Let me preface by saying that I have always been a big fan of conservative writer and commentator Jonah Goldberg. I recommend his work often and believe that his gift of logically elucidating the dangerous consequences of modern liberalism is almost unparalleled in conservativism today.
That doesn’t mean I have to, or will always agree with him. And what he said to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday about White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany? I respectfully dissent.
In case you missed it, Goldberg was part of a panel discussion over the confrontational approach President Trump’s new press secretary has taken to handling the press pool at her White House briefings. From his seat, Goldberg has been anything but impressed:
“I think her behavior is indefensible and grotesque…What Donald Trump wants in a press secretary is a Twitter troll who goes on attack, doesn’t actually care about doing the job they have, and instead, wants to impress really an audience of one and make another part of official Washington another one of these essentially cable news and Twitter gladiatorial arenas. And it’s a sign of the defining of deviancy down in our politics and it’s only going to make things worse.”
One of the reasons I have gravitated towards Goldberg’s perspective in recent years is the fact that we shared a similar approach to the 2016 election. Like him, I did not vote for Trump, in part concerned that Trumpism would hijack conservatism, provoking needless and counterproductive fights and dissension within the conservative movement. In several respects, one could make the argument that is precisely what has happened.
But confrontations with a hostile press is not an area where Trump or his surrogates like McEnany need to apologize. In fact, contra Goldberg, I would contend that a roomful of Twitter trolls attempting to make themselves the story by posing grandstanding gotcha “questions” rather than pursuing legitimate storylines that impact the health and well-being of the people they supposedly inform, should not expect anything less than being treated like petulant partisans.
They are the ones who have “defined deviancy down” in our politics, and the presidency of Donald J. Trump, as well as his predecessor, are Exhibits A and B in how effectively they’ve done it.
They are the ones who have eschewed the legitimate and critical role they have been entrusted with to create contemptuous theater for clicks, views, likes, and retweets.
They are the ones who have willfully exchanged their objectivity to become purveyors of social change, corruptly wedding themselves to a political agenda rather than a dogged devotion to truth wherever it leads.
Therefore, when these bitter partisans wearing press credentials barter their privileged positions to lob thinly veiled accusations that President Trump is responsible for death-by-corona due to his inability to recognize it as a serious threat to public health, it is more than appropriate for his spokeswoman to remind them that they were downplaying the threat long after the president had begun initiating travel bans and task forces.
Don’t misunderstand; as I’ve written before and will write again, I am completely in favor of an adversarial relationship between the press and the president. What I’m not in favor of is for that adversarial relationship to be bitterly vitriolic when the president is a Republican, and turn into a festival of flattery when he is a Democrat.
That betrayal of the crucial role of the press is what has led to the combativeness we see in these circus sideshows full of “grotesque and indefensible” behavior today. And all of us, particularly someone as observant and wise as Jonah Goldberg, should recognize that is not the fault of Kayleigh McEnany.