The President held a news conference at the White House yesterday that was not so much an opportunity to share developments in the Trump administration as it was to engage in a pretentious display of self-congratulatory rhetoric. Mr. Trump, with White House press corps assembled, declared that his administration was running like a “fine-tuned machine” despite a litany of headlines that counter that claim.
His “fine-tuned machine” has thus far produced little, with the exception of an Executive Order aimed at stopping the entry of Muslims into this country that has been suspended by federal judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The President has had his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, step aside after revelations that Flynn had been in communication with Russian officials prior to Trump taking office. His choice for Labor Secretary, Andrew Pudzer, was forced to bow out after it became clear Trump could not muster Republican support in the Senate for Pudzer’s confirmation. And the two principle public spokespersons for the administration, press secretary Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway, and aide Stephen Miller have become running jokes and easy prey for the writers at NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Thursday’s press conference was another test of endurance for the White House press corps. The president again was on the defensive, declaring his first weeks in office to be a success, and again delving in lies and casting the press as the enemy. It is a pattern that has been evident since the presidential campaign and that many had hoped would be broken once Trump made the transition to the Oval Office. It has not and with each passing week it is becoming evident that this behavior is purposeful and party of a larger strategy to deflect and distract from the failings of his administration. The presidential news conference is now theater, “The Apprentice – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” with President Trump playing his TV role to perfect form. For the American public, this represents a profound loss of transparency in the executive branch of the government, and for the nation’s journalists, a moment in which the credibility of their profession is being called into question. The traditional restraints of media inquiry and conduct exhibited during a presidential news conference may now have to be abandoned for no other reason than for the press to resist not becoming part of “the show.”
What was also gleaned from the president’s press conference was confirmation that this President has no intention of dealing with serious issues in a forthright manner. This is behavior his aides Spicer, Conway and Miller have exhibited during their television appearances. Despite the evidence that Michael Flynn was engaged in conversations with Russian officials, the extent of which and the substance certainly deserving of investigations, President Trump used the news conference to claim Flynn had been treated unfairly and to again rail against the press for peddling “fake news.” He then went on to disclaim any notion that his business has had any dealings with Russians against evidence that not to be the case. Perhaps the most bizarre moment was when he asked April Ryan, an African-American journalist from American Urban Radio Networks, if any of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus were her friends and if she could facilitate a meeting with the group that represents African-American members in the House and Senate.
The most startling claim this president made yesterday was the idea that his administration is operating with maximum efficiency. In perhaps a Freudian slip, President Trump uttered a truth when he said, “I don’t think there’s ever been a President elected who, in this short period of time, has done what we’ve done.” It is perhaps the most glaring example of someone operating outside of reality. The dysfunction in the Trump White House is evident in the many mixed messages given by his public spokespersons, the power struggle within his inner circle that becomes more apparent every day, his inability to grasp the dynamics of the government he is now charged to lead, and his team’s lack of preparedness in governing the nation and advancing proposals that they claim will benefit this nation. The degree to which this administration has been underwhelming in its first month in power has likely never been witnessed before in the transition of presidential power in this nation.
By sitting in the White House press room and lending credibility to the current environment as the ‘new normal,’ we contribute to the legitimacy of a presidential administration that has already fallen woefully short and has betrayed the respect deserving of this office. President Trump’s team has acted like spoiled children in its dealings with the press, arrogantly claiming its actions to be beyond question, and the president’s power absolute. The Trump administration has declared “the media” its enemy and that cannot be taken lightly or dismissed. Once that battle line was drawn, journalists needed to recalibrate their approach to covering this White House. If you are in enemy terrain, you should expect to be treated as such and need to come prepared to engage in battle.
President Trump’s news conference should be a warning to all journalists and to the nation. We cannot expect anything better from this president. He is incapable of being truthful and is afflicted with a sense of arrogance, paranoia and pettiness that has never been present to this degree by an occupant of the White House. And that is quite an accomplishment given the personalities that have sat in the west wing. These official news conferences are nothing more than rant sessions and those news organizations that cover the White House will have to decide, and decide soon, if they wish to be part of Trump’s circus. We learn nothing from his news conferences and while entertaining as a spectacle, they are also dangerous in that they give this president a platform to confuse, deceive and distract. There is no transparency here and the real danger is that as attention is focused on this president’s bizarre behavior as he stands at the podium behind the presidential seal, that in the background, behind doors in rooms in which we cannot see, his administration is working to undermine our democracy.