President Donald Trump is again on Twitter attacking the media and frankly sounding strikingly authoritarian. On Tuesday, Trump said that the New York Times should “get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness” for its coverage of his presidency and again called the newspaper “the enemy of the people.” It is easy to dismiss such comments as Trump’s signature mantra but it is far more serious for a president to use such rhetoric to denounce journalists. As someone who has strongly criticized some coverage for biased reporting over the last two years, it is difficult to maintain a neutral viewpoint when the President is engaging in such hyperbolic and reckless comments. The President is justified in objecting to some of the coverage of the media, but he destroys any credibility in that position when he is tweeting diatribes of this kind.
Trump tweeted: “I wonder if the New York Times will apologize to me a second time, as they did after the 2016 Election. But this one will have to be a far bigger & better apology. On this one they will have to get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness—they are truly the Enemy of the People!” Trump tweeted.
No, American media does not get on its knees before any politician to beg forgiveness. That is something found in other countries like China and Iran. More importantly, the New York Times has time and time again disclosed stories that have revealed corruption and deception in our government at critical historical moments. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Pentagon Papers to Watergate, the New York Times have protected core rights and democratic values through its coverage. That does not mean that it has been correct in all of its coverage of Trump. However, even as someone who long questioned that the Mueller investigation would result in criminal findings, many of the key media accounts were reaffirmed by Mueller in his report.
Trump specifically attacked Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman, whose latest op-ed stated that “one of our two parties”—the Republican Party—“no longer believes in American values.” It further accuses Trump of willingly accepting the held of a “hostile foreign power” during the election: “Paul Krugman of the Fake News New York Times, has lost all credibility, as has the Times itself, with his false and highly inaccurate writings on me. He is obsessed with hatred, just as others are obsessed with how stupid he is. He said Market would crash, Only Record Highs!”
Krugman is a commentator expressing his opinion. I have no problem with Trump contesting that opinion but that does not make him or his paper an “enemy of the people.”
Trump also added “In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’ Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history… and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!”
I am not sure when those “old days” were but they were hardly good ole days. Just because an economy is doing well does not mean that president would not be criticized for alleged acts of obstruction or wrongdoing. Nixon was not facing impeachment because the economy was bad. We expect our presidents to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and adherence to the law (both in letter and spirit). We do not apply a lower standard if our investment funds are up an added 10 percent.
What concerns me is the moral relativism in that last comment. Trump often seems to treat his conduct as immaterial if he is improving the economy. We do not even apply that standard to CEOs who have been sacked even when they produce good returns for their investors. Harvey Weinstein was incredibly successful as was Roger Ailes. It did not matter because conduct matters.
I realize that the President is unlikely to stop these reckless comments but that should not mean that we should simply go silent and shrug when he engages in such unhinged attacks. As discussed today, polls are showing that 57 percent of voters now disapprove of his performance. If anything, the fact that the economy is doing well should concentrate the President’s mind on his comments and conduct. If the President had adopted a more circumspect and presidential approach, he would likely be enjoying a far greater level of support. Indeed, given the many self-inflicted wounds in the Mueller report, much of the controversies over the last two years could have been avoided.