Leave it to the late newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin to get a street-level fix on Donald Trump, roughly 20 years ago when the future president was taking out full-page ads demanding the death penalty for four black kids accused – falsely – of attacking a young white woman jogging in New York’s Central Park.
“Beware the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation,” Breslin wrote, “and appealing to a crowd’s meanest nature. Such violent language sounds as if it were coming from someone who walks around with bodyguards.”
He’s still surrounded by bodyguards, isn’t he? Only now we call them the U.S. Secret Service, and they’re out there to cover Trump as he pretends to be a real tough guy. He knows there’s nobody whose reach is long enough to punch back.
Now the president comes after a young reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, who happens (as Jmore reported last week) to be a Baltimore native and Park School graduate. Jacobs is the guy who was body-slammed some months back by Greg Gianforte, a congressional cretin posing as a civilized human being.
Gianforte took offense because Jacobs dared ask a question about health care.
Imagine that! A reporter, daring to ask a question!
The reaction to Gianforte’s thuggery was swift and sane – at least until Trump arrived and revved up the mob.
First, the sanity: Gianforte pleaded guilty and pretended he was ashamed, and a judge hit him with community service, anger-management classes and a fine.
Now, the insanity: as Gianforte runs for reelection to his congressional seat, Trump goes to Montana last week and laughingly tells the home crowd, “Any guy who can do a body-slam, he’s my kind of – he’s my guy. I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up. … I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s gonna lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did.”
The Montana mob loved it. After all, what’s one more bashing of a reporter from this president who calls journalists “enemies of the people”? What’s one more bashing from this president who hears about the killing of reporters at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis and has to be shamed into flying the American flag at half-mast?
What’s one more bashing from this president who has to be shamed into admitting Saudi Arabia was behind the grotesque murder of the Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi?
It was Theodore Roosevelt who described the presidency as the bully pulpit. But it’s Trump who emphasizes the bully part of it.
Yeah, he’s a real tough guy, this president. He sees acts of barbarism and then marches forth to beat up those already harmed.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent book, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.