat down at his plate. Trump’s only consistency is in inconsistency. There are weeks before the Gridiron event, and every passing moment provides a new opportunity for President Snowflake to become outraged at the press.
Now, the Gridiron decision might suggest someone else’s desire to maintain some sense of respect and decorum for the press — Trump does sometimes grudgingly engage in traditional rituals, such as issuing condolences on the White House’s behalf after a tragedy — when he can’t avoid them and when his handlers think it politically expedient. So, sure! It is possible that somebody in Trump’s circle thinks it’s a good idea for the president to attend this thing, and told him to do so, and Trump agreed. But that’s a far cry from Trump himself making an informed, agent decision to issue an olive branch to people he openly despises.
In fact, while Politico’s media correspondent is ignoring literal years of Trump’s well-documented animus toward the media, Trump’s son is out here “liking” conspiracy tweets that cast a teen survivor of the Florida Valentine’s Day school shooting as media plant and pawn of the liberal media agenda. The Trump family is not here to “make amends” with the media or any of the scores of other people they despise. Trumps don’t make amends. It is not in the Trump DNA. Indeed, Trump’s stubbornness—his unwillingness to cooperate or collaborate, embodied in his self-aggrandizing fantasy role as ultimate dealmaker—is part of what his supporters love about him. If Trump were the type of man who made amends, Trump would not be president.
But the mainstream media is deeply committed to trying to fit Trump’s square peg into the round—or perhaps, Oval Office-shaped—hole, for reasons that confuse and mystify me. When Politico asks, “Is Trump trying to make amends with the press?” it’s continuing a pattern of attempts at Trump-normalization, simultaneously silly and hazardous. Snarking about the tendency for pundits and politicos to issue outsize praise to Trump when he performs the most basic presidential tasks, deeming the most inane moments those when Trump “became president,” is practically a meme unto itself. Wondering whether Trump is suddenly inclined to mend fences with the media mimics many journalists’ other sad grasps at normalcy—taking White House flaks at their word about bipartisanship, or suggesting his incompetent leadership is instead “revolutionary.”
Sure, the media’s job would be easier if Trump were a normal president or politician, someone with a policy agenda and an endgame and an understanding of social and professional norms. But that’s not Trump. Trump is chaos. He can only be relied upon to be unreliable, and we can only be assured that whatever he does, he does in his own interest. But I’m not a journalist who needs to make the Trump-press relationship work, and I’m not waiting for the “real” Trump to bring home flowers and a bottle of wine.
I can imagine a President Trump who wants to attend a media dinner not because he wants to mend fences, but because he wants to get closer to the pickets — the better to burn them down.
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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