Speaking at a Feb. 18 rally in Melbourne, Fla., President Trump condemned what he called the "fake news" and reassured his supporters that the White House is running "so smoothly." (Reuters)

A new Quinnipiac poll finds that President Trump’s approval rating has soared all the way up to 38 percent. And a majority of Americans overall say they trust the media, not Trump, to tell them the truth about important issues.

But a huge majority of Republicans say they trust Trump, not the media, to tell them the truth:


More non-college whites (55-37) and white men (46-45) also see Trump as the one telling the truth. The poll has a bit of a mixed verdict on this topic, finding that Americans disapprove of the media’s treatment of Trump by 50-45.

But far more Americans disapprove of Trump’s treatment of the media:

 


Again, Republicans overwhelmingly break with the American public overall on this: nearly three-fourths of them approve of Trump’s treatment of the media.

The news media is held in terrible esteem by the American people, and there are understandable reasons for this, which perhaps explains why only 52 percent believe the media tell the truth. The press has major credibility problems.

But Trump has gone well beyond questioning the media’s credibility as an arbiter of truth. He recently tweeted that the media is the “enemy of the American people,” a claim that senior White House adviser Reince Priebus did not disavow. As president, Trump has accused the media of covering up terrorist plots. Senior Trump adviser Stephen Bannon has railed against the media as “the opposition party.”

At his recent rally in Florida, Trump uncorked a very long diatribe against the press, claiming that the media make things up “in many cases,” that the media is a “part of the corrupt system,” and that “they have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda.” He said he had attended the rally in order to speak to his supporters “without the filter of the fake news,” vowing that he will “never, ever let them get away with it” when “the media lies to people.” The media is the enemy of Trump’s supporters, and he is their protector. Trump even cast the media as the enemy of freedom: “We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live, or what to believe. We are free and independent people and we will make our own choices.” Trump is empowering people to choose their own reality, and their own facts.

As I’ve repeated endlessly, Trump is trying to obliterate the very possibility of agreement on the free press’ legitimate institutional role in our democracy — indeed, he’s trying to obliterate the possibility of shared agreement on reality itself.  This has worried some conservatives, too. As Bret Stephens recently put it, Trump is “denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument,” and his overall message is that facts “needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them — or, in his case, both.”

In other words, the entire point is the assertion and demonstration of the power to say what reality is in contradiction of what is empirically, demonstrably true. And he’s granting his supporters a stake in that power. For Trump, everything and everyone can be broken down into winners and losers, in which the former prevail at the expense of the latter. By appropriating the power to say what reality is for himself (and for his supporters, or so they believe) he leaves the media — the institutional free press — wholly bereft of it.

It’s hard to say whether this is rooted in showman’s instinct, or in childlike rage at something he can’t control, or in true authoritarian tendencies, and, related to them, in a long term plan to weaken the press as an institutional check on his power later. Dana Milbank speculates today that all of this is part of an “attempt to delegitimize the structures of civil society, following similar attacks on the courts and the intelligence community.”

If so, it’s good to see that majorities see the news media, not Trump, as the truth-teller — even if there is still a lot of work to be done to earn the public’s trust. Of course, Republican voters see him as the truth teller. There may be all kinds of reasons for this that have nothing to do with Trump. But regardless, the attacks on the press may only endear him to them, and so they may be working for him as intended — at least to some degree.