The fact that Donald Trump behaves in a fashion so profoundly inappropriate for an adult male, much less the most powerful person in the world, presents a challenge for the mainstream media. Every day the news gives journalists a new wonderment. Trump’s own secretary of state reportedly thinks that he’s a “fucking moron.” The Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations tweeted that the White House was “an adult day care center” for a president whose “reality-show” behavior could lead to World War III. Barely an hour goes by without Trump saying or doing something that would have been unthinkable for any president before him. And those rare moments of quiet from Trump are filled with the malevolent actions of a clown car full of his cabinet appointees, including Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson, among others.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s and Senator Bob Corker’s statements may be opening a door to a more honest discussion. But up until now, most press coverage of the Trump administration has been to enable, rather than expose, the president. No matter how absurd his actions, he has continued to benefit from a campaign of normalization based on a combination of purposeful blindness, wishful thinking, and a commitment to outdated professional mores.
Examples of this phenomenon abound. There is The New York Times’ Peter Baker, making the nonsensical case that, although Trump was elected “as a Republican last year, [he] has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two–party system around the time of the Civil War.” But while it’s true that Trump bickers with Republican leaders and has enjoyed the occasional cordial meeting with Democrats, Baker’s thesis largely ignores Trump’s pursuit of extremist right-wing policies on consumer regulation, tax policy, labor rights, LGBTQ–related issues, defense spending… indeed, absolutely everything. Baker, like almost every reporter in the White House press corps, evinces little interest in policy. Personality is all, and Trump’s trumps them all.
The Times does deserve credit for its willingness to employ the word “lie” in Trump’s case—the first president ever to earn that honor. This is not true of The Washington Post, however. Despite the fact that the Post, like the Times, reports aggressively on the carnival of White House malfeasance and misanthropy, editor Marty Baron refuses to allow its reporters to provide this crucial crumb of context. “I think you have to actually have documentation, proof, that whoever you’re saying lied actually knew that what he or she was saying was in fact false,” he recently explained. And yet Baron is also unwilling to accept the only other explanation for Trump’s behavior: The president is nuts.
There’s no question that Trump is a pathological liar. He lies all the time, often for no discernible reason. The Washington Post has tallied 1,318 “false and misleading claims” in his first 263 days in office. You may have missed the fact that, in the space of a few days following the most recent collapse of the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, Trump insisted on seven separate occasions that the vote failed because “somebody [was] in the hospital.”