On Friday morning, the Washington Post (paper edition) sang in unison about Donald Trump’s speech to the GOP convention. The lead headline read: “Trump portrays a nation in peril.” Below that Philip Rucker and David Farenthold began their story: “Donald Trump painted a dire portrait of a lawless terrorized nation as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination. . . .”
The front page also contained this headline by gussied up liberal editorialist Glenn Kessler: “A dark vision based on specious facts.” David Maraniss chimed in with: “GOP offers four themes, then keeps singing the same scary song.” Jenna Johnson added: “Trump’s gloomy vision is far from ‘Morning in America.'”
The Post’s lead editorial blared “Mr. Trump’s apocalypse now.” And E.J. Dionne, never absent when liberal hacks pile on, thought it would be clever to call his piece about Trump’s speech “Seeking victory by scaring the country to death.”
The Post used similar language in headlines for the carryover of its news stories on other pages.
The New York Times must have gotten the same memo as the Post. For example, its lead editorial was called: “Donald Trump’s campaign of fear.” David Brooks’ contribution was “The Dark Knight.” And so on.
But the party out of power always portrays a nation “in peril” when it’s at all plausible to do so, and sometimes even when it isn’t. (If you want to see what scary really is, check out Barry Goldwater’s 1964 acceptance speech. I was scared when I saw it again in 2000, even though the Cold War was over and we had won it.)
With violent crime spiking, police officers being assassinated, terrorism rampant, the economy sluggish, and large segments of the working class not quite making it, Trump would have made genuine news — and committed political malpractice — had he painted anything but a dark picture of the status quo.
The Jenna Johnson headline — not “morning in America” (echoed in a piece by Dan Balz, who surely knows better) — demonstrated the absurdly partisan nature of the Post’s collective rant. Ronald Reagan talked about “morning in America” when he ran as an incumbent. When he ran from out of power in 1980, Reagan used no such theme. Rather, Reagan said:
Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity.
By the way, don’t expect Hillary Clinton to talk about morning in American either. She will tout an economy that’s substantially better than eight years ago, but even Hillary isn’t tone deaf enough to trot out “morning in America.” This tells you that the dark picture Trump painted, though exaggerated as it always will be in a speech of this genre, has plenty of basis in fact.
In its desire to hammer home, in the manner of Donald Trump actually, the same tune, the Post failed to focus on the real whopper in the tycoon’s acceptance speech — Trump’s claim that he will fix all of our problems, and fix them “fast.”
Unlike his exaggeration of our ills, this isn’t standard acceptance speech fare. Candidates in Trump’s position will often hedge just a little bit when it comes to the speed with which they will fix things. They might say, for example, “reviving of our economy won’t be easy but bad policies got us into this mess and with good policies and working together, we can dig our way out of it.”
Trump did not hedge. No digging will be required. The disturbing trends he described will be reversed from the moment he “take[s] the oath of office.” In its own way, Trump’s speech was from the Barack Obama “this was moment when the oceans began to recede and our planet began to heal” school.
Therefore, measured against acceptance speeches given in similar contexts, Trump’s speech wasn’t that dark. What he really told us is this: Our problems are very serious, but they’re nothing we can’t solve almost immediately by electing Donald Trump.
But the Washington Post isn’t interested in fairly analyzing Trump’s speech. It just wants to hammer home an easy to recite anti-Trump talking point.