On Oct. 5, Trump summoned the presidential press corps to the State Dining Room, where he was throwing a dinner for military commanders.
“You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” Trump said, perhaps breaking military news, given the venue and sudden press invitation.
When questioned by the press corps on the matter, Trump offered no concrete answers. “Could be the calm before the storm,” he repeated, seemingly bemused.
In response, the media entertained Trump’s comment and attempted to decipher its vague meaning.
Some pundits are convinced the cryptic message was a warning to other foreign governments.
“A storm is coming. Whether that storm will be diplomatic, economic or military depends on the leaders of North Korea and Iran,” Alan Dershowitz wrote for FOX News.
The American Spectator’s Jeb Babbin echoed Dershowitz’s speculation, but used his platform to critique Trump’s terminology and his administration’s lack of cohesion.
“If it was Trump’s intent to make people worry about what he’s going to do, he succeeded. Nobody’s calm,” Babbin asserted.
Will stocks plunge tomorrow morning because of Trump's "calm before the storm" reference? Or has Wall Street quit listening to his bluster?
— Bobby G (@BGraham_MA) October 6, 2017
Remember that time your 8th grade English teacher was trying to explain foreshadowing to you…
— delano_goodin (@delano_goodin) October 6, 2017
Wait, THIS is the calm? https://t.co/MTAnOnsAwE
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) October 5, 2017
New York Magazine’s Margaret Hartmann noted that the context of the comment could mean “the storm” is a military plan or a withdrawal from the Iran Deal, but she also thought that it could just be a joke or even a television-like “promo of next week’s episode.”
“Trump often behaves like he thinks he’s still starring in a reality show … The only difference is he’s teasing the fate of millions of people, not Khloe Kardashian’s career,” she wrote.
Indeed, most of the pundits discussing Trump’s ominous comments did not seem to find them entertaining. Rather, they were frustrated at the statement that seemed emblematic of this ambiguous administration.
Thinkers like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed the move was a “play for attention” rather than a policy declaration altogether.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza condemned the president’s suspenseful language and what he perceives to be Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy.
“The stakes of diplomacy with rogue nations pursuing nuclear weapons are incredibly high… He is flicking at the possibility of an armed conflict — and the world is paying attention,” Cillizza wrote.
For an administration that is already challenging for journalists to cover, Trump’s purposefully obtuse language — whatever its intention may be — certainly makes the media’s job more difficult.
Considering Trump has declared a war on the mainstream media, it’s understandable that reporters are frustrated in covering the potential policy implications behind the statement. If Trump actually wants “the fake news media” to do its job and report on substance, Trump should probably give them the substance to report on.