Most every journalist who covers Trump knows of these things:
1. He isn’t good at anything a president has to do. From the simplest, like pretending to help out in flood relief, to the hardest: making the call when all alternatives are bad. (We’re told he can be charming one-on-one. So maybe that’s his one skill.)
2. He doesn’t know anything about the issues with which he must cope. Nor does this seem to bother him.
3. He doesn’t care to learn. It’s not like he’s getting better at the job, or scrambling to fill gaps in his knowledge.
4. He has no views about public policy. Just a few brute prejudices, like if Obama did it, it was dumb. I do not say he lacks beliefs — and white supremacy may be one — but he has no positions. His political sky is blank. No stars to steer by.
5. Nothing he says can be trusted.
6. His “model” of leadership is the humiliation of others— and threat of same. No analyst unfamiliar with narcissistic personality types can hope to make sense of his actions in office.
It’s not like items 1-6 have been kept secret. Journalists tell us about them all the time. Their code requires that. Simultaneously, however, they are called by their code to respect the voters’ choice, as well as the American presidency, of which they see themselves a vital part, as well as the beat, the job of White House reporting. The two parts of the code are in conflict.
If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting what the president says becomes absurd. You can still do it, but it’s hard to respect what you are doing. If the president doesn’t know anything, the solemnity of the presidency becomes a joke. That’s painful. If they can, people flee that kind of pain. In political journalism there is enough room for interpretive maneuver to do just that.
This is “normalization.” This is what “tonight he became president” is about. This is why he’s called “transactional,” why a turn to bipartisanship is right now being test-marketed by headline writers. This is why “deal-making” is said to be afoot when there is barely any evidence of a deal.
What they have to report brings ruin to what they have to respect. So they occasionally revise it into something they can respect: at least a little.