It's now more than a year since Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, and the media's animosity towards him continues unabated. After his surprise victory against the wishes of the establishment, Trump remains the target of a never-ending campaign against his legitimacy, his very presence at the White House presented as a scandal. The media persists in seeing his election as a historical aberration, and does all it can to undermine his presidency.
President Trump, they argue, is a grotesque regression in the course of history, allowing the old America to return in its ugliest forms. It should thus be possible, at any good moment, to erase the political accident that was his election and simply forget about it altogether. From the regular questioning of his mental health to his presumed collusion with Russia, it’s all about preventing Trump from normalizing his presidency by suggesting that it could explode at any time. The goal is simple: To morally discredit him.
At the same time, the White House is openly at war with the media. Unlike other politicians who try to make concessions to a hostile press corps, or even flatter them, Trump has decided to confront the media head-on. This was plain to see again recently with the creation of the “Fake News Awards,” which was about demonstrating that the media is the main “opposition party,” to reuse the wording of Steve Bannon, Trump’s deposed strategist. One can reject Trumpism without disputing this reading of the situation.
Trump, for that matter, relies on Twitter to communicate directly with the American people, freeing himself from the media filter. But he wallows in a logorrhea that’s absolutely incompatible with the sacred dimension of the presidential word. The man seems unmanageable and, applied to foreign policy, his verbal outlandishness is a real danger to world peace, as the North Korean crisis shows.
But let’s go further. It’s difficult not to agree that Trump is a vulgar, boorish character. Such a megalomaniac venturer should probably never have ended up leading the empire of our time. Of course, you could also argue that it takes an out-of-the-ordinary and a particularly controversial personality to stand up to an establishment that first tried to stop him from being elected and now seeks to oust him.
To the eyes of the elite, this program looks like a form of simplistic nativism.
But if the media condemn Trump because of his erratic and equally nasty style, what they’re actually trying to neutralize is the populist insurrection that he successfully led, with his purported vow to defend ordinary, forgotten Americans. From his fight against mass mass immigration to that against what he considers to be the excesses of free trade, and for national sovereignty, Trump is openly embarking on a fight against the dominant ideology: He’s opposing an entire system in what seems to be a revolt against globalization.
To the eyes of the American elite, this program only looks like a form of simplistic nativism, good for nothing else than appealing to those whom Hillary Clinton infamously described as a “basket of deplorables.” Such a disputed president should be feeling very lonely indeed, especially given that he’s constantly in a quarrel with his own party. Still, Trump’s base remains loyal and follows him in his insurrection. For a long time, it felt scorned and humiliated, without a real political champion after failed attempts by Ross Perot in 1992 and Patrick J. Buchanan in 1992 and 1996 to rise to the White House. What’s unique about Trump’s insurrection is that it came and disrupted the partisan system from the inside.
There is in Trump a transgressive mentality that appeals to voters who feel culturally alienated by the prevailing political correctness. Even now that he’s in power, Trump still believes he’s in the opposition. And he’s not entirely wrong about that, as the vision of America he claims to embody only exists in the form of some kind of horror story.
The Trump presidency fits in with a radicalization of the cultural war that’s been dividing America for 30 years — and which isn’t about to end. The pro-diversity America that remains culturally hegemonic doesn't tolerate that traditional America will resist it.
The comparison between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon is inevitable, even though the first is a charismatic leader and the second an unpopular professional politician: Both are loathed for having embodied the resistance to the tide of history. So beyond the troubling nature of his character, Trump’s presidency raises another crucial question: To what extent can you govern against the established zeitgeist?