It was fitting that the most consequential week of the transition period between Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration as president kicked off early Monday morning with the president-elect attacking the most revered actor of her generation as “overrated” because she criticized him during brief remarks at an awards show.
This is how it’s going to be for the next four years: Matters of extraordinary gravity will contest with matters of abject triviality for the attention of the country.
Consider what’s on the table for the next few days.
The week ahead will feature confirmation hearings for as many as seven of Trump’s nominees to major cabinet positions, even though, as the head of the Office of Government Ethics reported over the weekend, the necessary ethics and background checks for several of them will be incomplete at the time of the hearings.
Also scheduled for this week is Trump’s long-awaited announcement about how he plans to deal with the voluminous conflicts of interests inherent in his being at once the President of the United States and the owner of a for-profit company with business interests around the globe. He also says that he will take questions from the press in his first real press conference since July of last year.
This will all happen as the Senate marches ahead with a budget resolution designed to lay the groundwork for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, something many in the Republican-controlled Congress appear poised to support despite the absence of a substantive plan to replace Obamacare, a move that experts fear could throw the nation’s health care system into chaos and leave 20 million people without health insurance.
There will be a few other things scattered throughout the week, as well. On Monday morning, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will give a speech warning of the dangers of wholesale repeal of the ACA. On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his “farewell” speech from Chicago. And on Thursday, in a town hall event hosted by CNN, House Speaker Paul Ryan will likely outline his vision for a massive overhaul of federal entitlement programs, the tax code, and the federal budget at a time when his party controls both the legislative and executive branches of the government.
So, on that note, back to Trump bashing Meryl Streep.
The short version is this: Streep got an award at the Golden Globes last night, and used the platform to criticize Trump for his habit of attacking and denigrating people he sees as his opponents, focusing mainly on his mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter. She also called for protections for the media.
Trump responded by attacking and denigrating Streep. Calling her “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” He also repeated his angry denial that he had mocked the reporter, something that the video of the moment appears to confirm. Trump even took a midnight phone call from a New York Times Culture section reporter so that he could denounce Streep’s criticism.
There is a popular undercurrent in social media-enabled criticism of the mainstream press that Trump and his team are deviously clever when it comes to misdirection -- offering up shiny objects to send the press pack scurrying off for comment on his latest Twitter outbursts at a time when they ought to be digging into more serious issues.
This appears to credit Donald Trump with more foresight than he really deserves. The reaction to Streep was not part of some grand plan. It was purely reflexive. Trump feels slighted, Trump lashes out. That’s how he operates.
The frequent call to simply ignore Trump’s Twitter outbursts is unreasonable and dangerous, given that the mainstream media no longer has the “gatekeeper” function it used to. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker put it plainly in a series of tweets of his own on Sunday.
Trump's tweets can no longer be dismissed as there he goes again. Now he moves markets, stokes anxiety, alters plans https://t.co/Zgw16iyBTc— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 8, 2017
Lots of debate on my mentions on covering or ignoring Trump tweets. This is how PEOTUS chooses to communicate to public. It's news. Period.— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 8, 2017
The issue here isn’t the idea that the media shouldn’t be covering Trump’s intemperate Twitter outbursts at all because it distracts from the real issues. The mainstream press is quite capable of covering more than one story at a time; and besides, trending topics on Facebook and Twitter these days do as much to determine what the “big story” of the day is as the front page of The New York Times.
The actual question now is how they should be covered.
Maybe this article can serve as an imperfect example of how it can be done. If members of the media cannot ignore Trump’s tweets and Facebook rants, we can, at least, contextualize them. We can, while reporting that the leader of the most powerful military on the planet had his feelings hurt by an actor or comedian, point out the things he’s NOT paying attention to while he vents his rage in 140-character bursts.