Reporters Must Adapt to the Era of Constant Scandal

Thursday night, I attended a CNN town hall where Senators Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders were debating the new GOP tax plan and budget. It was a substantive debate about fiscal policy, funding for government programs and the two senators’ vision for American government. The Republican tax plan has unimaginably large consequences for all Americans, but it hasn’t really been the main focus of the media as of late.

I got home that night, checked the New York Times, and saw the top headline “Kelly Defends Trump Call to Army Widow, Assailing Critics.” The Washington Post’s top story was the same: “John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff whose son died in combat, defends president’s call to Gold Star widow.” I thought to myself, “why the hell are we talking about this?”

The answer to my question is pretty obvious: as commander in chief, the president has a moral duty to comfort the families of fallen soldiers. Trump massively bungled that duty. Under a normal presidency, that’s a huge news story, and the media would have the obligation to cover it with unending interest and ferocity. But this is not a normal presidency.

Trump’s bombast, incompetence and moral bankruptcy has been clear since he first announced his candidacy over two years ago. This is nothing new. What is new is the Republican tax and budget plan that Sanders and Cruz debated Thursday, which is currently making its sprint through the legislative calendar before the year’s end.

Under this plan, the Republicans are marketing “yuge” tax cuts. What they aren’t marketing is that 80 percent of all the tax plan’s benefits goes to only one percent of all Americans, the wealthiest families in the nation. All households making more than about $900,000 a year would see their taxes drop by more than $200,000 on average, while nearly 30 percent of middle class families could see an increase in taxes. The top 0.1 percent of earners would see an average tax cut to the tune of $1,022,120, while the bottom 20 percent of earners would only see an average cut of $50.

The plan would also cut Medicaid by something between $800 billion and $1 trillion, forcing 15 million of the poorest Americans to lose their health insurance. It would cut Medicare by $473 billion, making our elderly population even more vulnerable. It would also slash the Pell Grant program by $3.9 billion, making it harder for poor kids who deserve a college education to afford it.

Plain and simple, this plan takes from the poor and gives to the rich. It’s a brazen government handout to the mega-wealthy. But like the NFL-anthem kneeling debacle, Trump has been able to use his current feud as a smokescreen to hide the real and destructive policy decisions his Republican majority is pursuing.

The Trump-Kelly-Soldier story has all the intrigue of a Trump distraction: lies, contradicting statements, volatile tweets, partisan outrage, and a blameless victim caught up in a media-storm. So the media must ask itself: what do working families, average Americans, care about more? Trump’s latest childish act of incompetence, or an unprecedented redistribution of wealth to the richest people in the country?

Let me stipulate that I mean no disrespect to Sgt. Johnson. He is an American hero, and it’s unfortunate that his death could not be treated with respect and gravitas the likes of which a fallen soldier deserves. And if there was any foul play involved with what actually happened in Niger, that’s an entirely different story that’s worth every ounce of reporting. But the media needs to take a fundamental look at how they cover Trump. Because to most people, this story is not nearly as important as the things that measurably affect their lives.

A Trump feud doesn’t affect families who are struggling to make ends meet. It doesn’t affect the Medicare and Medicaid recipients who could lose their health insurance. It doesn’t bring jobs to the unemployed or prosperity for small business owners. It doesn’t impact the victims of a broken criminal justice system or the gender-wage gap.

We must turn away from the constant torrent of damning personality flaws and outrage that accompany Trump’s day-to-day activities. As I previously said, Trump’s incompetence is not new, and it’s not news. The only thing that actually changes between each controversy is the vessel through which Trump chooses to exhibit his lack of credibility.

Some on the political left, or any particularly defiant Republicans, would point out that this kind of coverage is important because it shines a light on the true abnormality of the Trump presidency. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes scandal coverage will somehow change the current political atmosphere. At the end of each saga, our international reputation remains just as tarnished, his supporters still support him, his opponents still oppose him and the only thing that’s gained is more partisan divisions.

Having a clown for a president doesn’t mean we need a circus for a government. Congress is about to debate taxes. The Supreme Court is about to make a historic decision on gerrymandering. The EPA is continuing its assault on our environment. Let’s keep our eye on the real danger of this presidency and stop chasing every shiny object Trump throws our way.

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