Analysis |

Prima Donna Donald Trump Fights the Media for Honor and Survival

Press-hating fans are like Romans in the Colosseum, cheering as the beast devours another Christian.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Donald Trump is a prima donna. He was a prima donna before he was elected president, so now he’s a prima donna on speed and steroids. He exhibits all the symptoms of the “prima donna syndrome” known in the worlds of sports, entertainment and business. Trump sees himself as God’s gift to mankind. He has already shown that he can achieve the unimaginable with hardly any effort. Regular rules don’t apply to him. Everyone should recognize his greatness and sing his praises. If they don’t, if they dare doubt, berate or ridicule him, it’s because of ulterior motives, by definition, and therefore worthy of condemnation and reprisal. It’s a collection of traits that is annoying and even pathetic until one remembers that it’s the president of the United States we’re talking about. Then it gets scary.

Perhaps Trump assumed that once elected, the “mainstream media” would fall at his feet. Maybe he thought they would come to eat out of the palm of his hand, as the titans of business and finance have done. Possibly he believed that he’d be able to twist respected and experienced journalists around his little presidential fingers just as he manipulated tabloid paparazzi and hacks when he was a real estate tycoon in New York. He can’t grasp, apparently, that his words and actions are the main cause of the backlash against him, including his tumble in the polls, because prima donnas, like Popes, never err.

On Sunday, Trump pressed on with his juvenile yet nonetheless disturbing campaign against the media, mocking the New York Times for an ad that was to air during the Oscar ceremony. Then he tweeted against the so-called fake news about Russia, which, he said, is being put out by Democrats and played up by media in order to cover up their electoral defeat and “illegal leaks.” The night before, he played the miffed diva and announced that he wouldn’t be attending the annual White House Correspondents' Association gala dinner, which was already on shaky ground because of the growing tensions between the White House and the press. Over the weekend, Trump continued to incite against the media before a roaring crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. A few hours later, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, inspired by kindergarten sandbox tactics, excluded representatives of several prominent media outlets from a closed briefing.

Trump’s anti-media blitzkrieg, which includes undermining its credibility, branding it as an enemy of the American people and selectively boycotting the outlets that annoy him the most, are being widely cheered by right-wingers with poisoned minds. After eons in which right-wing politicians have portrayed the mainstream media as mouthpieces for the dreaded liberal establishment, after years in which conservatives have been gorging themselves with the dark fantasies and concocted conspiracy theories of delusional right-wing media, it’s hardly surprising that Trump’s fans cheer him on as if they were bloodthirsty crowds in Rome's Colosseum, delighting in yet another Christian being torn to bits by the beast in the arena. Trump is a dream come true for all those who detest those arrogant journalists who presume to speak in the name of freedom of speech and the rule of law, two concepts that are also being steadily eroded now by similarly reckless politicians.

Republicans, who haven’t completely taken leave of their consciences – even though some of them may share Trump’s antagonism towards the press – are well aware that their president is playing with fire. They realize that he is trying to mold an “alternative reality” which he’ll be able to sculpt as he sees fit. They have no idea whether Trump will want or be able to stop at the last minute, before damage is done to the First Amendment – or the physical well-being of a journalist. But they are maintaining their silence, because they are afraid of their dreaded “base.” So just as they have quickly adapted to the idea that Vladimir Putin is George Washington’s heir, just as they suddenly oppose the free trade they recently adored, just as they now pooh-pooh reports of anti-Semitism as liberal “hysteria,” so do most of them prefer to nod their heads rather than confront the president, because primaries are always just around the corner.

Trump is trying to terrorize the media: We’ll deal with them, he pledges, without specifying how. For now, he is facing a strong counterreaction, but it’s only been a month since he became the strongest man alive. Sustained and resolute actions by the administration could gradually endanger the media’s livelihood, erode its self-confidence and cause it to take it slowly and seek a modus vivendi with the White House, without admitting so even to themselves. If Trump needs practical advice how to do it, he should send his designated ambassador to Israel David Friedman for a briefing with Benjamin Netanyahu. Maybe Sheldon Adelson and Yedioth Achronot publisher Arnon Mozes, recently implicated in a criminal investigation for colluding with Netanyahu, could also be included in the powwow.

Winston Churchill wrote that dictators – including potential dictators, one assumes – are frightened of words and thoughts. “A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic,” he noted. But maybe it’s not just critical words and thoughts that trouble Trump, but rather cold hard facts that scare him. Although he has a long record of attacking the media – as well as political rivals – over mere trifles, in recent weeks he has been at his most vicious when confronted with new revelations concerning the yet to be deciphered scandal of his election campaign’s ties to the Kremlin as well the still-unknown essence of his own links, or dependence, or debts, or subservience to the Russian regime.

It is in this context that there’s been a reemergence in recent days of analogies to Watergate and Richard Nixon’s desperate attempt to prevent exposure and subvert investigations of the so-called “Plumbers'” break-in to the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 campaign. The evidence against Trump, after all, keeps on piling up: After the intelligence community agreed by consensus that Moscow had broken into DNC computers in order to help him and after his own National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign because of contacts with the Kremlin, it has now emerged that the White House was desperate to shut down an FBI investigation of the Trump-Kremlin ties and was deploying senior Republicans and former intelligence officials in order to get law enforcement agencies to publicly exonerate Trump. The White House said they were simply trying to clear Trump’s name after it had been unjustifiably stained; critics used the loaded word “cover-up” which, if corroborated, could bring Trump’s presidency to an early end.

Trump is trying to deter the media from delving into the affair. He is trying to intimidate potential leakers who might expose misdeeds to the press. At the same time, he is laying the ground for discarding future revelations, should the media persist. The press hates me, he claims, so it’s all politics. This is what a cynical politician might say, but also one who knows what sordid truths lay behind the allegations and suspicions. Seen in this light, Trump’s actions and statements are completely understandable: He is fighting for that which is most dear to him, which is himself. In such a war of survival anyone, never mind a prima donna, might come to believe that no action is unacceptable and no sacrifice unworthy, including democracy itself.

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