Media Fawn Over Trump’s Success at Saying Words in Semi-Coherent Fashion
1 March 2017 — FAIR
What came to be known as the “expectations game” during the George W. Bush years was wielded with notorious cynicism. The assumption behind this game in those days was that Bush was a bumbling doofus who could hardly string together a coherent sentence, so if he got to the level of a high school debate, media chalked it up as a “win.”
The game, successfully rebooted by Donald Trump over the past 18 months, was in full play during Trump’s speech to Congress last night: So long as Trump wasn’t his petulant, incoherent, race-baiting self, it would be considered a victory for the 45th president.
That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period. And he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do, if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.
Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.
President Trump was, of course, already the president—a fact that has left millions of Muslims, Latino immigrants, women and LGBTQs at risk or under siege.
CNN’s homepage an hour after the speech was uniformly positive:
Screenshot: Tom McCay
Extreme centrist Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza? lavished praise on Trump on both social and traditional media. He insisted on Twitter, “This was the best speech Trump has given since he became a candidate in June 2015.” He followed with two glowing articles, “What That Moment With the Wife of a Slain Navy SEAL Proves About Donald Trump” (2/28/17) and “Winners and Losers From President Trump’s Big Speech to Congress” (2/28/17) which he posted to Twitter with what seemed like a ready-made gif of Trump “dropping the mic”—a pop culture cliche for giving a successful speech.
“This speech is clearest example Trump is beginning to own and understand the powers of the office,” said Time White House correspondent Zeke Miller. His colleague, Time Washington bureau chief Michael Scherer, breathlessly added, “This speech is the best sign yet that Donald Trump can learn how to use the power of his office.”
“That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump,” Capital bureau chief for Politico John Bresnahan said in reference to Trump praising the widow of the Navy SEAL whom Trump’s botched raid helped send to an early grave—along with nine children under the age of 13, including a US citizen. “‘Etched into eternity.’ What a moment,” Bresnahan’s colleague Tim Alberta salviated, quoting Trump’s self-serving praise of the fallen sailor.
“This is the best morning of Donald Trump’s presidency,” Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker added. “He is basking in positive pundit reviews. All that tumult feels like yesteryear”
Tone was elevated above all. The BBC (3/1/17), US News (3/1/17), NPR (2/28/17) and MSN (3/1/17) all used the cliche “Kinder, Gentler Trump” to describe the speech. NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted out, “He’s hitting the same issues and themes he talks about at rallies, but this is the first time he’s used a different tone to sell his agenda.”
The New York Times (2/28/17) even gave Trump a pat on the head for “following the written text on the teleprompters more closely than any major speech of his presidency.”
The praise from the media for his speech was so overwhelming, Trump is reportedly delaying the roll out of his new “travel ban” (his new attempt to legalize a Muslim ban) so he can soak in all the goodwill.
The consistent theme in all praise of Trump, it’s worth highlighting, is that it was entirely superficial. Vague notions of “optimism,” “kinder” tones and, above all, the DC fetish for being “presidential” won the day. On substance—as many of the less credulous critics have pointed out—the Trump presidency remains unchanged.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.