There’s a new Hemingway short story – well, not new. It was written in 1956 and takes place in 1944 in Paris. Of course it does. By 1956, Hemingway was disgusted with being famous. He knew he couldn’t live up to the hype. He didn’t want this story published until after he was dead and gone. He was tired of explaining himself. He had already explained himself – “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for all of Paris is a moveable feast.”
Hemingway had Paris. He’d always have Paris. But everyone else has their own moveable feasts. If you were lucky enough to have lived in the United States as a young man in the late sixties, in college at the time, wherever you go for the rest of your life, that stays with you – the music and the cultural revolution and a sense of who the enemy was, and maybe still is. The “system” was the enemy – capitalism, and organized religion with all its pious scolding and intolerance of “the other” – so the idea was to fight The Man – who was never a specific man, or woman for that matter. Individuals could be forgiven. The system was the enemy.
Those were the days. For many, those still are the days, but Donald Trump was lucky enough to have lived in the United States as a young man in the late sixties. He didn’t see things that way. He still doesn’t see things that way. There’s nothing wrong with the system. The problem is individual bad actors – incompetent Obama with his epic bad deals on everything, crooked Hillary with her treason, Muslims, Mexican, the Chinese, and now the Canadians and NATO and Angela Merkel – and Pocahontas Warren and all the rest – and the press too – the real enemy of the people. The system is fine. The problem is individual bad actors. It used to be MSNBC’s Katy Tur. Now it’s CNN’s James Acosta. Soon it will be someone else. Donald Trump has his own moveable feast.
It’s hard to keep it all straight. Canada is our friend but Justin Trudeau is our enemy. North Korea is our enemy but Kim is not. Kim is a fine fellow, Russia is our enemy but Putin is not. Putin is fine fellow too. Trump does not think systematically. He thinks individually. He may not think at all:
President Donald Trump on Thursday defended his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month and decried the “Russian hoax,” speaking at a rally just hours removed from his top national security officials decrying Russian attempts to influence US elections.
During the rally in Pennsylvania on Thursday, Trump did not mention allegations of interference or attacks on the US democratic process.
“In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin,” Trump said. “We discussed everything. … We got along really well. By the way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax – it’s a hoax, okay?”
Okay, Russia did nothing last time around, but the rest of his government disagrees:
Earlier on Thursday, key members of Trump’s national security team had appeared in the White House briefing room to warn that Russia was continuing its efforts to interfere in the US political system, saying Trump had directed them to make countering election interference a top priority.
“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said.
This is an ongoing systematic attack on the United States. He sent them out to say that. He must have approved that, but he didn’t show up himself, perhaps on purpose. He’s not a “systems” guy, and this is personal:
Trump said the “Russian hoax” is holding up his approach to Russia, and he lashed out at the media, which he said unfairly maligned last month’s meeting. At that meeting, Trump declined to accept the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had attempted to influence the 2016 election in his favor and pointed to Putin’s denial. Trump followed up that comment after much criticism, saying he had meant to say he saw no reason why it “wouldn’t” be Russia behind the effort but had instead said “would.”
He also claimed on Thursday that Russia was “very unhappy” he had won the election, although at his joint news conference with Putin, the Russian leader said he had wanted Trump to win.
He lashed out at the media for reporting what was said. That wasn’t fair. They’re not reporting that all this stuff about Russia messing with our last election is a hoax. His entire national security team had just appeared in the White House briefing room to say it wasn’t a hoax at all. It’s hard to keep it all straight, but that’s the fault of the press:
Trump said that based on the reports of his summit, people wanted him “to go up and have a boxing match” with Putin.
“Whatever happened to diplomacy?” he said.
Trump further said it was wrong to call him “soft” on Russia when during that same trip abroad he raised the issue of Germany buying energy from Russia.
Why didn’t the press report that? They did report that. They simply reported the other stuff too. That made them the enemy of the people.
That called for some clarification. That didn’t go well. The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips covers that:
When President Trump derides the media as the enemy of the people – as he’s doing more frequently – he’s not just spouting off his momentary frustration. He’s stating official White House policy.
The White House just made that abundantly clear. Four times in two days, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was offered the opportunity by reporters to clarify whether the president really thinks journalists are the enemy of Americans, or that it’s wrong for people to harass journalists doing their job. It wouldn’t be the first time an official White House statement contradicted something the president said or tweeted.
But four times in two days, Sanders refused to say that the media is not the enemy of the people or to condemn people who heckled a CNN reporter Tuesday in Tampa, to the point where he feared someone was going to get hurt.
That would be CNN’s James Acosta, but somehow that was his fault:
The White House press secretary ticked off a list of sometimes-inaccurate and sometimes-unrelated grievances about how these hyperpartisan times have affected her life and the president’s life, and why they blame journalists for that.
“The media continues to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president and everyone in his administration,” Sanders said.
Basically: The White House thinks that journalists are the enemy of the people.
And that led to this:
In a week full of tension between journalists and Trump and Trump supporters, the most heady moment so far came Thursday, when the journalist at the center of so many attacks from the right (including from the president himself), CNN’s Jim Acosta, twice asked Sanders if she would say that the media is not the enemy of the people.
He was following up on an earlier question in the briefing about how Ivanka Trump said she doesn’t agree with her father that the press is the country’s enemy. Trump later tried to square her statement with his own by claiming he doesn’t think all media is the enemy, just most of it.
Trump said his daughter didn’t understand. Some of the media folks are just fine, a very few of them. Most of them are despicable – his enemy and thus the enemy of the people, because, after all, the people elected him in a landslide victory of historic proportions, or what would have been a landslide but for all that voter fraud. He might have just said that his daughter is a pretty little thing but more ornamental than useful – she just doesn’t understand the world. What woman does?
He didn’t say that but the exchange at the White House was testy anyway:
“It would be a good thing if you were to say right here at this briefing that the press – the people who are gathered in this room right now, doing their jobs every day, asking questions of the people like the ones you brought forward earlier – are not the enemy of the people,” Acosta said. “I think we deserve that.”
Instead, Sanders looked down at her notes and appeared to read a prepared statement about her perceived grievances with the media; how, among other things, she was cruelly made fun of by a comedian at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. (The association said Michelle Wolf’s performance “was not in the spirit” of the mission of promoting the free press.)
Acosta tried again:
You did not say in the course of your remarks you just made that the press is not the enemy of the people. Are we to take it from what you just said – we all get put through the ringer, we all get put in the meat grinder in this town, and you’re no exception. I’m sorry that happened to you; I wish that would not have happened – but for the sake of this room, the people who are in this room, this democracy, this country, all the people around the world who are watching, what are you saying Sarah, and the White House for the United States of America, the president of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the American people. His own daughter acknowledged that and all I’m asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.
She seems to have been forbidden to say that:
Sanders did not take him up on that: “I appreciate your passion, I share it. I addressed this question, I addressed my personal feelings. I’m here to speak on behalf of the president. He’s made his comments clear.”
In short, don’t ask me what I think. I don’t matter. My job is to tell you what the president thinks. That’s what I did. Get off my case.
Acosta walked out and Phillips adds this:
There is less room for journalists to make mistakes now that Trump has made them a central character in his own political story. On Wednesday a Politico reporter apologized for calling the Trump supporters cursing out Acosta “garbage people.” His apology made national headlines.
None of this is fading anytime soon. It’s a safe bet things are only going to get worse between journalists and the White House and some of Trump’s supporters before – if – they get better. What that will do to journalism, to politics, to democracy is an open, even scary question.
The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt reports on how scary things got that same evening:
Donald Trump ramped up his attack on the media on Thursday night, criticizing the press as “fake, fake, disgusting news” and describing journalists in attendance as “horrible, horrendous people”, despite UN experts warning earlier in the day that his actions were putting journalists at risk.
The UN warning was clear:
In a joint statement, two experts on freedom of expression – David Kaye, who was appointed by the UN human rights council, and Edison Lanza, who holds the corresponding position at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said: “These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.”
Trump’s attacks “are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts”, they added, while noting the president “has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations”.
Donald Trump doesn’t think much of those UN fools:
Nominally appearing in Wilkes-Barre, in Pennsylvania, to support a Republican candidate for the US Senate, Trump instead spent more than 15 minutes listing a series of grievances with the press, inducing angry chanting from the crowd towards the assembled media.
The president angrily attacked the media’s coverage of a range of topics including his 2016 election victory, his meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, his meeting with Vladimir Putin, his meeting with NATO, and finally his meeting with the Queen in July.
Trump’s most intense criticisms came during an anecdote about the latter. Trump said he and the Queen “got along fantastically well” and enjoyed “good chemistry”, but told the thousands-strong crowd that the “fake news” had instead reported that he turned up late.
“They can make anything bad. Because they are the fake, fake, disgusting news,” Trump said.
The insult prompted wild applause…
But he had turned up late. There are verifiable facts, not that that was the issue here:
During the middle of his speech on Thursday Trump pointed to the press area in the middle of the arena as he recalled the skepticism around his chances of victory in November 2016.
“Even these people back there, these horrible, horrendous people,” Trump said, would agree “there has never been anything like what happened in November”, Trump said.
These horrible, horrendous people had doubted that he would win, which is what makes them such horrible, horrendous people, and then he added a dab of self-pity:
During his lengthy diatribe Trump referenced his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un – which was widely criticized as having achieved little – in furthering his characterization of the media and “fake news”. Trump claimed he had returned to DC from the Singapore summit and told his wife, Melania, that he was excited to see the media coverage.
“I just stopped missiles from being launched every two seconds,” Trump quoted himself as saying to his wife.
“‘And baby, I got the hostages back'” Trump said. “‘And you know what, honey? They’re not testing any more nuclear.'”
“Oh the media is gonna finally treat me so good” Trump recalled himself saying. “I’m looking forward to waking up tomorrow and reading those dying papers.”
Instead, Trump said, he faced “only negativity” from the “fake news”.
This was a Country and Western song – my pick-up truck died, my woman left me, my dog hates me, and it’s raining hard – that sort of thing where everything goes wrong. Trump fans are Country and Western fans. Trump needed only a cowboy hat and a battered old acoustic guitar to make it all complete. The crowd would have loved it.
After all, two days earlier it had been this:
Fox News host Sean Hannity said CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta deserved the harsh heckling he received at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tampa, Florida tonight, due to the reporter’s supposedly “abusively biased treatment of the president.”
“I’m going to actually give your network some advice, if you have an open mind and an open heart, maybe a little humility,” Hannity said during tonight’s airing of his show. “The people of this country, they’re screaming at you for a reason.”
“They don’t like your unfair, abusively biased treatment of the president of the United States. Now, if you want to earn the respect of all Americans, not the coastal elites of California, LA, San Francisco, D.C., and New York, maybe try reporting the entire story,” he added.
Acosta got what he deserved:
Hecklers shouted “CNN sucks” and booed the White House correspondent as he attempted to report live from Tampa, Florida.
After a video was uploaded to Twitter showcasing Acosta’s treatment, first-son Eric Trump endorsed the heckling and tweeted “#Truth” in response to the “CNN sucks” chants. The president retweeted his son’s attack against Acosta.
The general idea was that Acosta was a snowflake. He whined that someone might hurt him. Someone might. He should have thought of that before he questioned the president’s judgment and actions. The coastal elites are not real Americans, and real Americans think he’s a horrible, horrendous person. They will do what they must. He should take his medicine like a man, a real man – or shut the fuck up.
But there’s something else to consider. Hannity and Trump speak several times a day – Hannity tells Trump what’s working and what’s not working. Trump listens carefully and does what Hannity says, but now Hannity is having second thoughts:
Sean Hannity has made it clear he has serious disdain for CNN, especially the network’s chief White House reporter Jim Acosta, but he insisted last night that he condemns any physical threats to members of the media – Acosta included.
“Let me say this clearly and loudly. I want every journalist in this country, everyone, I don’t care who you work for, to be safe. And I will tell you right now, I will be the first person to come to your defense if I’m there and anyone ever dares lay a hand on you. If I was standing there, if I see it happen, I will be the first person to jump in and fight on your behalf. Physical violence is never acceptable to me, nor is it acceptable to the conservatives I know and respect. And let me also be clear, if you are a conservative, and by the way, you ever threaten anyone, you are not a friend of mine, you are not a friend of this program and by the way – or the conservative movement of which I’m just a small part of.”
That was a signal to Trump. Things had gone too far, but Acosta was having none of it and tweeted this:
Hannity is a propagandist for profit, peddling lies every night. He says he’s just a talk show host, not a journalist. But he’s injecting poison into the nation’s political bloodstream warping public attitudes about the press. I’m confident in the long run the truth will prevail.
Hannity tweeted back:
Jimmy @Acosta sorry your precious feelings are hurt & that people see through your lying bullshit for what it is – FAKE NEWS. #CNNSUCKS
And that was that. Trump would have watched every minute of this.
Donald Trump was lucky enough to have lived in the United States as a young man in the late sixties, but he missed the sixties. There’s nothing wrong with the system. The problem is individual bad actors. That’s how you define the enemy. Jim Acosta is the enemy.
The sixties really are over. That moveable feast is over – but Hemingway is back in Paris again. At least there’s that. And old men can move to Paris. There’s that too. This is no place to be.