First things first: I’m not about to defend the so-called mainstream media. Even that old guard’s more reputable outlets have totally forsaken their credibility in the age of Trump, more obsessed with being oppositionist in a way they never were under Barack Obama than in painting a fair picture. These days, the front page of the New York Times resembles less a bulwark of truth than a radical newsletter that the French Resistance might have circulated during the Vichy regime.
Yes, the press has been unfair to Trump. He has every reason to be upset about it.
But there’s been far more on display in recent days than mere “upset,” both during Trump’s flamethrowing press conference last week — easily the most demented presidential spectacle in American history — and the bitter tweet he fired off on Friday:
Had President Obama ever described Fox News in such terms, conservatives would have howled that they were living in a totalitarian state — in fact, they did, after Obama’s sinister first-year attempt to sideline Fox reporters. Yet when Trump does it, he gets a pass.
“I think there’s something to it,” Rush Limbaugh said of Trump’s tweet, an allowance he never made for Trump’s predecessor, whose hostility toward conservative media was one reason Obama’s government became known as “the regime” on Limbaugh’s show.
Limbaugh has made his name stumping for conservative principles even when it wasn’t necessarily easy, like during George W. Bush’s government-bloating presidency. Yet in the age of Trump he’s now readily pressing pause on those same principles. Questions linger in the air. Shouldn’t our emphasis on limited government lead us to be skeptical when the most powerful man on earth makes an enemies list? Shouldn’t our respect for tradition make us nervous when we hear a phrase like “enemy of the people?” That’s “ennemi du peuple” to the French revolutionaries, who repeatedly leveled it against their foes during the Reign of Terror. Surely we’re not so far gone that we’ve forgotten everything Edmund Burke has taught us.
To defend Donald Trump’s attacks on the press, you have to ignore what’s happening in front of you, which unfortunately conservatives have shown themselves willing to do. The best example of this was that press conference — hailed by so many righties as a gratifying revenge tour by Trump, it was in actuality a pageant of psychosis, a temper tantrum by a small man with a wafer-thin ego, erratic, disturbing, and low. To recognize that isn’t to side with the left; it’s to let the partisan scales fall from your eyes and see the world objectively. Again, had Obama spent 75 minutes in nuclear meltdown, conservatives would have derided him endlessly, and again, they would have been right to do so.
Instead, we got throat-clearing equivocations about how, yes, Trump went a little far, but isn’t it worth it to finally see the media get what’s due to them? As though a demonstrably unhinged personality having access to nuclear weapons and a fleet of drones is somehow less of a concern than that the press is tilted leftwards. For too many conservatives, the cause of preserving liberty and protecting the Constitution has been ranked below spewing venom at CNN’s Jim Acosta. Curiously, the Founding Fathers were rather muted on the existential threat to the republic posed by Jim Acosta. It’s fun to watch Jim Acosta squirm, of course, but he’s not the one who can indefinitely detain us if wakes up in the morning feeling dyspeptic.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a recent blog post by Rod Dreher at the American Conservative:
“In 2005, the rightist historian John Lukacs wrote that America’s political future might well be decided on the Right, in a contest ‘between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals.’”
There are more enduring things at stake than whether we can successfully trigger the left. Trump’s supporters say he’s fighting for conservative ends using revolutionary means; I worry the latter may ultimately end up consuming the former.