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  • There will be no pivot

    Journalists have been predicting Trump will change for more than a year. It isn't going to happen.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It’s been 17 days since retired Gen. John Kelly joined the White House amid a wave of media goodwill. As chief of staff in the place of the feckless Republican political operative Reince Priebus, the theory went, Kelly might be able to “rein in” President Donald Trump. Kelly would impose “military discipline” on a White House that had devolved into warring factions, controlling the information the president received, restoring order to the decision-making process, and curtailing Trump’s Twitter habit. “There hasn’t been much good to say about Trump in a long time,” wrote Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank. “But recruiting Kelly suggests that he learns, very belatedly, from his mistakes, and that he’s capable of some small degree of humility.” Journalists often caveated their commentary with acknowledgments that the White House’s problem was far deeper than communications failures, and that much would depend on whether Trump was willing to listen to Kelly’s advice. But expectations for the new chief of staff were sky-high -- Frank’s piece was titled, “Will John Kelly Save Trump’s Soul?” The pivot, at long last, had arrived.

    To put it mildly, those takes haven’t aged well.

    Under Kelly’s tenure, the president offered up unhinged, improvised threats toward North Korea that suggested he was on the brink of ordering a nuclear strike. He lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats, and his White House openly admitted he had helped draft his son’s deceptive response to reports that he had met with Russians during the presidential campaign. And yesterday, Trump used a press conference to all but offer open support to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who rampaged through Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend in support of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

    Kelly was present yesterday as Trump put those racists on equal footing with those who showed up to oppose them, declaring that both sides included some “very fine people” and were equally to blame for the violence that erupted. He watched with apparent despair as the president praised protesters who had carried torches while chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” He looked on as Trump did his best to shred the fabric of a nation sorely in need of healing. No American general has been so thoroughly routed since Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

    And yet, while the events of recent weeks are horrifying, they are not entirely surprising. Critics -- including Trump’s Democratic opponent -- warned throughout the campaign that Trump lacked the necessary temperament to be trusted with the U.S. nuclear arsenal, that he would never be able to work with Congress, that he was too closely tied to Russia, and that he was the candidate of choice for white nationalists and other deplorables. These were all known quantities; things are proceeding as we might have expected. And that leads us, inexorably, to the following conclusion.

    The pivot is not coming. There is no decision this president can make that will alter the trajectory of his administration. It’s long past time for journalists to stop predicting a change in course is imminent, or even possible.

    For more than a year, every brief moment of normalcy -- every instance in which Trump did not devolve into crude attacks on his opponents during a speech, or fired a controversial staffer, or even managed to avoid tweeting anything “controversial” for a handful of days -- has been accompanied by journalists willing to say that Trump had hit the “reset” button, that now he was finally becoming “presidential.” Inevitably, those journalists found themselves with egg on their faces in a matter of days, as Trump reverted to form and proved those moments anomalies, not the beginnings of a trend.

    I understand why reporters and commentators might be overeager to declare that change is on the way. It is uncomfortable to live in a world in which the president of the United States is an unhinged egomaniac who offers sympathy for literally the worst people in American society and lashes out at the institutions that support democratic governance. It makes sense that those whose jobs involve trying to make sense of this situation might grasp for anything that could reestablish normalcy.

    There’s also a bias in the press toward a change in storylines. Reporters strive to identify “new news,” and as such are susceptible to over-reading discrete instances as the start of a new trend. “Trump is doing something new” is a much more interesting story to tell than “Trump is doing the same thing,” and so it’s a story that gets told disproportionately to the reality.

    But the reality is, things aren’t normal because Trump is the president -- no shuffle in the White House or effort to change the message can change that. This is who he is. He rose to political prominence by questioning the legitimacy of the first black president, started his campaign with a racist rant against Mexicans, and was elected in spite of the publication of a tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. He obviously cares more for his private interest than he does for public service. He values people and organizations solely on the basis of whether they support him personally. He has shown over and over again that he lacks either the intellect or the temperament to do his job. He is 71 years old -- none of this is going to change.

    This week, there were rumblings (though to some extent they have dissipated) that White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon might be on his way out, having lost the president’s favor. It would be an unalloyed positive for the despicable former chief of Breitbart.com to no longer have a job steps from the Oval Office. If that were to happen, I would expect some in the media to declare that the pivot had finally arrived. They would be wrong. As Trump said yesterday, Bannon joined his campaign late in the game. Trump was an unhinged racist before Bannon, and he’ll still be one if Bannon leaves. Anyone who claims that a Bannon removal would be the start of a real change will inevitably be quickly embarrassed.

    Instead of constantly looking for signs of the pivot, journalists should be stressing the remarkable consistency of Trump’s tenure. The administration’s throughline is chaos and hate, failure propagated by laziness and stupidity. Trump told us who he was, and he is living up to it.

  • White nationalists cheer Trump for assigning blame to “both sides” for Charlottesville violence

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    White nationalists applauded President Donald Trump for giving a press conference where he cast “blame on both sides” for an August 12 white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, VA, that culminated in a neo-Nazi plowing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

    During his August 15 remarks from Trump Tower, Trump also blamed the “alt left” for violence and defended an earlier protest held the evening of August 11 where white nationalists carried torches while shouting racist and anti-Semitic chants.

    David Duke -- a white nationalist radio host, noted anti-Semite, and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard -- wrote on Twitter, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa”:

    Duke was an early Trump backer and has been a strong supporter of the president and his administration. In February 2016, Trump declined to denounce Duke after being pressed several times by CNN’s Jake Tapper during an appearance on State of the Union. In other instances, Trump has denounced Duke under pressure.

    White nationalist website VDare used the presser to call Trump a “God-Emperor,” a common compliment for Trump among racists:

    James Edwards, the host of white nationalist radio show The Political Cesspool, wrote, “Progress! @realDonaldTrump now puts #Charlottesville blame at the feet of 'Alt-Left' who came in 'without a permit'":

  • “Pizzagate,” Seth Rich conspiracy theorist troll giddy after Trump retweets him

    Right-wing troll Jack Posobiec used to call himself “alt-right,” has promoted debunked conspiracy theories, participated in harassment campaigns against journalists, and habitually engages in sophomoric stunts to self-promote his platform.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump retweeted right-wing troll Jack Posobiec’s tweet to his more than 35 million followers in his ongoing effort to push alternative narratives to distract from his tepid condemnation of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, that included a fatal act of terrorism. Trump’s retweet shows that he has no qualms in elevating trolls whose arsenals include harassing journalists, peddling conspiracy theories and smears, and pulling absurd, attention-grabbing stunts for self-promotion. And Posobiec’s giddy reaction to Trump’s retweet demonstrates he feels validated by the presidential attention.

    In his August 14 tweet, Posobiec appeared to be accusing the media of focusing excessively on Charlottesville at the expense of covering violence in Chicago, IL, against victims he identified as African-Americans (a point he attempted to make by tweeting out local news coverage of crime in Chicago).

    Posobiec, formerly associated with the Canadian far-right outlet The Rebel, is a long-time Trump supporter who rode the coattails of the “alt-right” movement and openly identified with it in many now-deleted tweets as the movement ascended to prominence through its support of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Along with Mike Cernovich and other online personalities, Posobiec then attempted to rebrand himself as “new-right” when the “alt-right’s” brand became too closely-linked to outspoken white nationalist Richard Spencer (Spencer once posted an image where he appears with Posobiec in Cleveland, OH, for the Republican National Convention).

    Before earning presidential attention on social media, Posobiec took a page out of the right-wing troll playbook of using social media to his advantage. He promoted attention-grabbing stunts masquerading as activism, rode the controversies to increase his visibility and online followers, and eventually used the platform for political access and promotion of personal business endeavors (in Posobiec’s case, a self-congratulatory book about the movement that took Trump to victory).

    Posobiec’s long list of absurd, sophomoric stunts include disrupting a theater presentation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that he deemed as promoting political violence, filing a civil rights lawsuit over all-female screenings of Wonder Woman, and trolling a congressional press conference on net neutrality to demand that Democratic senators disavow “satanic” internet pornography.

    Like Cernovich, Posobiec justifies his stunts as activism or citizen journalism, even though his brand of journalism has included heavily pushing the “Pizzagate” narrative, a right-wing smear that falsely accused members of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring that operated out of a family-friendly Washington, DC, pizza parlor. Posobiec personally investigated the pizza parlor, and falsely declared that a gunman who commandeered the restaurant because of the ugly smear was a “false flag.” Posobiec also attended a White House press briefing with temporary press credentials in May and used the opportunity to push the debunked conspiracy theory about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. On Twitter, he promoted a cache of hacked emails allegedly belonging to French President Emmanuel Macron during his campaign. Eventually, expert analysis of the documents Posobiec was pushing as #MacronLeaks showed that some were “not genuine” and tied the efforts to discredit Macron to users based in Russia.

    Posobiec was recently featured on an Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) list of far-right figures who, together with the white supremacist “alt-right,” use the internet to spread vitriol and harass people. While Posobiec reacted to the list with a tantrum, comparing ADL’s members to Nazis and claiming he was being targeted as a Trump supporter, he gleefully participated in an online campaign against CNN that resulted in CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski getting harassed and receiving death threats.

    The troll’s giddy reactions to Trump elevating his profile, his subsequent attempts to pivot further away from the “alt-right” movement, and his threats to “start defamation cases” against media who label him an “alt-right” figure, weren’t the only consequences of the president’s retweet. It also showed that to push his war against the free press -- whom he has recently attacked for not praising his “additional remarks on Charlottesville” -- Trump is willing to enlist any unscrupulous figures no matter what harassment tactics and smear campaigns they habitually engage in.