To be sympathetic to the columnists, it’s apparent that many of them—having called the president a demagogue, a bully, an authoritarian, an aspiring dictator, a despot, and a monster—have emptied their rhetorical quivers and have nothing left to fire. They’re not just exhausted. They’re spent and disheartened by the fact that the biggest Trump stories—the Russia investigation convictions and guilty pleas; the exposes of Trump’s self-dealing; Scott Pruitt’s tenure at EPA, Ryan Zinke’s at Interior, and Tom Price’s at HHS; the incarceration of children at the border; Trump’s coziness with Putin; Trump’s cavalier use of pardons; Trump’s revocation of White House press passes; Trump’s role in covering up the Khashoggi murder; et al.—seem not to have weakened or even disciplined the White House. Nor have these stories failed to reverberate beyond their original soundings the way they might have in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.
But my sympathy has its limits. If they can’t appreciate the fact that they’ve been dealt one of the most consequential assignments in the history of political journalism, the columnists should surrender their pens and make way for writers who don’t need Adderall to remain vigilant. No matter how spent they feel now, they still have the upper hand. Trump hasn’t abolished the First Amendment; he hasn’t instituted prior restraint; he hasn’t sent any of the scribes he considers “enemies of the people” to jail; he hasn’t shuttered any news outlets; and readers aplenty await the commentariat’s findings.