President Donald Trump continued his seemingly baffling and self-destructive crusade against the media on Sunday morning, tweeting a crudely altered video clip that depicts him tackling and repeatedly punching the major news network, CNN.
The original video came from Trump's infamous WWE appearance in 2007 when he tackled Vince McMahon, the company's chairman, to the floor and continued to punch him. (In case you are not clear on the concept, pro wrestling is not a legitimate sport and Trump's appearance was a scripted stunt.) In Trump's tweeted version on Sunday, the CNN logo was placed over McMahon's face.
Why the president continues to ignore his aides' advice to stay of Twitter is not entirely clear. But Trump's social media outbursts may not be as ill-considered as they appear. Trust in mass media in the United States is currently at an all-time low, a fact Trump has exploited relentlessly as he looks to delegitimize any and all dissent. In the past the president has hinted at "opening up" libel laws, a suggestion defended by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who has said it's being "looked into." Such a change would likely require a constitutional amendment and is highly unlikely, but its an example of the ways Trump has sought to weaponize public distrust of the media.
Trump has also surrounded himself with an administration of sycophants who simply echo his tirades and do little, if anything, to thwart them. After his overtly sexist Twitter attack last week against MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, White House staff immediately rallied to his defense.
"This is a president who fights fire with fire. And certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by a liberal media and the liberal elites within the media or Hollywood or anywhere else," deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, according to The Hill.
Trump delivered a speech on Saturday night that sounded similar to his infamous campaign rallies. The gathering of evangelical Christians at the "Celebrate Freedom" concert was purportedly to honor veterans, but quickly transformed into yet another attack journalism. "The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president and they're not," Trump said, according to CBS.
Most reactions to Trump's Twitter attacks have reflected widespread outrage at his behavior, and not just among Democrats or liberals. But perhaps that too fits into the president's playbook, if one assumes that his actions are meant to gratify and embolden his most loyal supporters, who view the "liberal media" with intense animosity. Mainstream opinion in political and media circles holds that Trump's juvenile conduct on social media could be disastrous for his presidency. But that remains to be seen. As with all political tactics, Trump's antics must ultimately be judged by a simple standard: What is he trying to accomplish, and is it working?