Mined from the notebooks and adapted from the Twitter feed, Sunday morning, July 8, 2018. Posted Sunday morning, July 15.
As far as I’m concerned, there is only one essential Doctor and that’s the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and all the other Doctors are various incarnations of him. There is no essential President. Each one has been essentially himself, and that’s especially true of the current one.
The President isn’t a separate entity from the person who holds the office. He isn’t like the Doctor. It isn’t the case that with every regeneration he gets a new body but remains at heart the President the way the Doctor remains the Doctor even though he---and now she---has the mannerisms, quirks, peculiarities of taste and temperament of David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, or Jodie Whittaker. (By the way, as far as I’m concerned, all the Doctors are variations of the Fourth Doctor.) President is just a job and a job title. He’s still himself, the person he was the minute before he was sworn in, the person he was for all the minutes before that. Whenever a President does something, it’s not essentially George Washington doing them.
Regularly, the President of the moment does or says things in his official capacity as President, but at those times he doesn’t become a generic President, let alone an essential one. He becomes a synechdoce. He’s still who he is. He’s simply standing in for the United States, the People, the Federal Government, or his own administration. But that only works when the President is someone who knows how to efface himself and act the role of President. And that’s not something Donald Trump knows how to do, seems willing to do, or, probably, could even do if he tried. He insists on always being Donald Trump. This is his greatest character flaw, the one from which all his others spring. It’s what makes him dangerous---to the country, to the world, to anyone who depends on him, and to himself. He’s his own worst enemy because he refuses to rein in his ego, his appetites, and his vanity. In service of those qualities, he rejects the traditions, the customs, and the laws that have defined the job of President of the United States since Washington and have made the President of the United States, whoever he is, the leader of the free world, and he’s in the process of reducing his own administration to himself and a few obedient sycophants willing to do whatever it takes to please him and keep him happy, which is to say, he’s reduced the executive branch to a bureaucratic mechanism for satisfying his ego, vanity, and appetites. Which is what tyrants do. And the still many members of the political media can’t see this for what it is and him for what he is.
They see him as the President, President Who, as simply the present incarnation of their idea of the essential President, and try to fit him into the part. When readers and viewers, pundits, scholars, historians, political scientists, economists, and other journalists criticize them for doing this, they get defensive, mount high horses, and pompously sniff, “What are we supposed to do? Not cover the President?”
No, just not cover him as President Who. Cover him as Donald Trump. Cover him as what NYU Journalism Professor, media critic, and author of the blog PressThink Jay Rosen says he is in this exchange on Twitter with the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, one of the most defensive and high horse-mounting elite journalists in the biz, and the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey: Deliberately divisive, dishonest, and destructive.
“So we shouldn't cover the president making statements, announcing policies, appearing in public? There [are] new pronouncements or claims at his rallies quite often,” wrote Dawsey as if the choice is between covering Trump’s rallies as entertainment and not covering them at all.
“Will never understand the idea that the president simply shouldn’t be covered in certain venues. Lots of things should be debated about how they’re done and in some cases covered better. But he’s the president of the United States, still kind of an important policy maker,” wrote Haberman.
To which Rosen replied:
It IS hard to understand, if you start with "what the president says is news." Begin here: His political style is to divide the country, polarize our politics, confuse and misinform the public, discredit the press— and "what the president says is news" helps him do it. Now what?
Actually, Rosen has proposed a significant Now What: It’s time for the press to suspend normal relations with the Trump presidency:
It sometimes happens in diplomacy that one country has to say to another: “This is extreme. We cannot accept this. You have gone too far.” And so it suspends diplomatic relations…
Journalists charged with covering him should suspend normal relations with the presidency of Donald Trump, which is the most significant threat to an informed public in the United States today…
Normally, the president is quoted more than any other public figure, and clips of him speaking are ubiquitous in television news. [Rachel] Maddow told her viewers that she had suspended this practice because, more likely than not, the president’s words would only misinform them. Every president needs to be fact-checked. This one doesn’t care if what he says is true. That’s extreme, and it calls for a response.
To read the whole of Rosen’s proposal follow the link to his post at PressThink.
And for more of Rosen’s thoughts on some Now What’s, you should also read Sam Fulwood’s column The political press is taking the exact wrong approach to covering the Trump White House at ThinkProgress:
As Rosen described in a recent phone interview, instead of maintaining an overarching political strategy or policy agenda, Trump is engaged in a never-ending, loosely-associated series of fabricated grievances that track more with societal and cultural change than they do with actual policy or political concerns.
“A permanent culture war is really the meter and method of his presidency,” Rosen told me. “This culture war is the Republican Party now and that is what holds it together. That fact has been installed in the White House. That’s what motivates and animates Trump.”
If Rosen is as accurate as I believe him to be, it’s easy to understand why the media hasn’t caught on. Traditional and normative coverage of the White House is predicated on long-standing and historic practices, such as assuming that whoever is president attempts to speak for all Americans, doesn’t lie (well, not overtly or often), and responds to the centering gravitational pull of public morality and political opinion.
But this administration is neither traditional, nor normative. In fact, Trump eschews all that is rational about being president, drawing ever more personal popularity from his sycophants for being an outlier to Washington culture, especially as it’s reflected in the mainstream media.
Here’s the link.