Last April (which seems like a lifetime ago), President Trump fired missiles at Syria in retaliation against Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his people, and the “liberal” media praised him. MSNBC anchor Brian Williams repeatedly called the missile strike “beautiful,” and the Washington Post’s David Ignatius said that Trump had “restored the credibility of American power.” The most laudatory words came from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who said that with this action:
“Donald Trump became President of the United States…[he] recognized that the President of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms…for the first time, as President, he talked about international norms, international rules, about America’s role in enforcing justice in the world. It was the kind of rhetoric that…President Trump had never used.”
Of course, a few days later, Trump was back to threatening North Korea on Twitter, and a month after the attack, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would refer to it as “after-dinner entertainment” for the guests dining at Mar-a-Lago. So much for presidential behavior.
It surprised many to hear words like this from Zakaria. Usually a reliable center-leftist, he has spoken critically of the President and the dictators he admires: his recent article in Foreign Affairs, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” chronicles the West’s devolution into a kind of fascism-lite that threatens to grow worse if unchecked. “I didn’t realize how fragile liberal democracy is,” he said in a follow-up interview in Vox. “If this becomes the new norm, then we’re starting to look like Latin America 40 years ago.”
These harsh words do not square with the Zakaria who wrote this in the Washington Post yesterday concerning Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos:
“Trump gave a good speech that was forthright, intelligent and conciliatory, embracing the world rather than condemning it. The address was extremely well received…by both American business leaders and even non-American attendees, who are overwhelmingly skeptical of Trump overall.”
The article praises Trump for appearing to have sided with the moderates in his administration, presenting to the world a United States that will cooperate with rising international powers in this new economy. While he argued that Trump’s unpredictability will always be a factor of his presidency, he concluded, “the United States and the world are better off for these moments when he behaves more like a normal president.”
The impulse from Zakaria and others in the media to paint Trump as “presidential” when the moment calls for it is understandable. Almost every day, he does something that lowers the credibility of his title – his tweets against Jay-Z this morning being the latest example – so, on those days when he doesn’t, it’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief and declare an end to our long national nightmare. But to praise him for briefly getting his act together is to ignore the darker impulses of him and his enablers. If Zakaria is so concerned with the crackdown on the media in other countries, why did he not mention the moment in Davos where Trump got booed for calling the media “Fake News”? Why did he ignore the president’s statement about his attempted firing of special counsel Mueller last June, again calling it “Fake News”?
The media and the free press have never been more vital in securing the protection of our democracy from those who attempt to poison and destroy it. Fareed Zakaria is a smart man with a history of professionalism, but articles like this constitute a dereliction of journalistic duty. Journalism is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and Zakaria and others like him, who go easy on the President to either speak to those who voted for him or protect their access, should not sacrifice the integrity of their positions to cozy up to a wannabe dictator who denigrates his office every day he remains in it.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.