Crowd size stole the show again Monday. (And btw, all those millions of marchers weren't really rallying "against" Trump.) Tuesday, we dipped into the fanciful world of a widespread voter fraud conspiracy involving millions as Spicer assured us that Trump was "very comfortable with his win" in the election.
"Why not investigate something that is the biggest scandal in American history—3 to 5 million people voting illegally?" Mara Liasson asked skeptically.
"Maybe we will," offered Spicer.
By Wednesday, voilà! Yes indeedy, they would conduct a full scale investigation. Spicer was in the hot seat again.
Thursday could have brought relief as Trump took to Air Force One, yielding far fewer questions due to the limited pool of reporters. But no, Team Trump really smashed expectations as Spicer floated a 20 percent tax on goods imported from Mexico. Why? Retaliation, of course. Because the Mexican president cancelled his meeting with Trump after being repeatedly antagonized over paying for Trump's precious border wall. Talk of trade wars and higher-priced goods erupted until a little over an hour later, when the White House reframed the import tax as just one of a "buffet of options." Phew. Better get your guacamole while the gettin’s good.
By Friday, Trump's eccentricities were finally upstaged by congressional Republicans after leaked audio revealed a desperate caucus flummoxed as to how to deliver on Obamacare repeal without stripping millions of health insurance. Lucky for Trump, it was the only piece of jaw-dropping news this week that he didn't mythically construct out of thin air. The Obamacare story was also separated by the fact that it actually matters—the outcome has real consequences, as opposed to most of Trump's daily shadow boxing. Of course, it’s only a matter of time until he blunders into something devastating and irreparable.
And now I ask: what do crowd size, massive voter fraud, a sham investigation, and nearly sparking an unprovoked trade war have in common? Trump's mental instability lies at the heart of every one of those stories, and yet veteran reporter Carl Bernstein was the only Beltway journalist with enough guts to engage the topic.
“There is open discussion by members of the president of the United States’ own party about his emotional maturity, stability,” Bernstein said, adding he'd never seen anything like it in 50 years of reporting. “We are in uncharted territory here and we ought to talk to some of our colleagues about what they are hearing. I think it’s a really fruitful area because I’ve never heard [people] talking about a president the way this subtext is now a talking point.”
Several weeks after the November election, three psychiatry professors urged President Obama to order a neuropsychiatric evaluation of Trump's mental fitness before he assumed the responsibilities of the presidency. It was about as much as they could ethically do—mental health professionals are restricted from diagnosing anyone who's not actually under their care. But you don't have to be a trained therapist to know that Trump could probably binge on mushrooms daily and have a more benign grasp on reality than he does now.
Meanwhile, reporters over at NPR are wrestling themselves to the ground over whether to call a lie a "lie." At least the New York Times isn't still doing those mental gymnastics.
Look, we need journalists to get over their ethical hangups and deference for the office and start finding the words that meet the moment. NPR listeners weren’t simply upset over semantics. They’re desperate for substantive reporting that goes beyond a basic recitation of the daily bustle. Now is no time for journalists to take a cautious view of their role in our democracy—they weren’t armed with First Amendment protections by the founding fathers so they could hide behind their dictionaries in times of peril.
In years to come, today’s journalists will be judged by one thing and one thing only: How ably they wielded the power of the pen to preserve the foundations of our democracy for generations to come.
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