As the tweets were flying and the critics were pulsating over President Donald Trump’s unprecedented face-to-face with America’s media last week, political partisans turned out in full clamor to alternately praise and condemn the lone warrior who braved the inquisition with unbridled swagger.
Whether you cheered or jeered the newfound master of the impromptu, it made for incredible theater, fueled an endless reservoir of stories and commentary, and sparked conversations across the nation about where we’re heading and whom we chose to lead us there.
This is what happens when a presidential election transforms politics from the conventional to the contemptuous, from predictable candidates of classic resume to peripatetic contenders who spark spontaneous movements.
While the press conference progressed into the unchartered realm of the unknown, it showcased how the “American divide” has now morphed into four distinct and wholly competing factions: Republicans, Democrats, Donald Trump — the “party of one” — and the media. Each has embraced the now as a kind of sport, competing to hit the winning shot at a time when executive orders lead to judicial challenges and political pronouncements breed passionate public discourse.
If you’re keeping score, here’s the lineup:
- Republicans bear the burden of responsibility that comes with controlling the White House, both houses of Congress and half of the nation’s state capitals. They must now demonstrate their ability to move from years of protest to an age of reform, or they’ll face the wrath of the newly disenchanted.
- Democrats, as the loyal opposition, will impugn, insult and interrogate these defenders of the realm leaving no question unasked, no complaint unaired, no shot untaken. Exhibit A: All guns today are aimed at the brewing brouhaha over Obamacare.
- The president, who swept into office unencumbered by partisan strings or special interest favors, is pursuing a populist path to earn legitimacy. Just one month into his term of office, Trump has already strewn the playing field with the shards of broken convention and tomes of derision from those who liked, and benefited from, the old system.
- The media, America’s heretofore watchdogs of information, have found the moral and substantive footing difficult amid the turmoil. Their challenge is to respect the tradition for truth, objectivity and the public’s right to know, championed by the Walter Cronkites and Edward R. Murrows of old.
Which begs this most critical question: When will all lay aside their weapons of self-righteousness and one-upmanship to pursue and do what’s best and right in the public interest, to win one for the country instead of themselves? Where do we draw the line and say this is where politics must not tread?
Here are three biggies:
- Health care. Whether you prefer Obamacare or Trumpcare or DocWelbycare, there is nothing more precious than our health, nor anything more noble than giving all a chance to preserve it. So it stands to reason fixing Obamacare must not be a rush to market but best to market, with a program that’s clearly and compellingly communicated. Don’t play politics with people’s health.
- National defense. ISIS, Russian expansionism and the rattling of the nuclear saber by North Korea’s Kim Jong Krazy? Politics doesn’t belong here, either. The stakes are too high, and the costs of failure too unimaginable, to allow this to devolve into a contest of political winners and losers. Get any of these wrong, and we’ll all bear the scarlet letter label of “loser.”
- Jobs. A healthy and safe America is not possible without the nation being economically sound. You don’t have to be a Harvard-trained economist to know the economics (and consequences) of lost jobs and opportunity. To wit, trade deals abroad, investment in infrastructure at home and a jobs-friendly government all play to Ronald Reagan’s mantra of “peace through strength.”
So let the late-night shows have a ball deciphering Trump’s press conference last week. Allow the players on social media to fill cyberspace with their spew of therapeutic tantrums. Permit the doubters to double down on their parables of doom and gloom.
Yet when it comes to the interests of our nation, it’s time for the warring factions to rediscover common ground before the ground is no longer there, to move as one when the world around us moves against us, and to demonstrate that the diversity that defines us is indeed the strength that unites us.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in Tampa and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.