When President Trump goes dark on Twitter, the American media begins to sweat. No matter what kind of lure they’ve been able to dangle before him during his first foreign trip as president, he hasn’t taken the bait. A Politico report suggests it’s because the president’s aides have loaded his schedule to limit his cable news and Twitter habits. That sounds believable given his impulses.
There was certainly a collective holding of the nation’s breath as Trump set off on his first foreign trip, which started in Saudi Arabia to celebrate a massive arms deal and–face it–probably future Trump golf courses and hotels. What is he going to say to embarrass us all? Which world leader will he insult?
But despite Trump’s reputation and troubles at home — with everything from a stalled agenda, to a mounting special investigation into something to do with Russia (Something no one can still quiet say with certainty that is) — it has to be stated, even by ardent critics, that Trump’s first trip overseas has been a successful, mostly gaffe-free affair. Love or hate it, he facilitated a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, an unfortunate necessity to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region thanks to a nuclear arms deal of their own, courtesy of Trump’s predecessor. On top of a well-received speech to Arab world leaders, the president danced with swords and touched some orbs and didn’t send Sean Spicer off into the desert completely to fend for himself. So that’s a plus.
Trump also became the first sitting US President to fly directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv, a signal to the Arab world that it should put aside historical grievances with Israel to combat a common foe in ISIS, a foe who became all too real once again this week when a suicide bomber killed 20 young people attending a pop concert in Manchester, England. This dark reality Trump made known quite bluntly — while standing directly across from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president– when he called Muslim terrorists “losers”. He made it known on the morning after the attack, to Abbas and the world, that the phrase parsing, “nuanced” president of the past 8 years is gone.
And while in Israel (yes, Israel), Trump became the first sitting President to visit the Western Wall, a visit notably missing from Barack Obama’s history-making historic farewell history tour of historic firsts in history (he did visit as a candidate in 2008).
But as Trump’s maiden voyage enters its third leg at the NATO Summit, the focus from media analysts isn’t on his speeches or statements, nor is it on how those positions differ from the last administration’s, and how they affect the United States going forward.
Instead we’re once again hit with a barrage of journalist tweets, snark and stories regarding handshakes, PDA with Melania, facial expressions and “shoves” because that’s what media does now. They almost solely exist to troll Trump into a reaction on Twitter or in front of a mic. He who trolls the most clicks wins.
When Trump met with Pope Francis in Rome, an odd photograph circled the Twitterverse of Trump smiling while the Pope seemed to scowl. The photograph brought out the best Daily Show journo Twitter on offer: “Pope Francis is all of us. Slay Pontiff Slay!” Thirty seconds of googling, however, would show the Pope’s demeanor with Trump is no different than it was with Obama. But of course, that didn’t matter.
When Melania Trump appeared to swat away her husband’s hand on the greeting tarmac in Tel Aviv, the EWs and The Views and their ilk of course ran with it. That’s their job. But so did The LA Times , NBC and of course Chris Cillizza from CNN, who also declared that this trip for Trump was going well but that it wouldn’t last. Of course not, Chris, you’ll make sure of that! Barack Obama’s former official photographer, Pete Souza, has taken to trolling Trump on Instagram over these things much to the delight of journalists from outlets like Buzzfeed and ABC News, among others. They of course doubled down when Melania appeared to snub him he husband a second time while stepping off Air Force One.
I don’t know why Melania Trump did not hold hands in those particular instances. A few Twitter users noted that Melania was simply following State Department protocol by not showing affection in Arab nations. Others noted (myself included) that it simply looked like Melania tapped his hand to let Trump know she was there. Furthermore, who really gives a shit? A married couple acting like a married couple isn’t news, it isn’t journalism and it sure as hell isn’t fighting fires.
This of course wasn’t the end of hand episodes, as it never is with Trump or his hands. An entire morning news cycle was dedicated to Trump’s extended handshake with new French President Emmanuel Macron. Once again, everyone’s favorite resident firefighter Chris Cillizza went to town with “Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron just exchanged a white-knuckled handshake” complete with gifs! The handshake dominated AP coverage of the meeting. The New York Times on Twitter waxed “Jaws clenching, faces alternating between smiles and grimaces, the 2 shook hands until Trump’s knuckles turned white”
Lost in the coverage was both men’s statements on their commitment to fighting terrorism, something one would think would be the lead media headlines considering the events just two days ago in Manchester.
To pile onto this incredible avalanche of stupid, CNBC Breaking News Reporter Steve Kopack singled out video footage of Trump at the NATO summit this morning, when he appeared to push aside another leader to move the front of a group. If you’re tired of reading Chris Cillizza’s name, I’m tired of bringing it up too, but he of course was one of the first into the scrum again, even slowing the clip down for his colleagues to soak up every last Zapruder-like frame. Trump clearly makes contact with Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, but the gesture appears to be mutual and a bit playful (as does the handholding flap on the tarmac).
Politico felt the interaction so noteworthy that they tweeted “Trump moves in front of” Markovic. He’s literally Hitler moving in front of people. The Washington Post claimed Trump brushed past him, while others went on to suggest that Trump’s alpha silverback move was a secret message to Putin regarding Montenegro’s recent admission into NATO. Trump is once again both that fumbling idiot and maniacal genius sending subtle signals to his Kremlin puppet masters on a world stage.
Maybe it wasn’t a shove, maybe it was. Maybe it’s also not worth the hundreds of blue check mark comments and inevitable think pieces either.
As usual, social media drives media coverage. When media personalities see something that Twitter or Facebook users pick up, they pick up on it as well in the hopes of monetizing tweets and posts via traffic. Trump swatting away his wife’s hand or shoving a world leader plays into their narrative of who Trump is and they think this appeals to their Daily Show sensibilities. It’s the reporter shouting at Mitt Romney “What about your gaaaaafffes” on steroids.
It also shows how a vindictive pettiness consumes the media when Trump personally starves them of his Twitter behavior. This is something from which he should (but probably won’t) learn. His bad approval ratings ticked up over the course of his foreign trip which should set off all kinds of bells inside his great golden dome, that when he remains focused, even as unpolished on a world stage as he can be, and leaves the media to focus on the mundane meaningless crap of his presidency, that ultimately no one cares about beyond Stephen Colbert.
Trump can ultimately achieve what he wants most from his presidency: beating the press at their own game of who has the shortest and most pointless attention span.
The other Stephen Miller. He’s tired of this bullshit. Follow on Twitter @redsteeze