No ‘Honeymoon Period’ for Trump

Donald Trump could not have begun his presidency on a more inauspicious note. Within the first 24 hours after assuming office on January 20, the irrepressible American President stunned the nation with his preposterous claim that media persons are ‘among the most dishonest people’ on earth, ensuring in the process that his relationship with the media is going to be even more adversarial than it already was during the campaign and the period leading up to his coronation. And pray what caused the President’s wrath? The ‘fact’ that the media grossly under reported the size of the crowd that attended his inaugural on Friday!

“It looked honestly like a million and a half people, whatever it was, it was, but it went all the way back to the Washington Monument and I turn on, by mistake, I get this network, and it showed an empty field. Said we drew 250,000 people. Now, that’s not bad. But it’s a lie,” the President told the staff of CIA – of all people – a day after taking office. His combative press secretary Sean Spencer went one up on his master saying “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

As if that was not enough, Spencer followed it up with this gem. “This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging — that bringing about our nation together is making it more difficult. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable. And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well. The American people deserve better.” With friends like Spencer, Trump hardly needs enemies!

That was enough to raise the hackles of an already pissed off media, which fished out more ‘evidence’ to prove that Trump’s inauguration drew a much smaller crowd – both in person and on TV – than Barack Obama’s in 2009. Pictures of the National Mall during the inauguration of Obama and Trump were splashed side by side in the media to drive home the point that the former drew a much bigger crowd. The media also quoted data from Nielson to make the point that Obama’s first inauguration commanded a U.S. television audience of 37.8 million viewers, while Trump’s inauguration drew only 30.6 million viewers.

More than the comparison of the size of the crowds at his inauguration and that of his Democratic predecessor, what apparently got Trump’s goat was the juxtaposition of pictures of massive demonstrations across the globe against his day-old presidency with that of sparse crowds at his inauguration. His advisers suggested a tweet to repudiate the media, but Trump was ‘adamant’ that his press secretary should come out with a ‘fiery’ public response, according to The Washington Post.

Trump followed it up by repeating his rant about how the votes of ‘millions’ of unauthorised immigrants had deprived him of a majority of popular votes in the elections – and that too at his first interaction with Congressional leaders, an occasion he could have used to build bridges rather than repeat his pet grudge. But then Trump would not be Trump if he were to play by the book. He clearly revels in his role as the ‘disrupter’.

The first few days – and even weeks – of the term of any head of state is usually what is called the ‘honeymoon’ period – a time when the new incumbent seeks to build bridges with everyone, more so with those with whom the relationship is likely to be adversarial later. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who the Indian media says shares many of the traits of Trump, began on a reconciliatory note inviting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing in. But Trump obviously does not believe in such niceties. Modi at least has a section of the media on his side. But Trump clearly thinks he can sail through his presidency with the entire American – and even global – media implacably ranged against him.

Good luck, Mr. Trump!