Because Trump is accomplishing what he set out to do when he launched his presidential bid: bring down the press in the public eye to the point where his word, not ours, is believed.
Some of us could see it coming.
In February 2017, one month after his inauguration, I wrote that there was more to Trump’s attacks on the media than just demagogic assaults to manipulate coverage. There was, I speculated, a more strategic calculation at play. He regards us as rivals standing between him and what he wants. He knew as a candidate, and knows as president, that we are going to watch and report relentlessly on what he does — or fails to do.
“His aim,” I warned, “is to denigrate the work of the media so that our reporting and analyses are summarily dismissed by the public.” And regretfully, that goal is being achieved.
Half the country approves of his handling of the crisis, according to RealClearPolitics, and his overall approval rating has been on the rise.
How else to explain Trump’s improved standing in the face of irrefutable evidence of his failures in leadership? When competence, mature judgment and trustworthiness in the White House are most needed, Trump is giving the nation untruths, wild exaggerations and irresponsible declarations off the top of his head. “Have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter”?
How adrift is he from common sense?
He said at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Feb. 10, “Looks like by April . . . when it gets a little warmer, [the coronavirus] miraculously goes away.”
As of noon on Friday, the United States had more than 245,000 confirmed cases and the death toll exceeded 6,000, more than the number of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The numbers have risen higher since.
Petty, impulsive, vindictive and completely out of his depth, Trump is the narcissist who has made this crisis all about himself.
And yet he’s riding high.
He is pulling it off by successfully disparaging the one force in the country that can put the spotlight on his presidential incompetence and hold him accountable — the media.
His barrage against us has been steady and unrelenting: “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” “scum,” “the news is fake.” These are not off-the-cuff invectives.
They are essential weapons in Trump’s arsenal. It’s called branding.
Trump tipped his hand during a March 2016 campaign rally in Boca Raton, Fla., when he said, “You have to brand people a certain way when they’re your opponents.”
That’s what he was doing when he berated NBC’s Peter Alexander in a rant over a coronavirus question, calling him “a terrible reporter” and characterizing Alexander’s question about hospital shortages and possible fear among Americans as “a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
Trump was doing the same thing when he scolded and insulted “PBS NewsHour” correspondent Yamiche Alcindor for asking him perfectly legitimate questions about charges he had leveled on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.
To a well-grounded question in November 2018 by CNN correspondent Abby Phillip, who, like Alcindor, is black, Trump responded, “What a stupid question . . . but I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
There’s a point to his verbal bullying and abuses.
Trump aims to slime the media as unintelligent, untrustworthy and undeserving of respect. He wants his supporters to judge reporters as out of line if they pursue questions that raise the possibility that someone like him may be capable of moral corruption.
So, he belittles, and demeans, and searches for chances to publicly put us in our place. He wants a media that is as undemanding and agreeable as the supplicants at Fox News.
Trump, with Republican help, has neutered Congress. Try as he might, however, he can’t make us cower.
Trump didn’t create the coronavirus. But he sure as hell has contributed to the country’s woes by playing down the threat and fumbling the federal response — all the while blaming state and local governments, local hospitals and the media for the chaos he helped cause.
Ratings be damned. If anything, now’s the time to double down on coverage, and tell the public all it needs to know about this public health and economic calamity.
The public won’t get the truth from Trump.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.