Maybe it’s too late. Maybe we’re habituated to the atrocious news we consume daily. But our shock should not wear off so quickly.
Over the past five decades, every American president has been harried, pursued and wounded, to some degree, by the nation’s press. John F. Kennedy had his detractors over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and acknowledged the press’ “abrasive quality.” Lyndon B. Johnson was run out of office by a national press that lost faith in the “progress” of Vietnam. The same press exposed Richard Nixon’s Watergate machinations, which led directly to his resignation. Gerald Ford was ridiculed for physical awkwardness. Jimmy Carter was mocked as naive for linking human rights to foreign affairs. Ronald Reagan was derided for informing parents (seeking balanced school lunches) that ketchup was a vegetable. More seriously, the press exposed Reagan’s rogue-intelligence operators, who were smuggling guns to the Contras in Nicaragua. Bill Clinton, the Bushes and Obama: Are we required to mention them? The press chewed on all their delicate hides.
Through all these situations, we never witnessed a president (and staff) attack journalists as “Enemies of the People,” routinely describe press accounts as “Fake News” and use a political rally — as Donald Trump recently did in Columbus, Ohio — to identify journalists in attendance, and then urge the crowd to spew their venom.
Over the same decades, the nation’s intelligence community has have been involved in one messy melee after another. The picture is not pretty. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy alongside his bother, had an adversarial relationships with the powerful FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover. The two camps (supposedly) loathed each other. Meanwhile, Hoover relied on electronic surveillance. He bugged those he disliked and feared.
He bugged Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He infiltrated the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He targeted (together with the nation’s police) the Black Panther Party. In the 1970s, in the thick of the Cold War, our national intelligence agencies (advised by Dr. Henry Kissinger) overthrew Chile’s Salvador Allende, a popularly elected Socialist president, and installed the generals. In the 1980s, Reagan’s intelligence operatives (as already mentioned) smuggled guns to Nicaragua to defeat the Sandinista, an action that almost resulted in Reagan’s impeachment. In 2001, the nation’s intelligence community, supported by the White House, claimed they discovered Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
Yet, in all these instances, our nation’s intelligence community never squared off against a sitting president — and a sitting president never dismissed the intelligence community’s collective findings.
But then there’s Donald Trump (our first president to be investigated for conspiring with an adversarial foreign power to win an election) preening and manipulating supporters in Columbus, sicking men and women against the press, digging verbal trenches under the foundation’s of the nation’s intelligence services, undermining the EPA and the Interior to weaken America’s environmental integrity and reminding us that murderous brown refugees (and their children) are coming up through our southern border.
Don’t get used to it, America!
Leslie Kelen is a child of Holocaust survivors and the author/editor of five books, including “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement”