Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Clear Warning

The Washington Post's Ashley Parker notes that in the coronavirus task force briefing Monday, President Donald

Trump played a propaganda-style video that he said had been pulled together by White House aides earlier in the day. In a short hagiography more in line with a political event than a presidential news conference, clips critical of the media were interspersed with footage of loyalists praising the president....

He also criticized “sleepy Joe Biden,” the presumptive Democratic nominee, because Biden, he said, had previously criticized him, and jousted with the “fake news.”

Shortly after Trump played the video, CBS’s Paula Reid pressed him on how his administration had not used the month of February to ready itself for the coming virus, after sharply limiting travel from China.

“You didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing,” Reid said, before Trump cut her off, calling her “disgraceful.”

Reid forged ahead. “What did you do with the time that you bought, the month of February?” she asked, as Trump talked over her. “That video has a gap — the entire month of February. . . . What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?”

And as usual, as Parker noted, Trump's performance "was a paean to the president and his ego, orchestrated by Trump himself."

Trump's entire presidency has been a paean to himself, and the briefings are primarily an opportunity for him to praise and glorify himself- he is the Chosen One, after all. They are saturated with ridicule and insults, condemnation and belligerence directed toward reporters, political opponents, and even public officials who are not opponents. Falsehoods outnumber accurate statements.

That alone should convince the networks to drop telecast of political events vaguely disguised as news conferences.  They should not run these shows with a chryon of instant fact-checks, as I once suggested. Nor should the networks cut in and out of these rallies in a vain attempt to catch the President saying something worthwhile and avoid the dishonest, even dangerous, remarks.

If the proper course of action wasn't obvious before Monday's event, it is now. Parker writes

At another moment, seemingly eager to assert his dominance over the nation’s governors, Trump declared incorrectly, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.”

Later, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins followed up: “You said when someone is president of the United States, their authority is total. That is not true. Who told you that?”

The president declined to answer, saying, “The governors need us” before abruptly silencing Collins with a sharp, “Enough.”

It wasn't a slip of the tongue. He stated also

The President of the United States has the authority to do what the President has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The President of the United States calls the shots.

At another point Trump asserted "the federal government has absolute power. It has the power. As to whether or not I'll use that power, we'll see."

President Trump has hinted at this before but never been quite as explicit. It was understandable if there were a misunderstanding. The President previously had not quite as clearly stated that he believes all power resides in the federal government and that all power in the federal government resides in him. All of it.

As the Donald Trump claims this total and absolute authority- this "powerful" authority, as he would put it- he gains strength, enriching his ego and delighting and reinforcing his base. An isolated reporter challenges the President, as did Collins, but the President has the literal bully pulpit, gets in the last word, and moves on to the next reporter, who changes the subject.

This cannot continue. This cannot continue as the President steamrolls his way over media organizations, the United States Senate and the Federalist Society courts, on to a possible victory in November. If these campaign events, staged at taxpayers' expense, still are aired and Donald Trump is victorious, the media (infatuated with emails four years ago) will be complicit in the consolidation of power which follows. And it will be complicit not only in re-election of a president, but of the authoritarian who laid out his intentions clearly on Monday, April 13, 2020.

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