If you keep tabs on President Donald Trump’s schoolyard scuffles, you noticed the recent Twitter punches he threw at CNN and Time magazine. He taunted them, and they responded. Trump’s attack on CNN was a familiar version of his mocking “fake news” chant, though he also went hard after CNN International, tweeting that “they represent our Nation to the World very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
His Time tweet, about its Person of the Year honor, was bizarre. He won the distinction last year but seemed worried he may not repeat in 2017. So he tried to remove himself from the running by claiming — falsely — that the magazine told him he’d “probably” win the title again if he agreed to an interview and photo shoot. “I said probably is no good and took a pass.”
A few days later, Trump made a culturally insensitive remark about Sen. Elizabeth Warren. More about that below.
How to deal with this president’s absurd outbursts?
We shake our heads in dismay at Trump’s petty rants and bombast, then take a deep breath because we’re determined to keep perspective: Most of the shocking stuff he spews has no lasting impact. It dissipates with the news cycle, to be followed soon enough by another distracting comment. Almost a year into his term, we are accustomed to Trump’s aberrant behavior. It is unfitting, irresponsible and unproductive. But Trump is aware of his actions. The president is strategically dyspeptic and won’t change.
Trump often sounds unhinged, especially on Twitter. Yet he doesn’t insult or tilt randomly at the heavens. He targets people and institutions who defy him. In this way, he may not be so different in spirit than previous thin-skinned presidents. Lyndon Johnson could be a bully. Richard Nixon kept an enemies list.
What’s unique about Trump is he has access to social media, and no emotional filter. Nixon kept his list of opponents private. Trump lets them have it via Twitter or snide comments. He wreaks havoc to keep rivals off-balance. He’s a serial chain-jerker who has a knack for the punchy prose of tweets. He probably could have been a great tabloid newspaper editor.
Trump targets the news media because they’re popular whipping posts among his supporters. He hates CNN because its reporting and commentary antagonize him. He went after Time because, well, we can’t read his mind, but he seems resentful of the magazine’s power to bestow Person of the Year honors. Perhaps in his own mind he’s Person of the Year in perpetuity. But since he’s afraid Time won’t agree, he wanted to avoid embarrassment by removing himself from the competition.
CNN journalists replied forcefully to Trump’s attack. “His assault against a free press, a free press that stands up to him, will not stop us or any other legitimate news organization,” Anderson Cooper said. No doubt true. A Time official called out Trump, saying there is “not a speck of truth” to the president’s claims about how Person of the Year is awarded. We’re not surprised....
There is an insidiousness to some of Trump’s attacks that does real damage. On Monday, he belittled Sen. Warren by referring to her as “Pocahontas” during a White House event for three Native American veterans who served as World War II Code Talkers. To take a shot at a Democratic rival, he made a culturally hurtful remark. It is disturbing to witness a president so mean-spirited, just as it’s an affront to hear a president disrespect the role of the news media in ways that undermine appreciation for the First Amendment. Slamming CNN International invites tyrants abroad to devalue a free press.
This is a lecture Trump won’t heed. So be it. Let’s recognize his motives and not obsess over his cynical behavior as if he’s devaluing the office of the presidency. He isn’t. He is devaluing himself. We’ve said before Trump as president is no role model. He was disrespectful as a candidate too.
We will continue to call out his behavior, while focusing on whether he does the job he was elected to do: to help grow America’s economy, to promote peace, to strengthen national security, to fix health care and so on. Most of Trump’s outbursts are expressions of his shortcomings that occur on the margins of his responsibilities as leader. As long as that’s where they stay, the country will be OK.