Does anyone seriously believe that President Donald Trump “strongly condemns” the meme video of him shooting, stabbing, strangling, and setting on fire a wide array of political and media figures, as well as news organizations, which was aired at a conference at his Doral resort in Miami last week?
If so, I have a degree from Trump University to award them.
On Monday morning, Stephanie Grisham, the president’s press secretary, claimed that Trump had “not yet seen the video,” but would watch it later, and “based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns this video.”
Well, what might he have “heard” about the video that she said he hadn’t seen? Here’s the New York Times, which broke the story on Sunday evening:
The video depicts a scene inside the “Church of Fake News,” where parishioners rise as Mr. Trump — dressed in a black pinstripe suit and tie — walks down the aisle. Many parishioners’ faces have been replaced with the logos of news media organizations, including PBS, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post, and NBC.
Mr. Trump stops in the middle of the church, pulls a gun out of his suit jacket pocket and begins a graphic rampage. As the parishioners try to flee, the president fires at them. He shoots Black Lives Matter in the head, and also shoots Vice News. …
The clip ends with Mr. Trump putting a stake into the head of a person with a CNN logo for a face. Mr. Trump then stands on the altar, admiring his rampage, and smiles.
But why should we believe that Trump condemns, or is repulsed by, any of this sickening and graphic violence?
First, he outsourced the initial condemnation of the video to his press secretary, who weirdly tweeted on his behalf. But why didn’t he tweet himself? Are we expected to believe that Trump hasn’t had time to watch it? Or that he is too busy tweeting about national or international issues to tweet about this particular video?
This is a president who spends his every spare moment glued to cable news; a president who tweets dozens of times, on dozens of random topics, every single day; a president who woke up on Monday morning and found time in his packed schedule to tweet in support of former press secretary Sean Spicer’s efforts on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Vote for good guy @seanspicer tonight on Dancing With The Stars. He has always been there for us!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
“If he wanted to condemn it, he could,” noted the liberal writer and analyst Judd Legum, in response to Grisham’s statement, adding, “The entire thing is a wink and nod to his supporters.”
In fact, as the Times reported, “The creator of a gruesome video that showed a fake President Trump killing journalists and political opponents … is part of a loose network of right-wing provocateurs with a direct line to the White House.”
In June 2018, five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland were gunned down inside their newsroom. In response to this horrific massacre, as the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan reminded us on Monday, Trump “tweeted ‘thoughts and prayers’ and gave a thumbs-up sign and a dismissive wave to reporters asking for his comments.” When he eventually got around to issuing a proper statement on the killings, observed Sullivan, “it felt late, canned and out of sync with what he obviously believes.”
In August, Cesar Sayoc, a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to mailing pipe bombs to a variety of public figures and organizations, all of whom he had deemed to be enemies of his president. Among them, former CIA director-turned-NBC News analyst John Brennan, actor Robert De Niro, and CNN.
Trump, however, has had nothing whatsoever to say about Sayoc’s sentencing. Not a word.
Earlier this month, Christopher Hasson, a self-professed white nationalist who worried about Trump getting impeached, pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges after planning to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” Hasson had compiled a list of high-profile targets, including cable news anchors such as Joe Scarborough, Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, and Chris Hayes. He had even searched online for Scarborough’s home address.
Hasson’s guilty plea was met with … wait for it … silence from the president of the United States.
Third, Trump has a history of inciting and glorifying violence. Whether it is telling his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters at his rallies, suggesting that the “Second Amendment people” should take action against Hillary Clinton, or warning us that he has the “support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump … the tough people,” the president is no stranger to threatening his political and media opponents.
So why should we believe that Trump has a problem with the violent parody movie? Didn’t he himself, in July 2017, tweet a similar meme video in which he was “portrayed wrestling and punching a figure whose head has been replaced by the logo for CNN”? Didn’t he also, in December 2017, retweet “a doctored image with the CNN logo imposed on a blood-like splatter under his shoe”?
Such actions, of course, have consequences. In January 2018, it was reported that a Michigan man had called CNN 22 times, telling the CNN operator, “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.” (Rather than condemn this vile threat against CNN and its journalists, the next day Trump tweeted yet another attack on “fake news CNN.”)
Thankfully, the Michigan man was unsuccessful in his attempt to slaughter journalists. As were Sayoc and Hasson. But how long until a Trump-supporting, media-hating fascist succeeds in murdering an “enemy of the people”? And how much of the blood will be on Trump’s hands?
On Sunday night, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, issued a statement saying that his organization was “horrified” by the meme video. “We have previously told the President his rhetoric could incite violence,” Karl said. “Now we call on him and everybody associated with this conference to denounce this video and affirm that violence has no place in our society.”
This is the same WHCA, however, that threw comedian Michelle Wolf under the bus when she mocked then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for her media-bashing “lies” on behalf of a “racist” president. Everyone from Fox News’s Ed Henry to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell demanded that Sanders be issued an apology by the White House press corps.
Then, when Sanders quit her job this past summer, White House correspondents hosted a farewell drinks party for her — and Karl, the WHCA chief, was among the attendees. “I’m really happy with the turnout,” said Anita Kumar, a White House correspondent for Politico, who co-hosted the party.
Is it any wonder that Trump and his supporters think they can get away with their constant attacks on the U.S. media? With their chilling rhetoric and violent imagery?
Far too many members of the press, even now, refuse to acknowledge or understand the severe threat posed to their own safety by this president and those around him. Instead, they continue to cozy up to those who incite violence against them. They continue to normalize Trump’s hate-filled, authoritarian, and violent rhetoric. When Trump tweeted the ridiculous and shocking video of him body-slamming and punching “CNN,” for example, the New York Times — I kid you not — described the move merely as “an unorthodox way for a sitting president to express himself.”
You think he’ll unconditionally condemn the meme video in front of that particular audience? Express horror or outrage? Stand up for a free press?
If so, you might be running late for class at Trump University.