I use that word, thrill, with full intention. No need to tell me about the cruel immigration policy, the incompetent pandemic response, the racism and bigotry, the frightening chaos. “We never gave you time. We kept the foot on the gas,” a top former West Wing staffer told me in 2018, when I was writing a book on the Trump administration. That same staffer maintained that there was “no chaos; only method.” I believed that at first, until I didn’t. I once sat across from Trump in the Oval Office as he launched into a disquisition about Jussie Smollett. Do you remember Jussie Smollett? I can assure you that Trump remembers Jussie Smollett. He has almost certainly spent more time thinking about Jussie Smollett than he has about the coronavirus pandemic. I suspect that some of his more ardent supporters would be perfectly fine with that.
Covering the administration was thrilling for many journalists, in the way that I imagine storming Omaha Beach must have been for a 20-year-old fresh from the plains of Kansas. He hadn’t signed up for battle, but there he was, liberating France. France, by the way, is where Trump called American soldiers who’d fallen in combat “suckers” and “losers.” When this magazine first reported those comments, Trump’s supporters denounced the Atlantic story as preposterous and offensive, even as outlet after outlet confirmed the reporting. They failed to realize that the preposterous and the offensive were the twin beacons of the Trump presidency. Journalists were merely going where he led. This was our Omaha Beach. I, for one, would have rather been in Hawaii.