A couple of weeks ago in this space, I speculated that CNN, the Crackpot News Network, had reached the terminal stage of malevolent implausibility. “[I]t would be a good thing,” I wrote, “were CNN humiliated and sued out of existence. It performs no journalistic function, merely a destructively partisan one.”
As usual, I was too kind. CNN will not have to be sued out of existence, as Gawker Media, another disgusting purveyor of malicious gossip and fake news, was a year or so back. No, CNN seems to be performing a species of hara-kiri or seppuku in public.
Actually, CNN’s behavior is closer to the behaviour of the fanatic Naphta in his duel with the suave humanist Settembrini in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. The two antagonists confront each other, pistols in hand. Settembrini calmly delopes; Naphta screams “You coward!” and shoots himself in the head. Everyone is happier.
Several people have suggested to me that the whole travel ban drama, in which Trump’s legally formed and disseminated executive order was stomped upon by a couple of grandstanding district judges run amok, was actually a cunning plan™ devised by Democrats. The idea, the hope, was that Trump would be so enraged by the obvious affront to his constitutional authority that he would overreact, do something legally culpable, and thus give his enemies grounds to call for his impeachment.
It didn’t work. Trump did issue his ill-formed “so-called judge” tweet, but beyond that, he sat back, fumed, and let his lawyers loose on the preposterous temporary restraining orders. Last week, the Supreme Court vindicated Trump (more or less), allowing a modified version of the travel bans to proceed (which they did as of last Thursday).
But two can play at the provoke-your-enemy-into-doing-something-stupid strategy. The media keep telling us how thin-skinned and volatile Donald Trump is. Just about everybody wishes he would Tweet less and enjoy it more. But when it comes to the art of provocation, Trump is a Supreme Galactic Master and the media are weenie pikers.
The media wheeled out Kathy Griffin, whose infamous photo shoot featured her holding a bloody severed head in Trump’s likeness. They deployed foul-mouth pundits who, like grubby, ill-bred school boys, emitted various scatalogical epithets about the president of the United States. They published fantastical stories about alleged connections between Trump surrogates and “the Russians,” but then walk them back or, in the case of the latest libel, publically disown the story, scrub it from the Internet, and fire the three senior employees responsible for its writing and publication.
When the avid Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson goes on a hunting expedition against Republican congressmen, shooting several, the media blame Republicans for creating a “climate of hate.” (One Democratic official was recorded saying he hoped Rep. Steve Scalise [R-La.], the most seriously injured, would die.)
Then there were the media darlings and prostheses: Madonna, for example—the sometime pop singer, not the mother of our Lord—publically fantasized about blowing up the White House (possibly she had the word “blowing” on her mind). And let’s not forget the thousands of females who dressed up as female genitalia and paraded about the Washington Mall to complain about Donald Trump’s vulgarity.
So you can see why these high-minded guardians of public decorum were shocked, shocked when Donald Trump tweeted an altered wrestling video that depicted him pummeling a figure who sported a CNN-logo pasted over his face.
One of my favorite eructations came from a “media critic” who appeared on the Crackpot News Network: “You take someone, you slam him physically to the ground, you put a logo on identifying him, that’s what fascists did in the ’30s to people.” I haven’t been able to find any instances of Hitler or Mussolini distributing videos of themselves pretending to grapple with their opponents, but perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough. Meanwhile, CNN essentially has blackmailed the Reddit user who actually made the video that Trump tweeted, threatening to release his name should he dare to engage in satirical behavior against his betters in the future. As of this writing, the backlash against CNN is vociferous and growing.
Now, opinions will vary about the wisdom or appropriateness of the president’s tweet from the weird and wacky world of choreographed wrestling, which, much to the horror of the punditocracy, was very much part of Trump’s life before 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Granted, the video was not the usual stock-in-trade of presidential declamation. But here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) The environment in which Donald Trump has been forced to maneuver is utterly devoid of the deference and protocol normally accorded the president of the United States. From the wee hours of November 9, when the inevitable failed to materialize and Donald Trump was elected president, the press, Hollywood, academia, the cultural establishment, almost all Democratic politicians (and not a few Republicans) have been on a non-stop campaign to delegitimize the man and prevent what anti-Trump crusaders like Gabe Schonfeld have disparaged as the “normalization” of Donald Trump. From the preposterous “nothing burger” of the “Russian collusion” myth to the equally preposterous idea that Trump’s exchanges with the compromised former FBI director James Comey about Mike Flynn amounted to obstruction of justice, Trump has been forced to operate in a veritable minefield of suspicion and malevolent scrutiny.
2) When it comes to “encouraging violence,” what’s more effective: the round-the-clock assassination porn dispensed by the Left against Trump or a comic altered video of a wrestling prank? Unfortunately, James Hodgkinson is not available for comment and I believe that the anti-Trump “ethics professor” who bashed Trump supporters over the head with a bicycle lock is still in jail.
3) How about besmirching the “dignity of the office”? I think we should ask Monica Lewinsky about that. Or possibly the young women known as Fiddle and Faddle: they, among many, many others probably have vivid recollections about how John F. Kennedy maintained the dignity of the office of the president. When it comes to activity that’s beneath the dignity of the office, what’s worse, some rude tweets, or weaponizing the IRS, the EPA, the DOJ, and other governmental agencies against your ideological opponents, as Barack Obama did?
I believe the jury is still out on the question of whether Trump’s wrestling tweet—or, come to that, his “bleeding face” tweet about Mika Brzezinski last week—was strategically wise. Certainly, the media’s sputtering, hysterical incredulity, leavened so liberally with ecstatic delight, suggests that they believe that finally, at last, they’ve got him. Dust off Article 25, comrades, and let’s see if we can’t remove him from office for incompetence, tweeting without a license, being rude to women we like, or other “high crimes.”
But I am not so sure. In fact, I’d say that the commentariat’s reaction to Trump’s tweets are likely to be more damaging to them—to their credibility, to their public standing—than the tweets are to Trump. Anderson Cooper or Mika Brzezinski or Jim Acosta seem to believe that because they find Trump unacceptable the rest of the country does as well. But if you step outside the studios of CNN, MSNBC, and the like, if you take a vacation from the newsrooms of the New York Times, Washington Post, etc., you will find that many people applaud Trump’s rude and impatient treatment of the people and institutions who have gloried in their hatred not only of Trump but also of anyone who supports him. Increasingly, the media have become not a window on the world but a mirror of its own self-infatuation.
Beyond that, there is the quiet reality of Trump’s dogged progress in enacting his agenda, from his judicial appointments to his regulatory reforms, from his unleashing of America’s energy potential to his emphasis on America’s military preparedness, efforts to cut taxes, repeal and replace Obamacare, create jobs, and generally to make America great again. He has yet to build his vaunted wall but illegal immigration is down by 70 percent. Why? The short, if surprising, answer is charisma: people know he means business.
Trump’s first trip abroad was widely accounted a great success, partly for its substance (the extraordinary performance in Saudi Arabia) and partly for its symbolism (the flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv, the first ever). He prudently withdrew from the fraudulent Paris climate accords, much to the chagrin of two large interest groups: the naïve and politically correct Green Lobby and the world’s heaviest polluters who were banking on a prolongation of onerous regulation of America’s productive capacity. A child in Britain is suffering from a rare and likely fatal disease: Trump offers to help. In short, across the wide spectrum of issues that command public attention, Trump is there patiently pursuing his agenda, keeping the campaign promises he made. He may tweet like Milo, but he governs more like Eisenhower. The dogs are barking, but assuredly the caravan is moving on.
That’s not the end of the story, however. Plenty of presidents have had a contentious relationship with the press. Most of them, you will note, have had an “R” next to their names on the political roster. But the case of Donald Trump is different. Those who have observed that Trump’s acrimonious behavior towards the press is not “normal” are quite right. It’s not “normal” for a president to comment on the after-effects of a newscaster’s face lift or describe an overweight comedienne as a “fat pig” or release a comic video of himself tackling an unnamed CNN personage.
But whatever happened to normality? The Left has been on a campaign to ruin normality since the 1960s. Their dearest wish was to destroy and hollow out and ridicule the bourgeois virtues of good manners and decorum—even to utter those words sounds odd, so successful has their battle against the language of traditional manners and morals been. As David Marcus notes in a percipient essay at The Federalist, progressives long ago declared war on the normal. And now they are upset because someone they dislike has appeared wielding real power in ways they find abnormal? “These are the same people,” Marcus notes,
who over the past few years have insisted that five-year-old boys becoming five-year-old girls is normal. They tell us that a guaranteed basic income and running for president as a Socialist is normal. Forcing Catholic hospitals to offer birth control, undocumented immigrants voting in our elections, and abolishing the police: normal, normal, and normal.
That list could be very easily extended. The irony, Marcus notes, is suffocating. The Left stood by and applauded as Barack Obama rode roughshod over the Constitution, refusing to enforce laws of which he disapproved, granting waivers to groups he favored, employing the coercive power of the state to reward his friends and punish his enemies. All that was just fine. But suddenly, on January 20, the Left rediscovered the Constitution, limits to executive authority, and the value of due process and precedent. It would be merely comical if it were not so patently cynical.
Just so, the Left spent the last few decades trashing traditional American values. A decent, gentlemanly figure like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush simply earned their contempt. But Trump is different. He is just as indifferent to traditional niceties as they are. Hence their hysteria. And their fear. George W. Bush would seldom respond to Left-wing provocations, never in kind. Trump does, regularly, and he pays them back in their own coin, almost. I say “almost” in tribute to Trump’s cleverness. Gertrude Stein once advised the aspiring avant-garde artist to demonstrate that he knew just how far to go in going too far. This Trump has done. The people who hate him prance about with a likeness of his bloody severed head: he merely Tweets about Mika’s oozing wounds following cosmetic surgery. Anti-Trumpers destroy property, bash people over the head with metal bicycle locks, and attempt to assassinate the congressional leadership. Trump releases a campy wrestling video making fun of CNN. His followers love it.
Yes, there is an important sense in which Trump is not “normal.” But he may just be the last, best hope for the restoration of the conditions that make normality possible. It is, in any event, an irony as distasteful as it is pathetic that the people who have gloried in trashing normality for the last several decades are suddenly up in arms because someone treats them with the same contempt with which they have treated normal Americans—the “bitter clingers,” the “irredeemable” “deplorables.”
The British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once observed that a week is a long time in politics. A lot can happen overnight. Like every politician, Donald Trump will require a modicum of good luck to succeed. Many things, including many things utterly beyond his control, could derail his presidency. But when it comes to handling his many domestic enemies and opponents, it looks to me like Trump is playing three-dimensional chess while they struggle to master checkers.
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