In the wake of the midterm elections, Americans once again find themselves with a divided government. Whether one considers the Democratic Party’s capture of the House of Representatives to be a positive step forward or not, there is no denying that the nation is more estranged from itself than ever. Even the tradition of past presidents not directly criticizing each other has been dispensed with by President Barack Obama, who has openly railed against President Trump while campaigning for other Democrats before the midterms. The political field has devolved into a battleground and lines have been very clearly drawn in the sand. Nowhere has it been more combative than in the relationship between Trump and the Press. The revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass is the most recent example of the rift.
The impetus for this move by the president was a press conference that was held on Wednesday in the aftermath of the midterm elections, during which Acosta, a journalist for CNN, pressed Trump on his characterization of the Honduran caravan headed towards the U.S. as an “invasion.” The president largely brushed off Acosta’s confrontation and attempted to move on, but as the reporter continued to press for another question and a White House intern reached to take away Acosta’s microphone, the president snapped. Trump said to Acosta, “you are a rude, terrible person.” The next day, the CNN reporter found that his press pass into the White House had been revoked and that he would not be permitted to enter.
Although one could characterize Acosta as too brazen and confrontational in the clips that are circling the internet, this would be far from the first incident involving the president and the CNN journalist. Just last June, Acosta shouted questions such as, “did we agree to denuclearize?” to both Trump and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, during their historic summit.
In fact, the CNN correspondent has a reputation among the White House press as a relentless provocateur, a reputation certainly magnified by the president’s general dismissal of the network as “fake news.” Trump must have known what was coming the moment he called on Acosta; the president thrives on volatility and there is a long history behind the CNN reporter to suggest that Trump may have planned to revoke Acosta’s pass the moment he called on him.
In the realm of civics, the press is seen as a watchdog, a check on the powers of the government, but that doesn’t make the two enemies. The President’s duty is to the people, first and foremost, and so it should be their pleasure to inform the people of the activities of the office. President Calvin Coolidge exemplified this attitude when he said of press briefings, “I regard it as rather necessary to the carrying on of our Republican institution that the people should have a fairly accurate report of what the president is trying to do, and it is for that purpose, of course, that those intimate conferences are held.”
In stark contrast to Coolidge’s civic awareness, the sitting president instead carries on with a childish mentality of, “If people aren’t treating me right, I don’t treat them right,” and, “I don’t take questions from CNN, CNN is fake news.” Instead of accepting the press as a valuable means to inform the American people, Trump would much rather simply butt heads with them and lock them out of the briefing room when he is sore. Jim Acosta can easily, and rightfully be construed as having been rude or out of line on Wednesday, but the president is just as easily guilty of thriving on that lack of civility that he himself has propagated in the press pool. The danger lies in the office of the president growing more and more divided from the press, and thus more divided from the people. In a time where the people are already divided from themselves, such a relationship could not be more vital.