Politics

Trump's Whining About the Press Is His Most Presidential Quality

Powerful politicians love complaining about the haters.
May 17, 2017, 10:24pm
Image by author via Alex Wong/Getty Images

Amidst a roiling sea of scandals, Donald Trump took the stage Wednesday morning at the Coast Guard Academy's commencement ceremony to tell the proud class of graduating cadets how great he was and how mean everyone was being to him.

"Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media," Trump told them. "No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams."

As many people have pointed out, Trump complaining about being uniquely mistreated is pretty hilarious given that multiple American presidents were assassinated, and he literally spread a racist lie about Barack Obama not being born in the US. Still, this is typical behavior—not just for Trump, but for many presidents before him.

Richard Nixon was infamously hostile to the press, telling reporters, after he fired a bunch of people for not being sufficiently corrupt:

When people are pounded night after night, with that kind of frantic, hysterical reporting, it naturally shakes their confidence—and yet, don't get the impression you roused my anger. One can only be angry with those he respects.

But every president has the impulse to say things like that. Many actually did "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper," said Thomas Jefferson, whose rape of his slave Sally Hemings was publicly exposed by a journalist. JFK bitched to his aides about the press. Even George Washington "expressed dismay" that the press wouldn't fairly cover his farewell address.

More recently, Barack Obama famously complained about his unfair treatment from Fox News, and was criticized by the Columbia Journalism Review for his administration's determination "to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public."

The broader sentiment of this aggression toward the press is that you shouldn't listen to the haters, which has a long and deep history in America. It goes back at least to 1910—shortly after Theodore Roosevelt left office, he delivered a famous speech that would come to be known as "The Man in the Arena":

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

While the speech's sentiment—ignore those disgusting critics, you're better than them—might inspire some, it's also the kind of thing you say when you wish people would stop criticizing you. It's one that has been furthered by Nixon, and now taken to its logical extreme Trump.

When presidents complain about unfair treatment from the press, it's never about justice, or fair treatment; instead, they're flexing their political muscles in order to maintain power. If anything, it demonstrates why the press is so important—to keep that power in check.

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