Since Trump’s election, the liberal media and much of the left have trained their fire on him, headlining daily his scandals, tweets and dysfunctional personality. Ironically, this is playing into Trump’s hands and helping the Republican Party, as it undermines the values that the left claims to champion.
MSNBC anchors such as Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Nicole Wallace arguably embody the problem most fully, perhaps because they are so creative, informed and dogged in their pursuit of the Trump house of cards. The brilliant investigative stories about Trump by The New York Times and The Washington Post also dominate the news and raise some of the same concerns.
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So what is the problem? The anti-Trump narrative is that the president is unfit for office, a “child” whom the “adults” in the White House need to supervise full time. But who are these “adults?” They are the generals in Trump’s cabinet — John Kelly, Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster — who spent much of their military career orchestrating disastrous wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The anti-Trump narrative, stressing the rationality and good judgment of these “adults,” tends to legitimate the worldview and behavior of the people responsible for so much of what is wrong with US foreign policy.
The problem is notable among the cable television commentators who tend to be former national security officers and rip Trump for questioning the moral virtues of agencies such as the CIA and FBI. Yet the CIA has led covert wars — whether in Guatemala, Iran or Colombia — that have engineered anti-democratic coups globally, often with help from the FBI and its attacks on domestic liberal dissent. Think only of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s long, infamous war on Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights.
Much anti-Trumpism thus legitimates institutions needing serious liberal and left critique while diverting attention from the Republican Party that is actually ruling the nation. It takes away time needed to expose in depth truly horrific GOP domestic policies, such as weakening Dodd-Frank banking and consumer regulations, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling and taking health care away from millions.
Yes, there is some coverage of big issues such as the tax bill, but the policy stories play second fiddle to Trump’s lies, tweets and bigotry. Since Trump knows so little about policy and is relatively uninvolved, the news becomes an endless story on Trump’s crude and criminal carnival-barker persona — and the rest fades out.
Anti-Trumpism tends to present the GOP establishment as trying to restrain its new erratic leader. But Trump is actually a creation of the “Reagan Revolution” and the corporate system that the GOP has long been handsomely rewarding. Trump has worse manners than the establishment, but he is their boy on almost all the policy questions they care about.
The focus on Trump plays directly into Trump’s hands and GOP power. Every time the media goes after him, it helps him dominate the national conversation. His personality as spectacle draws viewers and thus revenue to the media — and can attract money for anti-Trump candidates and political liberal or left groups, contradictorily aligning Trump with his most vocal critics.
Does this mean that Maddow, The New York Times or even leftist media should stop covering the Trump scandals? No. The Trump story has great importance, as Trump threatens democracy and even survival. But it does mean that the media should make clear that Trump is a fig leaf for a hyper-conservative Republican establishment and its wealthy donor class, now celebrating the massive tax giveaway to itself.
Anti-Trumpism is consuming the energy of liberals and the left, who need to fight Trump but also be urgently focused on stopping and reversing the disastrous GOP “adult” establishment and corporate takeover. We need to keep our eye on the ball and create a new politics prioritizing people — real children and real adults — over profits.