This is the President, after all, who did everything that the modern Left supposedly despises; this is the man who sent thousands of young Americans to their deaths in Iraq.
The political polarization in the United States continues to be marked by excuses for disgraceful behavior displayed by both sides, while each scream at the other, blaming the other team for abhorrent behavior. As an outsider viewing the US political scene from the UK, perhaps the most striking sign of the decline of American political dialogue is its media’s obsession with President Donald Trump. Although the President’s flaws are manifest, the media remains blind to its own failings.
As is often the case with those who loudly oppose someone they proclaim to be an affront to their morality, the object of detestation holds a peculiar fascination for the critics. This attitude was most recently displayed by an editorial in USA Today: “Will Trump’s Lows Ever Hit Rock Bottom?.” According to the USA Today editorial board, Mr. Trump is “unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library” or to “shine George W. Bush’s shoes.” Mr. Trump’s faults may indeed be boundless, and, as the editorial board goes on to suggest: “Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.”
This editorial is another example of media coverage that fails to see past its vehement dislike of the man; never mind his policies, he is “uniquely awful” as a man and his behavior is “corrosive” to the values that hold America as country and government together. It is almost as if the media is begging for Trump to conform to their worst image of him so that they can engage in more moralistic flagellation about themselves, the ‘good people,’ as contrasted from, Mr. Trump, ‘the bad president.’
The editorial came in response to Mr. Trump’s tweet directed at NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)…” The tweet was perhaps indicative of low character on the part of the President, and it deserves to be called out. However, the media has increasingly been using these examples of Mr. Trump’s boorishness to cover for the fact that the media itself is partly responsible for his rise in the first place.
After all, why should his supporters listen to these continually escalating screeches about Mr. Trump’s faults when the media smeared someone as innocuous as Mitt Romney as some sort of proto-fascist who was a misogynist, racist who wanted to strip cancer sufferers of healthcare out of spite? (Keep in mind that Mr. Trump also said that Mr. Romney “would have dropped to his knees” for Mr. Trump’s endorsement during the 2012 Presidential campaign, a remark that seems to fly in the face of the claim that the President’s remarks regarding Ms. Gillibrand were uniquely sexist).
Now in the Trump era, many media outlets are walking back on some of their criticisms of previous lead Republicans. For example, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham’s July, 2016 opinion piece, which begins with the lines “I’m so sorry, Mitt Romney. I’ve been pretty tough on you over the years, and now I feel just awful about it,” is just another example of the politically strategic attempt by an increasing number of commentators on the Left to rehabilitate those conservatives they smeared in the past.
Apparently, calling the leaders of your political opponents all sorts of epithets isn’t such a wise move. All that does is numb voters to these names so that they eventually go and vote for the person who might actually embody these names. Perhaps this is what Ms. Abraham realizes when she strives to contrast Mr. Romney’s civility and sophistication with then-candidate Trump’s gaucheness by writing: “Always and forever I will love you [Mr. Romney] for giving that speech in March excoriating Trump.” She goes on to call the 2012 Republican convention “sweet and grown up,” praises Mr. Romney’s “dignity,” and even calls his wife, Ann Romney, “adorable.” What a difference a few years make.
This slow dawning realization about the long-term cost of short-term political calculation was lamented by Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time, where he explicitly admitted that he and his compatriots had it wrong about Governor Romney and President George W. Bush. With the prospect of Donald Trump looming, Mr. Maher argued that people should finally listen to the media’s condemnation of conservatives because Mr. Trump really was all those things the media had called Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush at the time they were seeking office, but are no longer.
This doubling-down on a condemnation of Mr. Trump comes at a time when the left-leaning media is seeking to rehabilitate the image of President Bush. Liberal commentators and writers, from the USA Today editorial board on down, bemoan the end of the George W. Bush period of conservatism, a President they all but abhorred when he was in office.
This, after all, is the President who did everything that the modern Left supposedly despises: he launched the Iraq War in line with a hallucinatory lust for global hegemony, ushered in the PATRIOT Act, cut taxes for the wealthy, and presided over the continuing loosening of regulatory measures, which perhaps helped bring about the 2008 financial crisis. Then, throw in his support among Evangelicals.
Now, in the winter of 2017, Mr. Bush is embraced by the likes of Michelle Obama and is held up as an symbol of virtue, an ideal towards which politicians should aspire. This is the man who sent thousands of young American servicemen and women to their deaths in Iraq.
And then, there’re the adulatory reminiscences about Barack Obama, that paragon of civility and trustworthiness who symbolized the dawning of a new era. However, as Maajid Nawaz argued at the end of 2016, President Trump is President Obama’s legacy. Mr. Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East displayed unforgivable ineptitude. The strategies he favored left large swathes of the region in flames, gave space for President Assad of Syria to cross the so-called “red line” on chemical weapons, allowed ISIS to flourish, and ultimately contributed to the migrant crisis of 2015 that is still sending shockwaves through Europe.
Domestically, under Mr. Obama, those responsible for the financial sector’s worst excesses escaped justice. His record on whistleblowers and freedom of the press was appalling. Race relations worsened during the Obama years, paving the way for an identity politics grounded in resentment and victimhood and seeding the ground for a Trump candidacy. Thank Mr. Obama’s acceptance of identity politics for the subsequent balkanization of the United States along ethnic and political lines.
The establishment media’s attitude towards President Obama is to be expected. The new demeanor towards Mr. Romney and President Bush, on the other hand, is such a 180 degree about-face that it exposes the media’s part in creating the political climate they currently bemoan. Having behaved as they did towards President Bush and Governor Romney, the media’s attempt to revive the corpses of the previous Republican president and presidential contender from the grave of smears and plummeting approval ratings, the very grave the media dug for them, ought not be taken seriously. It is nothing more than an effort to deflect blame for the current vituperative political climate by those in the media, who cannot admit that they bear any responsibility for the situation they helped to create. The media’s nostalgia for previous administrations, Republican or otherwise, is drenched in hypocrisy.
Henry George is a freelance writer based in the United Kingdom.