Among the persistent problems and conflicts plaguing America, who would have thought that the lack of simple human civility would be one of them?
But President Trump has single-handedly replaced the rules of civil expression with ugly, personal, name-calling combat that has become the paramount characteristic of his presidency.
Sure, the rough and tumble of American politics is not for the timid, but throughout our history we have for the most part been able to conduct our governing and political discourse within the bounds of mutual respect.
This has been the case throughout most of the modern era when most of our presidents have suffered the slings and arrows of the news media’s attacks, but understood that comes with the job.
Dwight Eisenhower, who was once asked if he thought that the news media’s coverage of his presidency was fair, replied, “Well, when you come down to it, I don’t see what a reporter could do much to a president, do you?”
Ronald Reagan had already been battle-hardened as the two-term governor of California before he was elected president. But that was kids stuff compared to the attacks he endured in the White House.
While he never let his guard down, he never let politics get in the way of his relationship with a battery of liberal reporters or with Democratic leaders in Congress.
The strongest reply he shot back in his 1980 debate with President Jimmy Carter, who lobbed a string of false accusations at his challenger, was, “There you go again.” Carter lost in a landslide.
The liberal news media, of course, gave Reagan a good working over throughout his two terms in office, but with so little effect they began calling him “the Teflon president.”
When he was attacked for not working very hard as president, and taking too many days off at his California ranch, Reagan rebuffed the criticism with humor.
“They say hard work never killed anyone, but I figure why take a chance,” he told White House correspondents.
Instead of wasting his time attacking the news media, he went after the real bad guys in Moscow with both guns blazing.
Asked at a White House press conference on Jan. 29, 1981 if he trusted the leadership in the Kremlin, Reagan said “they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat” in order to “further their cause.”
Unlike Trump, Reagan regularly talked with Democratic leaders, particularly House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts, as he lobbied them to get his tax cut bill enacted.
They met after work in the White House, over a beer, and, in the end, the Democratic-run House passed the president’s tax cuts that ended the Carter recession in just two years.
President Truman, who was never one to mince words when he was attacked, famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Yet when the Washington Post music critic, Paul Hume, panned his daughter Margaret Truman’s performance at a concert in Constitution Hall, he hit the roof.
“Some day I hope to meet you,” Truman wrote in a letter to Hume. “When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beef steak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
As Trump enters the sixth month of his presidency, his legislative record is terrible. Former President’s Obama’s
Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, and the GOP’s repeal-and-replace legislation is stalled in the House and the Senate.
GOP lawmakers privately complain that he has failed to use the “bully pulpit” to move health care reform through Congress.
As for cutting taxes, that isn’t likely to be taken up until sometime after the August recess, at the earliest.
Meantime, Trump is obsessed with fighting the news media, whom he has declared the “enemy of the American people” or the “Fake News Media.”
This week, Trump sent out a Tweet that said, “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border and so much else!”
But much if not most of the economic statistics reported by the news media come from Trump’s own departments or from industry associations.
The truth is that in the last several months job growth has slowed, U.S. auto sales fell 3 percent in June, new homes sale have been soft, factory orders for May are expected to be down, and consumer spending rose a disappointing 0.1 percent last month.
And you can’t blame any of this on the news media.