CNN’s Jim Acosta would have done well to take the hint and been content to leave the White House briefing room in the rearview mirror. Don’t get me wrong… Acosta and CNN have a First Amendment right to be there, and that’s a right that a petulant president can’t take away. At least not without a fight.
But the larger point is this— the real news of this administration does not take place in the White House, and certainly not in front of the White House press corps. In an administration that spews misinformation with the abandon of an erupting volcano, there’s little actual news to be found in a press briefing. Simply repeating Trumpian nonsense, even with the obligatory corrective, does little to advance the understanding of the electorate. Trump makes things up? Tell us something that we don’t already know.
The constant churn of media noise surrounding the Trump presidency may boost media ratings and readership, but it serves mostly as a distraction from the substantive policy matters that are far too often ignored. That’s one reason we’ve tried to shy away from commenting on the Trump outrage of the day. Besides, with a weekly deadline, there will be half a dozen new outrages by the time we even hit the press.
It’s a fool’s game, because in this administration, it’s the stuff happening outside the circus tent that we need to be worried about.
From consumers to students, from workers to the environment, the Trump administration is quietly working to make life just a little bit crueler for average Americans. Trump touts it as “deregulation,” which sounds great to most of us, until we know the details. Deregulation, for example, means that for-profit colleges no longer have to demonstrate to prospective students that their “degrees” are actually going to help them land a job. At the same time, Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scaled back an Obama-era debt relief program designed to lift some of the crippling debt that, for too many students, is the only tangible effect of their for-profit college experience.
There are so many other examples, that even the following represents just a handful of the ones that actually attracted a bit of media coverage:
The administration delayed implementation of the so-called “fiduciary rule,” which would require brokers who manage retirement accounts to serve the interests of their clients, rather than themselves. It’s hard to believe that this would be controversial, but in this administration, self-dealing comes with the territory.
The administration has postponed enforcement of a rule designed to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust, which is known to contribute to a number of deadly lung ailments. The administration also loosened reporting requirements for companies that deal with hazardous materials whose employees are hurt or sickened on the job.
The administration ended an Obama-era rule that prevented coal mining companies from dumping waste materials into streams and rivers.
The administration revoked an Obama-era order requiring companies with large federal contracts to disclose past labor-law violations.
The administration eliminated rules that allowed Internet providers to sell their customers’ browser histories without their consent.
The administration is preparing to gut mercury emissions rules, in a move that comes at the direct behest of Robert Murray, the CEO of the Murray Energy Company, one of the country’s largest coal producers. The rule required emissions upgrades that not only reduced mercury, but also cut levels of nitrogen oxide and soot, which contribute to asthma and lung disease.
In a particularly appalling move, earlier this month, the administration pressured the USDA-funded 4-H program to halt an effort to welcome kids who are gay, lesbian, or transgender. Trump, of course, has frequently targeted members of the LGBTQ community, but in this case is openly targeting kids for abuse.
I’m leaving out dozens of other known examples, because there simply isn’t space to list some of the hundreds of federal regulations that the administration has taken steps to eliminate, weaken, or delay since taking office. Keep in mind, the public can only understand the impacts of such efforts when they know about them. And while the above examples all made the news somewhere, how many of the administration’s other equally egregious actions have been lost in the circus lights?
There’s a reason that Scott Pruitt, Trump’s original EPA director, who resigned in disgrace, spent $43,000 for a sound-proof telephone booth in his office, and it wasn’t to discuss how to make America’s air and water cleaner.
President Trump would undoubtedly claim that his deregulation was unleashing business and creating jobs, but there’s precious little evidence that these policies have resulted in anything other than padded profits for wealthy investors, at the expense of the health and finances of workers, kids, students, and consumers.
The most offensive aspect of this administration’s behavior doesn’t come from the president’s Twitter account, as appalling as that can be. The true offense is this president’s casual disregard for almost everything that most decent Americans hold dear. A safe workplace. A clean environment. Respect and decency for others. A government that serves the public interest rather than just private greed.
Yes, this president’s astonishing ignorance of everything from forest management (nobody rakes their forests) to basic American history is remarkable, but it really isn’t news. Certainly, he has misunderstood the concept of the bully pulpit, which is not to serve as the nation’s bully. He is weak, churlish, and an embarrassment on the world stage. None of that is new, either.
While The Trump Show can seem irresistible at times, the Washington media would better serve the public through greater scrutiny of the truly frightening substance of this administration. Forget the jugglers and the clowns in the White House briefing room. The real news is happening elsewhere. The media should pay less attention to the Twitter tantrums and far more attention to the real damage that Trump’s operatives are implementing behind the scenes.