Donald Trump has proved himself to be uniquely ill-suited to the challenges of his job and to this difficult moment in history, a moment whose difficulty is, in part, of his own making.
The president has systematically undercut the other branches of government that
are meant to be the checks and balances on his power.
At a time when the country is politically divided, he sows even more division with tweets and statements that often have a problematic relationship to the truth, on the order of a distant cousin several times removed. The truth matters, and what the president says matters not just to him, but an entire country.
His attacks on the media, including his assertions that reporters are enemies of the people in league with his opponents and could, perhaps, use a good roughing-up by his supporters, have consequences he either doesn't acknowledge or tacitly approves.
Back in the weeks before the 2016 election, the Committee to Protect Journalists declared then-presidential candidate Donald Trump a threat to press freedom “unknown in modern history.” He has done nothing as president to leaven that harsh assessment.
The president pathologically refuses to accept responsibility or criticism, and appears to weigh everything by whether he can take credit for it as a personal “win” or reframe defeat as victory. Those who can’t concede their mistakes can’t learn from them and can’t help repeating them.
Taking a page from the Nixon White House, then rewriting it for the digital age, President Trump has used his position to try to get back at a host of perceived media enemies, whether it is suggesting the AT&T-Time Warner merger should be blocked because he doesn't like CNN, or threatening broadcast licenses when a story airs that rubs him the wrong way, or going after social media with a broad brush dipped in vitriol, or taking his marbles and going home when, after contracting COVID-19, he backs out of a virtual televised debate.
Trump promised to be more presidential than any president. That definition apparently includes obstructing a national referendum on race relations by preventing any government contractor, and there are many of them in the communications business, from conducting diversity training classes that even suggest there is a history of systemic racism or sexism in this country. There has obviously been a big push by industry, including cable and broadcasting, to address that undeniable racism — discrimination, for example — has prevented minorities from having access to broadcast licenses and the boardrooms and back rooms where secondary deals, and billions of dollars,
In an executive order issued Sept. 22, the president called it a “pernicious and false belief” that the country is “an irredeemably racist and sexist country.” The order requires clauses in government contracts preventing diversity training that includes that belief. The “irredeemably” in that order is an overstatement meant to shield the order from the condemnation it so richly deserves. Diversity training is all about the belief that the country is redeemable through education and understanding, followed by a collective acceptance of responsibility for past action or inaction, ideally then followed by a commitment to create a fairer and more just society for all. The president’s order attempts to short-circuit that process.
We applaud NCTA-The Internet & Television Association for standing up to the president and that executive order. It signed on to a letter earlier this month that said the president’s order was disconnected from reality, that reality being “ongoing racial inequality and inequities in America.”
On the issue we are, selfishly, most interested in — a vigorous and free press — as we have said on this page before, the media is hardly above criticism in the passion play of Donald Trump’s rise to the highest office in the land. But that is a separate issue from this president's petty and dangerous digital broadsides in rally speeches and mean tweets, which would be troubling in times without a pandemic and a racial reckoning.
We said back in April the president needs to stop. He hasn’t. It is time for the voters to escort him out.
But we want to end on a hopeful note. At the end of last week’s hearings on a new Supreme Court nominee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, who was strongly opposed to both the nominee and the timing of the Republican-backed effort to place her on the court ASAP, called the hearings some of the best she has ever participated in and praised Chairman Lindsey Graham for the way they had been conducted. She said it left her with some hope for bipartisan legislation on other topics in the future. For his part, Graham told Feinstein she was a “joy to work with.” He also said whatever happens in the presidential election, if he returned to the Senate he was committed to “starting over” and trying to find common ground.
Whoever returns to Congress and the White House after the Nov. 3 referendum on the last four years on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and the Hill, may it be so.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below