Monday’s “Political Memo” from New York Times chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich was a more-solemn-than-usual take from the generally snarky Leibovich, but still in the service of the Democratic Party and in opposition to President Trump. The online headline: “Trump Turns Shared American Experiences Into Us vs. Them.”
Monday’s print version featured a photo of then-President Bill Clinton at a prayer service for victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He then used Clinton, who would smear talk radio for instigating the terror, as a healer.
Leibovich began by noting the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.
The lack of attention was cast in relief by one person who did speak up: Former President Bill Clinton, who for a variety of reasons seems to have receded from public view since his wife was defeated by Donald Trump for the presidency in 2016. Mr. Clinton, the embattled first-term president of early 1995, would become the dominant presence in the brittle aftermath of Oklahoma City....
Leibovich was too polite to mention the credible sexual harassment and assault allegations lodged against the two-term Democratic president, which would help explain why he’s “receded from public view” in the #MeToo era.
One of the recurring features of the Trump years has been the president’s knack for detonating so many of our powerful shared experiences into us-versus-them grenades. Whether it’s the anniversary of a national catastrophe like the Oklahoma City bombing, the death of a widely admired statesman (Senator John McCain) or a lethal pathogen, Mr. Trump has exhibited minimal interest in the tradition of national strife placing a pause upon the usual smallness of politics.
In this fractured political environment, the president has shown particular zest for identifying symbols that reveal and exacerbate cultural divisions. Kneeling football players, plastic straws and the question of whether a commander in chief should be trumpeting an untested antimalarial drug from the White House briefing room have all become fast identifiers of what team you’re on. Looming sickness and mass death are no exception. The reflex to unite during a period of collective grief feels like another casualty of the current moment.
Leibovich again praised Clinton.
....Mr. Clinton performed his role of eulogist and comforter, won bipartisan praise for his “performance” and an increase of good will that would eventually help right his presidency on a path to his re-election in 1996.
(He conveniently skipped Clinton’s smears of conservative talk radio after the 1995 terror attack. Clinton recast those attacks on the 15th anniversary to go after both talk radio and the Tea Party, with Times approval: "...people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences....”)
Leibovich embraced the GOP-bashing of the supposedly bipartisan White House Correspondents' Dinner, when comedian “Stephen Colbert unleashed a sarcastic takedown of then-President George W. Bush and the press corps that Mr. Colbert pointedly suggested had coddled him.”
The exercise also requires a president with at least minimal skill at solemnly paying heed to the principles that brought everyone together in the first place. First among these is the preservation of a free and fair press, not something a president fond of the term “fake news” will ever be synonymous with.
Criticism of the free press is not the same thing as opposition to its existence.
It's especially easy to single out Leibovich for being willing to let Team Clinton edit his stories before publication, and shamelessly appreciating Team Obama's Twitter game.