- The president's most ardent critics in the pundit sphere nonetheless wished him well in the wake of his diagnosis — then were surprised when his behavior didn't change.
- Even as commentators from Mehdi Hasan to Rachel Maddow prayed for a speedy recovery, the victims of the president's policies continued to suffer.
- That reflexive reaction to Trump's illness shows the lengths to which the media is willing to go to ensure a lack of accountability for the country's leaders.
- Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
After President Donald Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, he made a big show of ripping off his mask and breathing in — with difficulty — the air. The move, which was pure showmanship, came after Trump announced on Twitter that the American people should not allow the coronavirus to run their lives and continued his longstanding practice of downplaying the lethal effects of a pandemic that has ravaged the world.
For Mehdi Hasan, the newly minted host of an eponymous news show on NBC's streaming service Peacock, the president's behavior was a betrayal.
"More people will die as a result of this," tweeted the British expat. "For the past few days, even Trump's biggest critics wished him well — myself included — [and] prayed for him etc and his response is to (seemingly) recover and then say [and] do reckless, ignorant things that will contribute to more people dying."
Well-wishing from one of Trump's most vociferous critics in an apparent hope that the president would change his behavior and be chastened by the experience of contracting the coronavirus is puzzling. Nothing in Trump's actions for the past four years — indeed, even earlier — would indicate that there's a reasonable case to be made that he will change.
But this predisposition to soft peddle the reaction to Trump's diagnosis showed once again that the role of the news media is not to deliver that hard truth about people in power. Pundits and commentators are all too ready to whitewash the records of politicians in order to halt any possibility of meaningful accountability in how the American people understand their leaders.
Any sense of accountability or accurate remembering is detrimental to internal US mythology that holds the office of the presidency and lawmaking in general up as the pinnacle of public service. Accurate historical memory is incompatible with the American system — and we got a preview during the president's stay at Walter Reed of just how Trump's record will likely be sanitized.
A threat to the country who must get well
Of course, Hasan wasn't alone. A number of typically vociferous critics of Trump were outspoken over the past week in their concern for the president. Though they've made their careers in the last four years by harshly criticizing Trump, all was forgotten once the president contracted the disease.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who spent the last four years heavily implying that Trump is a Kremlin mole, asked her audience to "please pray for their speedy and complete recovery."
The New York Times editorial board, just days before publishing an exposé on the extent of the administration's child separation policy — including that the president's deputies in the Justice Department actively prosecuted children barely older than infants — called for the president's recovery, "for the sake of the nation."
Even as the weekend dragged on, and the administration's handling of the hospitalization crisis continued to roil in lies and misinformation, members of the media still called for Trump to recover and get back to work, holding out an improbable hope that the president could both "get well and get it together."
That sentiment was shared by prominent Democrats, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders. Celebrities like director Ava DuVernay, whose "When They See Us" delved into the history of the Central Park Five — a group of then teens falsely imprisoned for murder and furiously attacked by Donald Trump — chimed in urging the president to "Get well. Sincerely. And after that, we're going to vote you out."
That the well-wishing came without acknowledging the recklessness that got Trump into the position in the first place—or the danger he placed his staff and reporters in by ignoring COVID protocols—shows a willingness to soften the edges of the truth in deference to the office of the president. Rather than reflexively hoping for the president's recovery as an end in and of itself, people with loud voices should speak clearly and honestly about the failure of Trump and all people in power.
Media history of sanitizing the legacies of people in power
With the flip of a switch, Trump's diagnosis made him a leader with a new gentler tone who must get well and get back to work for the good of the country, despite the reality that almost all of his work has actively harmed the country and the people in it.
The suddenly shift even while Trump is in office may be startling but it may be a sign of things to come. Can it be long before we see Trump remembered as something of a statesman? A member of an elite group of men who have shouldered the heaviest burden in public service?
The president's behavior since leaving the hospital — all mean tweets and chaotic deal breaking — suggests a total change in perception is not coming yet. But the way that Trump's health became such a pressing concern hints that the president is likely to be barely out of the White House before his legacy is rewritten.
Historically, the media's role in manufacturing our view of politicians both while they are in office and out of it leads to a fuzzy, rose-colored version of reality.
In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton's clearly inappropriate relationship with a Monica Lewinsky, at the time a 22-year-old intern, was treated as a mild discretion rather than a textbook case of sexual harassment in the workplace and pressure from a boss to engage in a relationship.
Until very recently, when the #MeToo movement came into its own, Clinton was remembered as a successful Democratic wonder, the two term president whose successes paved the way for Obama and the modern Democratic Party.
The media did a more intensive scrubbing when it came to Clinton's successor, George W. Bush. It's been just over a decade since he left office with a track record marked by the Iraq War, the destabilization of the entire Middle East, the drowning of New Orleans, the destruction of the economy, the politicizing of the Justice Department, and a general ineptitude. It's hard to remember now, but Bush left office with an approval rating in the low 20s and a stained reputation. Yet today, Bush is seen as a relatively cuddly old man who paints portraits of veterans and gives Michelle Obama throat lozenges.
And on and on it goes. Even now The Daily Show gets laughs by suggesting that Obama's tan suit was the greatest scandal of his presidency but ignores the reality of illegal wars, the attacks on whistleblowers and the press, Standing Rock, and more.
Liberal influencers have sold their audiences on a dream of criminal charges coming down the line for Trump, but we've heard it all before. Those dreams will be dashed in early January as quickly as were the dreams of Bush ever facing any comeuppance for potential war crimes. The fix is in.
Accountability is anathema to the American project and the national mythology of good, decent people doing the best they can in a tough world that our country relies on. That the reality is harsher, darker, and more complicated does not lend itself to the perpetuation of a hero story.
Trump's record will be washed away one way or another, unless we push back against that rewriting of history that will try to place the president as a disappointing, aberrant member of the White House elite.
Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, The Intercept, Vice News, and many other outlets. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.
Get the latest coronavirus business & economic impact analysis from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is affecting industries.
Source: Read Full Article