Pointless Trump Storylines


Donald Trump is a hypocrite.  We knew that a long time ago.  Spending valuable time and resources on the most recent examples is just distraction from the real and growing dangers of his presidency.

Yet, we had extensive coverage, on his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, reporting that he and Melania engaged in actions for which Trump tweeted to criticize Barack and Michele Obama  when they made a similar visit.  Trump bowed just as Obama had.  Melania wore no scarf or head cover just as Michele had not.

Does reporting on that comparison enlighten us in any way? Does it make Trump supporters reconsider their backing for him? Does it change the political calculus among Members of Congress?

An example that makes even less sense is the endless speculating–and that’s all it is–on the condition of the Trumps’ marriage.  Did Melania reject Donald when he tried to hold her hand?  Or was it their personal version of a high-five?  No one knows and no one should care.

Trying to discern what her facial expressions “really” mean has become something of a cottage industry.  If there’s one thing we should all have learned by now, it’s that no one on the outside can really know what’s going on within a relationship.  More importantly, it’s a form of gossip that distracts from the important questions about Trump’s actions as president.

Another running narrative of the Trump presidency is that he plays golf frequently.  We all remember how loudly Republicans criticized President Obama for far fewer golf outings but seem unmoved by Trump’s trips to the fairways.

At some level, I’d rather have him putting than tweeting or making budget decisions, but that’s not really the point.  We know that his work habits are less than stellar.  We have seen countless examples of his willingness to indulge himself at taxpayer expense.  Neither, however, is breaking news.  And neither helps us deal with the very real damage that his presidency is doing to this country.

No one would call Donald Trump an eloquent speaker or even a particularly articulate one.  He makes up words, misspells them constantly, garbles thoughts and sentences and rambles in presentations in a way that leaves you scratching your head, wondering what he is talking about.

Words certainly matter and some of his language can create serious confusion, misunderstanding and even deepen divisions.  He should be called out in specific instances, but merely mocking his speech is a pointless, even counterproductive, enterprise.

On the whole, press coverage of Donald Trump is now exponentially better than it was during the presidential campaign.  Reporters have cultivated sources and revealed information that the Administration was trying to hide.  If not for the media, Mike Flynn would still be National Security Advisor, there would be no special prosecutor and any efforts to expose Russian interference in last year’s election and learn whether there was collusion by the Trump campaign would have long been buried.

The first four months of his presidency have been the subject of insightful analysis and commentary.  While many Republicans still cower in their safe districts, the public resistance to Trump has been significantly enhanced by the growing transparency that the press has provided.  In other words, the existence of the First Amendment and its protection of a free press has, yet again, proved invaluable.

Exactly for that reason, spending time chasing sideshows should be avoided.  In the first place, continuous stories about Trump’s golf outings run the risk of trivializing overall coverage of him.  The important issue is what his administration is doing to undermine protection of the environment, not how often he has gone to Mar-a-Lago.  The attack that Trump and Betsy DeVos are leading on public education in this country should have our full attention; Trump’s awkward sword dancing with Saudis is merely a distraction.

When the press plays up examples of his hypocrisy, it feeds into the narrative that he and his supporters are pushing that the media is picking on him, that reporters are biased against him.  He will always believe that he is being treated unfairly and perhaps many of his backers will also, but there’s no point in giving fodder to that claim.

Finding the right balance is no easy task.  The greatest risks from the Trump presidency come from his temperament.  His behavior should certainly be covered by the press.  That Trump is desperately trying to bury the investigation into his ties with Russia should have our full attention.  If he tweets in the middle of the night about some perceived grievance, it doesn’t deserve the same level of scrutiny as his efforts at a coverup.

It’s an absolute certainly that Donald Trump will continue to provide abundant reasons for people to resist politically and for the press to closely examine his actions.  This is no time to be distracted by quirky behavior that is not central to the issues of governing and democracy.