He’s getting worse, there’s no question about that. Freed from any remaining senior advisers who tried to keep Donald Trump’s wild behavior in some sort of check, the president now spends his unfiltered days wallowing in racist attacks, amplifying Infowars-like conspiracy theories about his enemies, and inspiring mass-murdering gunmen. And yet it’s still silence from the nation’s leading newspaper editorial boards, which refuse to insist he resign the way so many of them demanded Bill Clinton resign during the late 1990s impeachment controversy. At this point, the question becomes: Is there anything Trump could do that would finally trigger media demands for his resignation?
In theory, there’s already a long laundry list of dangerous offenses. He’s a chronic, habitual liar who’s the single most destructive force in terms of misinforming the American public, while he simultaneously leads a loud and dangerous rhetorical attack campaign against the free press in this country. Most recently, he’s been actively gutting the national intelligence apparatus in this country. He urged a foreign government to bar Democratic lawmakers from entering the country; he amplified a vile conspiracy theory about the Clintons killing their enemies. He promoted two Twitter accounts that have shown support for the dangerous and demented online conspiracy theory known as QAnon. (“DEMOCRATS ARE THE TRUE ENEMIES OF AMERICA!” read one message.) And, with his racist rhetoric about America being “invaded” by immigrants, Trump now regularly inspires white nationalist gunmen to unleash murderous attacks.
More? There are thousands of migrant children who have essentially been kidnapped from their parents and held in subhuman, lethal conditions, and there’s no plan in place for families to be reunited. And as of last month, Trump, his children, his inaugural committee, and/or the White House were being investigated in 10 federal criminals, eight state and local, and 11 congressional inquiries, according to The New York Times.
There’s certainly a compelling argument to be made that Trump—who lines his pockets from inside the Oval Office via open corruption; who paid off women he’d allegedly been involved with during the campaign; who coddles murderous dictators; and who has lost nine Cabinet members in two years—remains categorically unfit to serve. Yet our nation’s largest newspapers won’t call for his resignation. In fact, the topic, likely deemed too controversial, is rarely even broached by the Beltway press.
It might just be that things have gradually become so bad, with Trump ripping up decades of protocols of decent behavior, that news leaders can no longer see the big picture. Unfortunately, that means there’s likely no red line that Trump could cross that would trigger news outlets to call for his ouster.
I admit that demands for resignation certainly would not force Trump from office. But clarion calls would help change the national debate and more accurately reflect the crisis our country faces with a pathological liar at the helm. They would also act as a powerful counter to the daily normalization in Trump’s press coverage for the last two years.
Look at the national commotion a recent Baltimore Sun editorial caused after the paper lashed out at Trump following his racist attacks on the city. Shedding the niceties that often bog down editorials about Trump, the Sun leveled a blistering attack: It’s “better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood” than to be one, the editorial board wrote.
By not taking a public stand, newspaper leaders are sending a loud collective message that what Trump’s doing to America is not a looming crisis. (But apparently, Bill Clinton getting a blowjob was.) And in a way, that message perfectly fits in with how most elite news organizations have chosen to deal with Trump and his truly radical ways: They’re happy to chronicles the controversies, but in the end, they don’t feel compelled to take any sort of extraordinary action, because these are not extraordinary times. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet last week said he doesn’t really see Trump as being unprecedented in American history, and likened him to Edwin Edwards, a controversial Louisiana Democratic governor from the 1970s and 1980s. Trust me, the two pols are nothing alike.
To date, most editorial boards simply can’t summon the courage to call for Trump’s removal. Twenty years ago though, they had no such trouble insisting Clinton resign. In fact, there seemed to be a media race to demand the Democrat exit the Oval Office. As I noted back in January, the same newspaper editorial boards that today refuse to call for Trump’s resignation were loudly demanding Clinton resign back during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s. Convinced that the Democrat was no longer “fit” to serve in the Oval Office, newspapers lowered the boom on Clinton.
Those dailies included The Philadelphia Inquirer (“Bill Clinton should resign. He should resign because his repeated, reckless deceits have dishonored his presidency beyond repair.”), the Detroit Free-Press (“Clinton should resign and go home to Arkansas.”), and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (“A president more concerned with the national interest than his own preservation would realize that resignation is his only responsible option.”), and at least 10 other major outlets, urging the sitting president to resign for the good of the country.
It’s stunning today to read the angry and often taunting calls for Clinton’s resignation and note that none of those newspapers, which seemed absolutely apoplectic about Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, have summoned the courage to call for Trump to resign. That despite a list of public and outrageous offenses that make Clinton—and everyone else—look saintly comparison.
At this point, is there anything Trump could do that would finally prompt media calls for his forced departure?