Confidence in the news media among Americans has jumped from 39pc to 48pc over the past year
hyperbole — has brought to the fore, if not to centre stage, a concern to constrain an impulsive, at times imperious, executive.
What some commentators call “the guardrails of democracy” — Congress, the courts, government workers, journalism — are operating with new-found purpose to check questionable conduct.
Leaks to the press, which often resemble a deluge and make Trump’s blood boil, come from people on the federal payroll sending out SOS signals about what’s really happening behind closed doors.
The recent revelation by NBC News that Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron” received widespread attention, not just for its descriptive assessment, but also for the larger concern it telegraphed concerning the highest-ranking cabinet member’s frustration with the White House.
Branding every leak as “fake news”, the kneejerk reaction of Trump since taking office, won’t succeed as a strategy throughout an entire term, and a poll of more than 14,300 respondents released early last month by Reuters showed that confidence in the news media among Americans has jumped from 39pc to 48pc over the past year.
That increase in the public’s trust in journalism occurs after several months of the president railing about press performance — and using the phrase “fake news” on more than 150 separate occasions in tweets, speeches, interviews and news conferences since January.
Of greater significance and potential consequence are the numerous investigations currently being conducted about possible connections between Russia and the Trump business organisation, the Trump campaign or both.
Every time the subject of Russia arises, the president denounces even the suggestion of involvement or collusion. In a May tweet, he dismissed the inquiry as “the single greatest witch-hunt of a politician in American history!”
The decibel-level of Trump’s denials arouse suspicion that he might protest too much. Is it within the realm of possibility that dubious Russian investments helped improve his real estate company’s balance sheets? How about all those Russian-directed and truly “fake news” websites that played some role in the 2016 election, especially in the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin?
Three separate Senate and House of Representative committees as well as special counsel (and former FBI director) Robert Mueller keep interviewing Trump associates and campaign staff to try to get to the bottom of what did — or didn’t — happen in connection to Russia.
The felony charges brought against former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort and two lower-level aides earlier this week reflect the seriousness of the special counsel’s work. How many more political operatives might face criminal charges?
The outcome of these months-long investigations, especially Mueller’s, could help untangle financial and political mysteries related to the president. The findings, whatever they might be, will also undoubtedly influence how he’s viewed in the future and his standing both at home and abroad.
An axiom of American elections says the most accomplished politicians campaign in poetry and then govern in prose. Trump sought votes in 2016 without being poetic, but on the stump he dramatically articulated promise after promise — about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) for health coverage, about building a wall between Mexico and the US (with Mexico paying for it), about “draining the swamp” of Washington.
The Washington Post compiled a list of 282 promises a few weeks after last year’s election. As he campaigned, Trump boasted: “We’re going to win so much. You’re going to get tired of winning.”
Most of his promises, however, lacked specific, policy-oriented proposals that could translate into legislation, and thus far — even with both houses of Congress in Republican hands — few bills related to those promises have become law. And, at this point, nobody’s fatigued from winning — just from trying to keep up with the “show”.
Trump’s governmental impact so far has been greatest in reversing regulations or orders created during Barack Obama’s eight years in office, especially in the environmental and education sectors, and in withdrawing from, or seriously questioning, the previous administration’s international pacts, such as the Paris climate agreement or the Iranian nuclear deal.
Obliterating Obama’s legacy seems to be the president’s abiding preoccupation, leading Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, to remark tartly of Trump: “If he had followed Lincoln, he’d have tried to reinstate slavery.”
In fairness, though, that’s a president’s prerogative and an important part of executive power.