WASHINGTON – Many American journalists and others correctly objected to President Donald Trump’s lambasting of the U.S. media in his speech Thursday in Poland, noting that his words were damaging to our international status and democracies around the world.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that Trump “dilutes respect for American democracy & gives license to autocrats to crack down on their own media.” Haass was also critical of Trump’s denigrating of the U.S. intelligence community.
How dare the president diminish his country’s revered institutions (please, hold your laughter until the end) while abroad? Clearly, the man is a bitter, narcissistic autocrat, one would have been justified in thinking.
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Then Friday, as the world turned toward the much-anticipated meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, it seemed the media were, without much self-awareness, committing the same sins for which they’d blasted Trump – basically undermining the president on foreign soil.
There was no mistaking a negative trend among commentators as they imagined what might transpire between the two world leaders. If the media weren’t consciously trying to undercut the president’s authority while he was overseas, then unconsciously, they were doing a pretty good job.
No wonder Trump voters hate us, I thought. Even the president’s harshest critics couldn’t have missed the many probable scenarios in which Trump was likely to fail. Even if you disapprove of Trump, he’s still the only president we have. When he represents the country abroad, as he did at the G-20 summit, his success and failures belong to us all.
I don’t mean to suggest we scribes and pundits should have been a cheering squad, something Trump seemed to have taken with him to Warsaw. But it’s important to fairly consider why journalists are in such disfavor among a majority of Americans. Is Trump’s aggressiveness toward the media, to some extent, earned? He’s not the first president to dislike the Fourth Estate, but he may be the president most disliked by the media since Richard Nixon.
As it turned out, Trump’s meeting went well enough with our principal geopolitical adversary (hat tip: Mitt Romney). No canines were paraded to establish whose dog was “bigger, stronger, faster,” as Putin once bragged to President George W. Bush upon presenting his hound in Russia. (Putin had met Bush’s Scotty on one of his visits to the U.S.) No one ripped off his shirt to wrestle a tiger.
Trump did reportedly bring up the hacking of the U.S. election, and the two did discuss Syria. Both topics were the source of much speculation beforehand: If Trump didn’t bring up the hacking, then Putin, who admires power, would feel the victor and Trump would be guilty of dereliction of duty. This, more or less, was the overarching consensus. Excepting only those who gather in the Fox News green rooms, Trump was predicted to fail in his first meeting with Putin.
Or, did we in the media hope he would fail? This is a question every honest journalist must ask him- or herself. Let’s be honest: If Trump didn’t stand up to Putin – and several scenarios involving a fire hydrant suggest themselves – then critics’ early warnings about his dangerous inadequacies would have been confirmed. If he did well, or emerged with some value gained, well, it’s a good thing shovels are cheap. Many of us have dug some cavernously deep holes.
Let me be clear: I’m not a fan. But this doesn’t mean I don’t want Trump to be a successful president. He has given Americans and the world few reasons to admire, respect or trust him, thanks to his impetuosity. But admittedly, we journalists don’t spend much time looking for positives. Some would say, that’s not our job. Holding the powerful accountable is our job. While true, our success as a democratic nation requires a balance of contending views.
As it is, we have media outlets for your view, my view and his view – with no sense of a shared American view. As wrong as I believe Trump was to air his personal grievances on the world stage, we are often wrong, too.
Some watched Trump’s Poland speech and found it tedious and meaningless. Others heard him say: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? . I declare today for the world to hear the West will never, ever be broken, our values will prevail, our people will thrive, and our civilization will triumph.”
These were powerful, important words, let the record show.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.