Cooper: Media making Trump a figure of sympathy

Cooper: Media making Trump a figure of sympathy

December 28th, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Members of the military cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a hanger rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Wednesday.

Photo by Andrew Harnik

When you descend the escalator at Trump Tower and declare you want to be president of the United States, you open yourself to the same criticism every other presidential candidate has received for more than 200 years.

But every once and a while, especially in this season of Christmas, we'd like to see a little perspective from what we would expect is an unbiased national media about the man who — warts and all — was elected to lead the country in 2016.

We speak in this case of President Donald Trump's decision to visit U.S. troops in Iraq and Germany on Wednesday, a holiday gesture that presidents have made for a number of years, perhaps starting with recently departed U.S. president George H.W. Bush, who visited troops in Saudi Arabia with his wife, Barbara, on Thanksgiving in 1990.

Such trips, most people understand, are not made in a vacuum. They require pinpoint planning, extra security, and advance — if sometimes secret — notice.

So, while plans were in the works for such an unannounced trip, the national media was criticizing Trump for not visiting the troops.

NBC, assuming there would be no such visit, wrote, "Trump becomes first president since 2002 not to visit troops at Christmastime."

Hours after the words were published, the president and first lady were en route to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq for the visit.

But, proving no good deed goes unpunished, when the Trumps did visit, more criticism rained down on him.

He was accused of getting "political" during his visit, mentioning the partial government shutdown over funding for the border wall. A former Obama administration official tossed off the visit as "sort of a box-checking exercise." He was hit for not extending his visit to the Iraqi security forces, who U.S. troops partner with in the fight against the Islamic State. And CNN headlined the story of his visit by noting "Troops bringing Trump hats to sign may violate military rules."

The latter complaint caused a tweet storm against the network, one referring to it as "our nation's hall monitor," another suggesting it's what occurs "when you've run out of dumb anti-Trump stories to write" and a third noted "there is nothing wrong with [the troops] being excited about a Presidential visit."

Several tweeters, including a retired military colonel, recalled no such furor over previous visits by former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden.

"I had Barack Obama and Joe Biden at my base," said Col. Rob Maness, "and my troops got autographs on all kinds of things, including campaign memorabilia. Never crossed my mind to question [their] actions because I didn't need to."

CNN wasn't through, though. On various shows, former NSA adviser Samantha Vinograd suggested the president "should've stayed home," anchor Don Lemon referred to Trump as "The Grinch" for making Christmas about him and for making the U.S. Coast Guard work without pay during the shutdown, and correspondent April Ryan said the visit "should have happened a long time ago."

U.S. Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, didn't say in so many words the president deserved to take a victory lap over what U.S. troops, along with others, have done to the Islamic State, but he could have.

Trump, upon taking office, took the restrictions off what the military could do to help eradicate the Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, and left the strategy to his generals, the congressman said. The huge reduction in the size of the group's seized territory is "the great untold story of the last two years," he said.

Undeserved criticism, as was heaped on the president when he hadn't gone to visit troops and then when he did, is why the president — as boorish as he can sometimes be, as confusing as he can sometimes be — retains a popularity and a loyalty among so many in the country.

Many supporters, for instance, now may be offering mental nods over what has happened since the partial government shutdown. Trump had explained the shutdown was over funding for the Southern border wall and immigration enforcement, and on Thursday it was learned nearly 600 illegal immigrants from the recent influx of migrants from Central America had been released onto the streets of Texas and New Mexico.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "decades of inaction by Congress" were responsible for the organization's inability to remove families in the country illegally.

At this point, people conclude, the U.S. government has no power over its borders, no ability to keep out anyone who wants to come.

In Trump, who's to date been unable to assuage their frustration on this issue but who they see as having made a difference against the Islamic State, they at least recognize someone trying to serve their best interests, someone who stands up to his critics, someone willing to stand by his word to them, and they see undue criticism of him as excessive, as kicking someone when they're down, as patently unfair.

The national media, perhaps to its great detriment, is making the president to many a figure of sympathy. How long that can last is anyone's guess.

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