Published on 18 Jan 2017

Reporting Presidents: the questions raised by Donald Trump

He was a ‘B’ movie star and we didn’t think that much of him in those days. Even though he had at least been Governor of California. Looking back, I suppose there were times when Ronald Reagan was regarded at the outset a bit like some now view Trump. Both, after all, promised to make America Great Again.

But Reagan surprised everyone. The man who spent decades as an actor turned out to play a major historical role. His hatred of Cuba was perhaps to be expected, as was his confusion as to exactly where Central America was, and who the evil operatives in the region were. What was a surprise was his eventual capacity to deliver a rapprochement with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union; which in turn led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the communist system.

Card cutout of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump

His second inauguration in 1985, was my first. I was less interested in the man than in the pageantry, the crowds, and the moment, but his second term saw the end of the Cold War and the lifting of the threat of nuclear catastrophe.
Bush Senior was rated competent, but was relatively uninteresting. Clinton promised much, and was at times too interesting, but at least got that it was the economy, stupid.

George Bush Junior never really seemed up to it, was confronted by the worst terror attack in history, but was then responsible for what is seen as one of the worst Presidential decisions in modern times – the invasion of Iraq and the triggering of a vast uptick in Islamist rooted terrorism.

History might be kinder to Obama than present commentaries suggest. A principled, decent, intelligent man, who used his eight years in the White House to reach out to the more excluded members of society. He changed the tone of the country and was a respected voice of reason; he could literally and figuratively lead the country in mourning from the pulpit in times of tragedy, and from the stage at times of celebration.

However, his attempt to restrain American military adventurism and close down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had other consequences. His critics say he withdrew US power too quickly, allowed a red line in Syria to be trampled over, and enabled Russia to replace the US as the key player in the Middle East. Domestically he was hemmed in by political opponents that critics say he seemed unable to cut deals with; he lacked the ability or character to get down and dirty in his politics. He went high, but all around him others went low. Cue Trump.

Donald Trump and President Obama shake hands

By any measure, the transition from Obama to Trump must represent one of the most dramatic changing of the guard and mood in modern American history.

Trump has defied all expectation. He appears to have done nothing to temper his Tweets or his behaviour. Judged by his predecessors he appears to be aggressively un-presidential. Nearer the playground bully than the pulpit preacher.

And there is the rub. Trump’s inauguration is a chance for him to rise above the fray, to show dignity. He won the Presidency as a street fighter, offending many but shouting what he says are the people’s great truths to gain power. Now he has power. He says he can make the deals America needs to reboot itself and bring back the promise of ever increasing prosperity. But will he become Presidential?

Last time round many were still fuelled and perhaps seduced by “the audacity of hope”. This time much of the media is trying to find the route to be dispassionate, temperate and objective when dealing with the Donald. It is a route obstructed by anger-fuelled tweets, attacks on opponents, and a speed and simplicity of reaction and emotion that has never been Presidential.

With Trump they say what you see is what you get. However, reporting the apparent contradictions seems to many to represent bias, an unwillingness to give the President-Elect a fair hearing. Take his assault on Goldman Sachs during the campaign, and his subsequent decision to surround his cabinet with a cluster of those very people. A billionaire recruiting other billionaires to destroy the establishment. His denials of having mocked a disabled reporter – of which video evidence exists. His claiming at various times that he both has, and has not, met Vladimir Putin. How do you make sense of that? I have never known any “story” where it has proved so difficult simply to tell the straight truth.

Still, as the sun sets on the Obama era, many hope that the former reality TV star’s reign will herald Morning in America once again. It would be quite a turnaround for a man who’s run a uniquely brutal campaign.

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5 reader comments

  1. Alan says:

    As per Mr Snow puts his career above impartial reporting. How long do we have to have a press that ignores fact for provided fiction?

  2. LSulli says:

    To be, or not to be, that is the question. Their utter disregard for any respect for peoples, persons, culture, creed, or rules of the game of life befuddles me. The man and his minions who blurt have taken opportunities to blurt out whatever soothe their emotions at the time, seem to insist that others follow cyber rules while they break the laws of security conveniently. Watch him closely, Jon Snow!

  3. H Statton says:

    The dawn of Trumpism is nigh; today is the day when the world becomes a reality television show, and many around the world cannot bear to watch their worst nightmare come true. Global protests have been organised, and security personnel will be buzzing around Washington like bees in a hive.

    Reagan, unlikely as his victory was, did have some political experience having been governor of California. Trump has none; it’s as plain as the quiff in his hair. Dismissing him as ‘inexperienced’ feels somehow like letting him off the hook.

    I would ordinarily give someone, even if I disagreed with their politics, a second chance. But this time I can’t. I am certainly far from optimistic; alarmed is probably more fitting. He’s disrespectful, vulgar and unapologetic.

    His character is that of an uncompromising autocrat. His attitude reeks of “The Big I Am”; a hallmark of his mind-set. You only have to read his outbursts on Twitter to see that.

    And as for draining the swamp and eliminating the establishment, he has filled the void with his own brand of lobbyists, cronies, and pale-skins. He has become the establishment, as well as a six-time bankrupted business man.

    Keeping the Trump enterprise in the family doesn’t count as detachment; in many people’s eyes entrusting your money to your nearest and dearest is neither objective nor ‘blind’.

    When Arnie (ex-governor of California) took over “The Apprentice”, Trump was exuberant, but following just two episodes was mocking the drop in ratings; presumably because he the emperor was no longer in charge. He is still an executive producer, so he’s not exactly distanced himself from the show, nor his other business affairs.

    One thing I admired Obama for, was that he didn’t commit a professional foul on the political football field; although there is an argument that maybe at times, he should have. He is a knowledgeable and perceptive man. Trump doesn’t even read FFS!

    And so we go into the unknown…

  4. H Statton says:

    Post Inauguration:
    I sat, I watched, I held my head in my hands. He stood preaching to the choir; the zealous supporters that have been with him every step of the campaign, and a few security guards I’ll wager.

    There were no conciliatory words. Behind the dais sat a wounded but valiant Hilary Clinton, a composed but saddened Barack Obama; listening to how his legacy will be repudiated. Despite his politeness, even he could not at times applaud his successor, as he wilfully ‘punched’ at all that had gone before.

    The only notable difference was the language used; the lack of “I”, and “me”. On this day it was, “you” and “our”, and most significantly, “we”. However, there was a “totally” thrown in for good measure, and a few other slips.

    And yes, in a single moment of dark humour I thought, hasn’t he got small hands.

    I saw this on twitter and thought it very apt:

    “It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

    Joseph Heller, Catch 22

  5. H Statton says:

    Post Inauguration:
    I sat, I watched, I held my head in my hands. He stood preaching to the choir; the zealous supporters that have been with him every step of the campaign trail, and a few security guards I’ll wager.

    There were no conciliatory words. Behind the dais sat a wounded but valiant Hilary Clinton, a composed but saddened Barack Obama; listening to how his legacy will be repudiated. Despite his politeness, even he could not at times applaud his successor, as he wilfully ‘punched’ at all that had gone before.

    The only notable difference was the language used; the lack of “I”, and “me”. On this day it was, “you” and “our”, and most significantly, “we”. However, there was a “totally” thrown in for good measure, and a few other slips.

    And yes, in a single moment of dark humour I thought, hasn’t he got small hands.

    I saw this on twitter and thought it very apt:

    “It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

    Joseph Heller, Catch 22

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