America's national embarrassment (aka Donald Trump) continues to be scored on a standard that is starkly different than any president that preceded him. The fact that he is universally regarded as ignorant and incompetent may be helping his media coverage. Trump has a tendency to veer off into personal invective and delusional accounts of well documented events. His erratic and ego-laden rants and tweets have set an uncommonly low bar for criticism.
Consequently, we're subjected to a president who is lauded as "presidential" simply by failing to cross his eyes or drool. This happens over and over again as the media repeatedly demonstrates its severely short-term memory. Trump can behave like a choleric, tantrum-throwing infant for weeks on end. He'll hurl insults and lies without the slightest hint of shame. Then he'll manage to read off a Teleprompter for half an hour and the press will go wild with acclaim.
This pattern has revealed itself several times in the four months Trump has been in office. It generally occurs following tightly staged affairs such as his inauguration speech or his address to Congress. Sometimes he can suppress his true obnoxious self long enough get through a joint press conference with a foreign leader. But the press reaction is all too predictable. They declare that Trump has finally proven that he has the mettle to hold his office. Never mind everything else he's said and done throughout his campaign and White House residency.
The latest example of this cognitive collapse occurred Sunday night on CNN. Bob Schieffer, the former host of Face the Nation, was interviewed by CNN's John Berman. The subject was Trump's speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a stodgy collection of warmed over platitudes and talking points. But Trump recited the words on his Teleprompter screen without baring his teeth or convulsing. Therefore, when Schieffer was asked for his appraisal of Trump's performance he said:
“Today, you saw a very different President Trump. He actually sounded presidential. You may agree or disagree with what he said, but he sounded like a president. He laid out his vision. He called for help from those in the Muslim world. It was a much different kind of presentation.” [...]
"I think there would be very few people who would disagree with me when I say that he helped himself today. Because he didn’t sound like the guy at the end of the bar popping off. He sounded like someone who actually thought about what he was gonna say before he said it."
You have to wonder whether Schieffer thought about what he was gonna say before he said it. There are likely very many people who would disagree with the assertion that Trump helped himself. More to the point. there are certainly many people who don't think that avoiding sounding like a drunken souse is equivalent to sounding presidential. Berman appropriately challenged Schieffer to explain whether he was "normalizing" Trump's malignant immaturity. "You’re saying," Berman bagan, "that because he met this very low bar for not sounding foolish, he was in fact presidential."
Exactly. That's how many in the media grade Trump. But since when was "not sounding foolish" the only prerequisite for being considered presidential? It may be the best that anyone can expect from Trump, but it should not be established as the new criteria. Honest journalists need to compare Trump to historical standards for the job, not his own worst failures.