Even when they clearly disapprove of Donald Trump and his policies, members of the media can’t seem to keep themselves from trying to normalize his policies and provide them with a veneer of legitimacy.
The latest case I’ve seen of this is a piece this past weekend in The Boston Globe, which discusses a string of supposed “policy victories” of Trump’s.
The piece takes on a predictably depressing Trump-is-winning tone, even though it is clear that the writer does not agree with the policies on which Trump has supposedly been victorious.
But as I read the piece, the question occurred to me — wasn’t there an editor who might have questioned the premise of both the article and an accompanying sidebar, headlined “Trump’s trophy case,” which lists those supposed policy wins, including cutting taxes, exiting the Paris climate accord, backing out of the Iran deal, meeting with Kim Jong Un, weakening environmental regulations, eroding Obamacare, appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the like?
It’s not that I think it’s wrong to list Trump’s executive actions, which I think the press has actually done too little of, given its overriding obsession with reporting on his intentionally disruptive tweets and divisive comments.
But the problem I have with the Globe piece lies in the second half of the opening sentence, which states:
…Trump is presiding over an administration that is grinding out policy victories with surprising efficiency, fulfilling campaign promises and propelling his support among Republican voters to record heights.
First of all, when you think about it, the term “policy victory” really has no clear meaning. It’s like Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. It seems like something substantive when first reading it, but the meaning falls apart under scrutiny.
How, for instance, is signing the tax cuts into law a policy victory for Trump? Yes, it was a possibly temporary political victory for Trump and the Republicans to get the tax cut bill enacted.
But it would seem that a policy victory is the enactment of a policy that ultimately proves to be successful in furthering the public good. At best, the jury is out as to whether the tax cuts, for instance, will stimulate the economy over the long or even short term. And there is a strong likelihood tax cuts will blow up the federal budget deficit for years to come.
It may seem like a small semantic quibble to argue that we should be talking about political wins and not policy wins. But I think there are major implications in using the term “policy” rather than “political.”
Saying Trump has won on policy legitimizes him and his policies. There is really no legitimate reason to do that at this point in his presidency.
In fact, the jury is out on many of Trump’s policies, while on some, such as the erosion of environmental regulations, it appears likely that the policy implications will be hugely negative in coming years.
In other words, it appears very possible that a few years or more down the road, no one will be referring to Trump’s political wins in 2018 as policy victories, but rather as policy disasters.
The same is true of the supposed breakthrough summit with Kim Jong Un. The press has at least initially treated Trump’s meeting with Kim as a legitimate deal that has resulted in a supposedly solid pledge on Kim’s part to get rid of his nuclear weapons. Of course, no one knows what the fine points of this deal are, if there really are any, and what the ultimate outcome will be.
At best, we can say the summit with Kim was a possible political win for Trump (it was certainly a political victory for Kim), but it was no policy victory for Trump since there hasn’t yet been an articulated policy agreement other than a vague statement that Kim will someday renounce his nuclear weapons. North Korea has made such promises before and not kept them.
A number of the items listed in the “Trump’s trophy case” sidebar, such as the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, are clearly not policy wins in themselves unless you do consider Gorsuch to be nothing more than a policy and not a sentient human being, which, I will acknowledge, may be the case.
I would just add that in listing all of Trump’s supposed policy victories, the writer also conveniently omitted Trump’s many apparent political failures such as his inability to actually eliminate Obamacare, get his border wall project going, and ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.
What the press seems to need right now are competent editors with common sense who understand what loaded terms such as “policy” really mean, and who are willing to be truthful about Trump and his policies.