As seen in multiple media moments this week, President-elect Donald Trump is a sharp departure not just from President Obama but also from predecessors dating back decades.
Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech was the latest cultural flash point revealing, if not deepening, the chasm between Red and Blue America that was apparent on Election Day. The actress-turned-activist shifted her focus from Hollywood to Washington when she used her platform to criticize Trump for using his platform to mock a disabled reporter, among other issues.
“When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose,” said Streep, who also urged support for the Committee to Protect Journalists “because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”
A typical incoming president would have ignored the insult. But Trump, who shows no sign of transitioning away from sending indiscreet tweets that he apparently believes helped propel him to the presidency, sent a series of social media missives criticizing Streep as “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” and “a Hillary flunky who lost big.” He then denied mocking the reporter over his disability and said he was instead showing him “groveling.”
This week also brought split-screen (or, in this tech era, dual-screen) media moments that seem to define our times.
In Chicago, Obama gave his farewell speech, which reminded supporters why they welcomed him so enthusiastically in the first place. With soaring rhetoric in front of a raucous crowd, the president presented his administration’s accomplishments. But his focus on his family and the future provided the most memorable moments.
He choked up during his heartfelt appreciation of Michelle Obama but found his voice in speaking of this political-media era’s self-segregating “bubbles” that can burst the cohesion necessary for a functioning democracy.
“The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable,” Obama said. “And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”
Meanwhile, uncertain evidence and unlimited opinions were concurrently forming after CNN broke the news that intelligence agencies had briefed both Obama and Trump about an unverified dossier circulating that alleges Russia has compromising information on the president-elect.
Trump reacted strongly to the report, tweeting: “FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” as well as: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Trump was even more blunt in explaining why Wednesday’s news conference was his first since July: “We were getting a lot of inaccurate news.” He credited some news organizations for not going with the dossier story but called BuzzFeed, which published the documents, a “failing pile of garbage.” Trump also accosted Jim Acosta of CNN, which broke the story of the intelligence briefing, when the reporter tried to ask a question. “You are fake news,” Trump said, pointing at Acosta.
The news conference confrontation may have played well among core supporters, but overall Trump’s postelection actions seem to be alienating many Americans. Only 44 percent approve of his handling of the transition, while 51 percent disapprove, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. In contrast, eight years ago 83 percent approved of Obama’s transition, while only 12 percent disapproved.
The Trump transition will end next Friday, and the country’s 45th president will have another opportunity to try to unify an increasingly, almost intractably, divided nation.
Americans must do their part, too. As Obama urged in his Chicago farewell, “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all of our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:20 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.