By defining the press as his prime adversary—not a foreign power or “terrorism” or an energy crisis, as previous presidents have—Trump has changed the way we view the press and the way the press views itself. For Trump, the struggle is Manichean, with him representing good and the press representing bad. In a recent tweet, he wrote, “Wow, more than 90% of Fake News Media coverage of me is negative, with numerous forced retractions of untrue stories. Hence my use of Social Media, the only way to get the truth out. Much of Mainstream Meadia [sic] has become a joke!” At an August rally, he said journalists are “sick people,” “liars” who are fomenting “division.” In statement after statement, he and advisers like Steve Bannon have cast the national press, not the Democrats, as “the opposition party.” This trick of classification has paid steady dividends—it allows him to nullify every critical story as politically motivated and corrupt.
The press has accepted the role of the opposition party if not the designation. In press conferences and news stories, the national media give Trump the brand of guff we once heard coming from the firebrand wing of the Democratic Party. This is not to say reporters are in the tank for the Democrats—only that Trump’s confrontational style drives them to dig in and return fire. Trump loves to directly challenge reporters, to appear like the cruel nanny who spanks children for talking back and thereby goads them into more backtalk. Trump has arranged the dynamic in such a way that he appears both victim and victor in every clash.