I heard something from Sean Hannity on Monday night that gave me a glimmer of hope for our fractured and fraught nation.
President Trump had just read a carefully crafted speech from a teleprompter in which he re-upped on American military engagement in Afghanistan, and I was sampling the commentary on MSNBC and CNN. After a while, the experience of having my liberal biases reinforced by one talking head after another grew tedious, so I switched to Fox News.
Hannity was on, doing an interview with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. These are two men with whom I have a lot of disagreements, but it actually felt good for my brain to have my assumptions challenged. Hannity, in particular, was very pleased with the president’s speech, giving Trump more credit than I think he deserves for setting a resolute new direction in a war that has been careening on and on since 2001. Still, his argument inspired me to come up with a counterargument of my own — a healthy intellectual exercise.
Then, the subject shifted to the tragedy of Charlottesville and the provocations of white nationalists. Hannity noted that there had been several protests against racism and neo-Nazis earlier in the day. He went out of his way to tell Fox viewers that the people engaged in these demonstrations were almost all peaceful and that they were properly exercising their rights of free assembly and free speech. And he repeated that point a few minutes later.
I took it as a moment of grace. I am sure most of the people demonstrating were no fans of Trump or Fox News. Hannity could have mocked them and played up the antics of the handful that were troublemakers. But he didn’t. He did the right thing, the American thing.
Or at least it used to be the American thing.
Having largely abandoned the common ground where the hard work of our nation gets done, Americans are retreating into tribes — Trump lovers versus Trump haters, city liberals versus country conservatives, whites versus nonwhites, do-nothing Republican politicians versus do-nothing Democratic politicians. From micro-aggression-monitoring students on college campuses to fearful Bible-believing folks in farm towns, everybody seems to want a safe space. Everybody wants to hear views they agree with and a version of the news that fits neatly into their predispositions.
What I heard in Hannity’s words the other night was that it is OK to disagree, that the people on the other side are not all demons and traitors. Combined with the president’s unusually sober speech, it felt like a good sign. Even in this discordant time, maybe we can all find a way to get along, even find areas of agreement the way Americans are supposed to do.
Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Trump went from sober to intoxicated the next night at his campaign rally in Phoenix and proved he still has no inclination to be a president for all of us. He spent much of his time ranting about the “fake” news media. He singled out the “failing New York Times” for abuse and wildly accused the Washington Post of lobbying for its parent company, Amazon. He jabbed at ABC’s George Stephanopoulos by name, deriding his short stature. He bashed the media in general for making up stories and claiming sources that are bogus. (Trump seems to have the illusion that every mainstream news outlet operates with the same low ethics as his favorite newspaper, the National Enquirer.) His careless tirade revved up the crowd, prompting a chant of “CNN sucks!” Some in the audience turned toward reporters in the hall to demand that they stop asking hard questions about the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
Amid all this slander, perhaps Trump’s lowest point came when he said of journalists, “for the most part, these are really, really dishonest people. And they’re bad people. And I really think they don’t like our country. And I do not think it will change.”
Are journalists truly dishonest, bad people? Tell that to the hundreds of reporters who have given their lives covering the news in dangerous places. And, please, Mr. Trump, do not question the patriotism or the love of country of the men and women who cover our wars, who monitor our government and who investigate and expose those who abuse the public trust. Defending the principles that make this nation a beacon of liberty is exactly why journalists do what they do.
Of course, people like Sean Hannity and me are not straight news guys. We are paid provocateurs (thought he’s paid quite a bit better). Our job is to express our opinions as boldly as we can to encourage public debate about the big issues of the day. So, it is notable when a liberal cartoonist and a conservative TV commentator are driven to explain tolerance and free speech to our disgruntled citizenry. That should be the task of the president, but, apparently, the current occupant of the White House has no interest in that part of his job.
Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter
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