Skip to main content

It's difficult to overstate just how much damage would be done to the United States were Donald Trump to become president. Even as a mere candidate, his recent electoral successes have given voice and rise to what was once only an ugly undercurrent of racism and xenophobia in our society and has utterly shamed America around the world. As the presumptive nominee for the once-proud now-laughingstock Republican party, he'll soon begin receiving briefings on classified intelligence from the CIA, making him -- an impulse control-free professional Twitter troll who blurts out anything that pops into his head -- a genuine danger to national security. And should he by some chance ascend to the White House, not only will the U.S. be instantly at risk but the entire world -- which depends on America being a reasonably responsible and stable nation -- could likewise be plunged into chaos. If Trump were in a position to put into practice his even a few of his stated policy proposals, the result would be positively catastrophic to this country and its status as a superpower.   

This isn't an exaggeration. This isn't alarmism. The threat here is real. Trump is a thin-skinned, vainglorious bully as well as a racist, misogynist and xenophobe. He's a pathological liar, a malignant narcissist, and a petulant man-child. He's patently and self-evidently unfit to get anywhere near the White House and under no circumstances should he be allowed to. 

The question now, as attention turns to the general election, is how loudly and often the political press will point out these undeniable facts about Donald Trump. Because if it doesn't -- if the craven establishment media normalizes Trump, accepting him as benignly flamboyant and elevating him as if he were any other presidential candidate -- then it will have played a role in potentially handing the most powerful office in the free world to a sociopath. Many in the media are unlikely to call Trump out personally and directly given that they're slaves to the almighty illusion of "balance," but they don't need to. The thing about Trump is that he's given them so much material to work with that all they need to do is hold that up for the audience to see, over and over again, or better yet hold it up for Trump and force him to explain himself. What remains to be seen is whether they'll do it -- whether they'll adhere tightly to their responsibility to journalism and the nation as well as feel the need to confront a serial liar who makes a mockery of the very job they do and the central tenet of it, which is to find the truth.     

There's a terrific and terrifying article at Vox right now that argues that the media and the country's "political ecosystem" in general will, not surprisingly, disappoint us when it comes to the way it presents Trump in the coming months. As David Roberts explains in detail, the press simply isn't equipped to deal with a disparity that could very well be as wide as the one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton when they face off after the summer. Granted, a series of brand new polls show Clinton beating Trump nationwide by only four points, which is madness when you consider how loathsome Trump is as a candidate and a human being. But if that starts to widen, according Roberts, you can look for the media to helpfully elevate Trump and pull Clinton down as they try to make it look more like a traditional presidential race. "There are entire classes of professionals whose jobs are premised on the model of two roughly equal sides, clashing endlessly," Roberts writes. "The Dance of Two Parties sustains the consultants and activists." The press in particular simply doesn't know how to process a candidate like Trump and so it will revert to its standard position and behave as if he, by virtue of the votes he got, is somehow qualified to be President of the United States. Which needless to say he isn't. 

Over the past few days, we've seen examples of the political media, shockingly, doing its job and going for the throat when it comes to Trump. on Sunday, George Stephanopolous made Trump look mind-bogglingly foolish by pointing out how he's contradicted his own tax plan, which isn't a shock given that Trump tends to just pull words out of his ass every time he opens his mouth. CNN's Brian Stelter also called out Trump's tendency toward embracing conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the Washington Post ran a story over the weekend that offered a frank assessment of the position it's in as a news organization covering a candidate who lies as effortlessly and as often as Trump does. The piece runs down just a few of Trump's "four-Pinocchio whoppers" and bemoans the fact that he simply doesn't care one way or the other whether he can be called out for his lies. He lies with abandon and, for the most part, impunity. "At least a dozen television hosts in the past two months allowed Trump to make (the claim that he had been against the war in Iraq in 2003) and failed to challenge him," fact-checker Glenn Kessler writes. "There is no excuse for this. TV hosts should have a list of Trump’s repeated misstatements so that if he repeats them, as he often does, he can be challenged on his claims."

But more and more, the political media care little about the truth. As people like Jon Stewart lamented for years, in an effort to remain "objective," every political statement is presented as something that be spun equally from the right or the left. This is obscene when you consider that the easiest and most genuinely objective position would be an adherence to fact and nothing more. Trump knows how to work between the cracks in the press's defenses and exploit that very weakness -- the one that dictates that there is no empirical reality, only what consultants and candidates say about it. Another issue the media will have with Trump has to do with how low he's set the bar for himself by being a petty Twitter troll who demeans those he considers inferior by way of childish taunts. Trump behaves so badly -- the snotty comments, the smug attitude, the encouraging of violence and alignment with racist and xenophobic ideals -- that at the first sign of "improvement," the media quickly adopt the narrative that he's becoming more presidential. They run the risk of setting aside all the terrible things he's said and done and just going with the new theme of a more mature, measured Trump. (Fortunately, Trump can never seem to maintain any civility and slips right back to being a monster within 48 hours. If nothing else, he's notoriously easy to provoke.) 

Journalist Connie Schultz has already called out the press's tendency to behave this way and she's been brutal about it. In a recent piece called "As Journalists, Let Us Not Tiptoe Around Trump, the Nominee," she scolds the media and warns of the danger to come should it abdicate its responsibility to remember who Trump is. "How do we reconcile the carnival act he's been with the seriousness of what is now at stake?" she asks. "Do we cast him as a man equal to the gravitas of the position he seeks instead of the guy, for example, who proudly harangued President Barack Obama for proof that he was born in Hawaii? Do we cover him as the contender with a suddenly measured tone without also reminding voters of his long habit of misogynist commentary?" The answer of course is that morally and ethically, journalists are duty bound to do the latter -- to pound Trump into paste at every opportunity, using nothing more than his own words and actions. He should be forced to account for every terrible thing he's done and is by an aggressively adversarial press. He's now the presumptive Republican nominee for the White House. Playtime should be over for him.

But will it be or will the media just drop the ball again? Well, let's put it this way: In reporting the story about Paul Ryan's recent statement that he wasn't supporting Donald Trump just yet, CNN's Dana Bash paid special attention to Trump's own response to Ryan's comment. "Donald Trump two days ago, three days ago would have been ripping Paul Ryan to shreds," she said. "So perhaps, perhaps, either somebody has taken his cell phone and put it in a hiding place, or he is sort of getting it and he's saying, look, it's different now." She called the fact that Trump didn't descend into a monosyllabic tirade of insults on Twitter "baby steps." If this kind of reporting becomes standard operating procedure, we're screwed.