Members Only | November 8, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Real Meaning of Jim Acosta

Forget freedom of the press. This is about power and submission.

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Here in Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont won a highly competitive race for governor. He clinched it late Tuesday. By early Wednesday, his opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski, conceded. A few hours later, Lamont gave his victory speech. He vowed to bring the state together to address a serious fiscal crisis. He said he’d reach out to Democrats, who again control the legislature, as well as Republicans, who are now back in the minority. Stefanowski offered to do whatever he can to help.

No matter who you are, or what you stand for, this is the kind of attitude you’d expect, even demand, from winners and losers in American politics. Partisans fought hard, but now it’s over. What’s more important is community, problem-solving and finding consensus in whatever ways are possible. This is not just good rhetoric. It’s substantive. It tells voters how you intend to conduct yourself now that you have control of the levers of power. It signals humility and character, and that your interests are secondary to the greater good. It says: I’m fit to govern in your name.

This expectation of leaders is so ingrained in the American psyche that it’s hard, perhaps impossible, for normal people to understand that our current president has no such moral core. It’s so ingrained in fact that some Americans are willing to project those qualities onto him despite their literal absence. Donald Trump doesn’t recognize the value of Ned Lamont’s grace in victory. He doesn’t recognize the value of pretending to recognize that value. Nothing is more important than his interests.

Everything is seen through the lens of winning. Even if Trump loses, he wins. Importantly, he will punish those who say otherwise. That’s why losing the House, more than half a dozen governorships, and hundreds of state races is not losing. The midterms were “very close to complete victory,” he said during a post-midterm press conference. CNN’s Jim Acosta suggested otherwise, and he was banned.

As I said, normal people can’t see this, because normal people tend to defer to the authority of fact, subordinate their interests to the interests of the greater good if and when the time calls for it, and they expect, even demand, that presidents, who are supposed to rule in everyone’s name, do the same. We say no one is above the law, but what we usually mean is that everyone plays by the same rules, presidents included.

We demanded that of President Barack Obama post-2010 when Congressional Democrats got “shellacked.” In losing, Obama was contrite, respectful, moved to honor the significance of the moment, even deeply reverent of the will of the people. In contrast, Trump not only claimed false victory. He blamed individual Republicans for their loss, accused the media of conspiring against him, and by the end of the day, he in effect thumbed his nose at the people’s sovereignty by firing Jeff Sessions.

I keep saying “normal people.” What do I mean?

I’m talking about people who have not experienced trauma—intimate family-related violence against their bodies, minds and spirits; people who have not been captive to the delusions of someone with power over them; people who have not been forced to believe in their captors’ delusions or face punishment. I’m talking about people who seem to me to have always had access to and the freedom to appeal to justice.

To these “normal people,” Trump is utterly baffling. How can he say one thing today and something different the next? Or as one normal person (I presume) said:

“It didn’t seem to occur to him that if he is aware of any wrongdoing by the Democrats that he should be reporting it, not bargaining with it; nor does it occur to him that threatening to damage the nation in order to protect himself and his administration from oversight is inexcusable. Indeed, he seems to feel that any routine congressional oversight would be inherently offensive, just as he apparently thinks any tough questions or accurate but damaging reporting is inherently offensive.”

To which a not-normal person like me says: Yuuup.

Of course none of this makes any kind of sense. It’s not supposed to make any sense at all. Of course he sounds like he’s babbling. He is babbling. Of course tough questions appear insulting and offensive to him. They are insulting and offensive to him.

The point—literally, the only one—is power and submission. And what happens when a normal person expecting Trump to abide by the same rules everyone else abides by does not see the only point is power and submission? Consider Wednesday’s presser.

Jim Acosta stood his ground, did not yield the microphone, and kept asking Trump questions. Trump’s face and body suggest that he was adrift in a sea of rage. Acosta was supposed to accept the baloney Trump was handing him. He was supposed to accept it as true, because Trump said so. When he didn’t, he was punished.

This is what we not-normal people understand perfectly. We see facts don’t matter to Trump. We see logic doesn’t matter. We see principles, values and morality do not matter. We see all that matters to Donald Trump is Donald Trump. We see.

I hope others see it, too.


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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

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