September 25th, 2020


Bullet-proof prez?

Andrew Malcolm

By Andrew Malcolm McClatchy Washington Bureau/(TNS)

Published April 15, 2019

 Bullet-proof prez?
Facing nuclear war and the end of all human life in the 1964 dark comedy "Dr. Strangelove," a U.S. general and a Russian ambassador get into a physical struggle. "Gentlemen," yells the U.S. president, "you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"

The humorous insanity of that moment leapt to mind in recent days while watching the crazed reactions to the special prosecutor reporting no evidence of collusion with Russians by Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

The diverse individual reactions, ranging from hypocritical praise to absolute denial, matter less than the overall canvas of so many dysfunctional democratic institutions and individuals on all sides. The scene would be laughable if it didn't hurt so much to see such universal failings of once trusted and cherished functions essential to our democracy.

Robert Mueller, the prosecutor, is the only one who emerges clean. He did his job with professional focus and silence and disdain for the distracting sideshows.

But everyone else needs to take a shower, change clothes and evaluate their behavior in this sorry saga. Take President Trump, for instance. By firing the FBI director four months into his presidency instead of when he was inaugurated, Trump invited a special prosecutor.

The president staunchly denied any collusion and spent the better part of two years attacking the investigation as a witch hunt to corrode its future credibility. But then, oops, what to do when the witch hunter agrees with him?

The president relentlessly attacks mainstream media as lying "enemies of the people" and "fake news" trying to bring him down. He's not the first chief executive to go after news messengers.

Speaking of collusion, what about that day last August when upwards of 300 newspapers across the country agreed to simultaneously publish editorials harshly critical of Trump?

Does such an ineffective stunt not play sweetly into the man's manipulative hands? How does this help media in their ongoing death struggle for influence, relevance and financial stability in a turbulent era of change? Or the country, for that matter?

The New York billionaire didn't invent this distrust of media. He actually craves their attention. But unlike all the other 2016 candidates, the non-politician detected it, just as he saw and tapped into vast voter frustrations about Washington in just the right places to win the Electoral College.

Even a casual news follower these past 24 months got the impression from unidentified media sources and the cable commentariat on CNN and MSNBC that it was only a matter of time before the truth of Trump's traitorous collusion emerged.

Every day, hour after hour, these paid "contributors," some once-respected intelligence professionals, manipulated people's fears with false conspiracy theories and hypotheticals the same as — oh, look! — the very man they were targeting. And these outlets were handsomely rewarded for such suspicious suspicions with viewer ratings and online clicks, sending much of the country into a spiral of distrust.

Far from being guardians of at least an attempted objectivity, they became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the opposition whose wishful claims were demolished by the prosecutor's IED.

What made them so terribly gullible? Trump does numerous admirable things but then says countless ridiculous things, which contribute to an air of verbal dishonesty. He is, to be honest, an easy public personality to dislike.

My main theory is, besides a visceral Eastern dislike for such a carnival barker, they are intellectually incapable of comprehending a presidential victory by such a person.

It's just not possible. There had to be some kind of dirty conspiracy. And who else but those Russians that Trump seems to like too much?

Perhaps worse, absent a conspiracy, as journalists allegedly with fingers on the pulse of America, you'd have to admit a stunning failure to detect the advance tremors of the largest political upset in modern history.

You'd also have to admit that such eager repetition of anticipated awful news about Trump, now proven awfully wrong instead, has pretty much inoculated this president against all kinds of future charges.

But no one will.


Andrew Malcolm
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.