Rage can lead the unwary to dangerous places, and some of our media notabilities are half-way there. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post poses the question that bugs them most.
“Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country,” he demands. “What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States.”
Mr. Dionne, judging by the rants and raves on display in newspapers and on television newscasts, clearly speaks for many of his colleagues.
He doesn’t offer a direct answer to the question he bravely plucked from his navel. But the answer is logically self-evident. He clearly doesn’t think the nation can wait four or eight years to get rid of Donald Trump by defeating him in another national election. “Central issues” are too important for that.
He could pray for a loathsome and incurable disease to do the work, but that might be too late if the situation is as dire as Mr. Dionne says it is. Disease, even loathsome disease, usually takes its time.
So, if it’s not an election or disease, the country must wait for the Donald to become bored or tired of the job. That does not look likely. The man is clearly having a lot of fun, and that enrages Nice People like E.J. all the more.
Impeachment is an option, and already the nuts on the left are banging away with threats and prayers (such as they are) to get on with finding the high crimes and misdemeanors to send the Donald packing to his digs at Trump Tower in Manhattan, or better, at Mar-A-Lago in Florida. But impeaching a president is not easy, even with cause, and so far nobody has cited a cause beyond a lot of disappointed and frustrated Democrats just wishing it so. The Democrats tried impeachment to get rid of Andrew Johnson a century and a half ago, and failed. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual romps in the Oval Office but couldn’t convict him, despite ample evidence. Only the terminally naive would expect this Republican Congress to impeach President Trump.
That leaves only the unthinkable, though some Democrats, cultivating the Trump Derangement Syndrome, obviously think about it in the dark and stormy nights spent wrestling with demons and worms. View, a magazine in Ireland, put the Donald’s portrait on its cover with a target superimposed on his image over a caption that left nothing to the imagination: “Well, why not?” The cover, if not the magazine, has been widely reproduced everywhere, and not denounced in very many places.
E.J. Dionne, though a bit of a weenie, is nevertheless an upright and law-abiding fellow who was no doubt upset by that magazine cover, though many of his readers were not. The deranged are capable of many things, few of them good. Mr. Dionne and no doubt many thousands of his readers regard Mr. Trump as something of a traitor — “Trump’s loyalties are now in doubt” — and accuses him of “indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference.” Men have paid for less at the end of a rope.
Such inflammatory anger and resentment cannot be encouraged. The deranged and the unbalanced, who are doomed to live with voices bouncing off the inside of their troubled heads, are capable of plotting dark deeds without the righteous encouragement of a newspaper columnist eager to put his moral righteousness on display.
Donald Trump, who has the second-thinnest skin in town, is clearly getting under the skin of the Washington press establishment. He added injury to insult by calling on only obscure reporters at a press conference early in the week, ignoring the mighty giants of press and tube, as they imagine themselves. One television correspondent said that such a tactic violates the First Amendment (forgetting that the First Amendment belongs to everybody, and encourages, not prohibits, disrespect of windbags.)
The president clearly expects his cannonading at the spoiled scribes in the White House press room to be answered in kind. He seems to enjoy the back and forth, and journalists should not expect a velvet glove just because they’re journalists. As much as the press establishment despises the president, that’s how much the public despises the press. Was it ever thus. We get used to it.
There should be no “safe spaces” in journalism, where a reporter or a columnist can retreat to a place to bask in the warmth of his own malfeasance. The First Amendment carries no such guarantee. Once upon a time tough and impatient editors dispensed such reminders. But the Fourth Estate will survive, even as it becomes something of a fourth-rate estate.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.