The Standards Are Moved to Accommodate Trump

Of the biggest U.S. newspapers, the Washington Post is doing the best job covering the Trump administration, in my estimation. And I think Philip Rucker and Michael Scherer do incredibly good work on a regular basis.

Which is why I'm using this article, and its headline (surely written by someone other than Rucker and Scherer), to illustrate how much the standards have already been adjusted to accommodate Donald Trump's extraordinary presidency. The WaPo sets the highest mark, and so it's notable how short the work there can still fall.

The title: "In Sparring with a Grieving Widow, Trump Follows His No-Apology Playbook." This is not a game, and yet here are two sports metaphors jammed into one headline.

Sparring, as though Donald Trump and Myeshia Johnson are boxers, just practicing in a ring together. As though they are equals. They are not equals. They aren't even both named in the headline. It's Trump, the president of the nation, versus an unnamed "grieving widow."

And Trump is just following his "playbook," as though his refusal to apologize to someone he has grievously — and, by this point, repeatedly — harmed is a clever strategic move and not the grotesque personal failing of a vile abuser.

It's all just too flippant. And it sets the stage for the rest of the piece, which uses similarly minimizing language that suggests all of this is bad, but still within the bounds of normal.

For example, instead of saying straightforwardly, and accurately, that Trump called Johnson a liar: Trump merely "rejected Johnson's account." Instead of dodging the press and every attempt at accountability, Trump "ignored questions about the issue shouted by reporters later in the day."

"The fight pitting the commander in chief's words against those of the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier...has distracted from the administration's agenda."

"The episode has also threatened to stain the credibility of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly."

"The drama began last Monday with a falsehood by Trump."

"Trump's actions since then have followed a careful formula that he long ago devised for winning a skirmish."

"The conflict bears all the hallmarks of a typical Trump rumble."

"The whole hullabaloo."

Et cetera. Trump's harmful mismanagement of what should have been a simple phone call to express his sympathy to Myeshia Johnson, and his subsequent bellicose refusal to express his regret for making a dreadful situation even worse for her, is not a fight, nor a drama, nor a skirmish, nor a rumble, nor a hullabaloo.

It's not a falsehood that he told; it's a lie.

Kelly's credibility is already gone. He told a rank lie about a sitting member of Congress. If that only "threatens to strain" his credibility, what in all hell would actually strain it?

The standards keep moving. And the reason is because the political press is insistent on maintaining the pretense that this is a normal presidency. Unusual, but not comprehensively and irretrievably abnormal.

So they're working to normalize this indecent deviance. And in the process they are demolishing even the most basic standards to which we held the nation's leaders.

Once gone, those standards will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

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