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Horowitz: The Trump-Splainers

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Donald Trump

Among a significant sub-set of Trump supporters in media, there is often an unintentionally humorous form of Trump enabling, which I call Trump-splaining. When confronted by outrageous, un-presidential by any objective standard behavior by the president, rather than simply saying his behavior is at times unacceptable, but it is outweighed by “all the good he is doing for the nation,” the Trump-splainers twist themselves into a pretzel, working overtime to defend the indefensible.

You can pretty much guarantee that you are going to be treated to some vintage Trump-splaining when a pundit or commentator begins with “The President is understandably frustrated…”-- as he or she attempts to explain away behavior they wouldn’t tolerate from their teenage children.

Recently on Fox and Friends, host, Ainsley Earhardt, for example, attempted to justify Trump continually calling the media the enemy of the people:  “How frustrating would it be if you are the president of the United States and every single time you turn on the TV on most of the channels they are misconstruing what you say? You know your heart and you know your words and your voice and you watch what other people report on what you say and it’s completely different than what you mean. That has to be frustrating. That’s why he is calling it fake news. He’s saying if you don’t want to be called the enemy, then get the story right, be accurate and report the story the way I want it reported."

To which fellow host Brian Kilmeade responded, “I think that’s a good point.”  And this embarrassing, but unfortunately typical effort to defend the indefensible, was made even worse, since it happened soon after a pipe bomb was sent to CNN by a Trump supporter.   Every president, of course, is frustrated by how they are covered by the media, but that is no excuse for this president continually using an old Joe Stalin phrase to demonize the media, launching attacks on reporters and television correspondents that are now being echoed by dictators around the world and used to justify their repressive acts.

Here is another example from one of the more amusing Trump-splainers, the Five’s Greg Gutfeld.  Check out this stretch of an attempt to justify Trump tweeting against CNN in the middle of John McCain’s funeral ."Trump is like a heckler behind the dugout. He can sense the central weakness of the pitcher — in this case, CNN. He won't stop until he throws the mitt down and runs to the stands to fight....I think it is even-steven. Whenever I get a little bit upset or annoyed about the tweeting, I remember the media spent decades punching at conservatives — probably since the Vietnam war. Now, somebody is punching back and they are crying foul. It's hard for me to sympathize with the media when they are complaining because the left and they have been interchangeable since Vietnam. We are going to need a lot of Trump tweets to even the score."

So Trump’s dangerous, dishonest and un-presidential behavior, is ok, according to Gutfeld, because it is somehow balancing the scales for years of unfair coverage of conservatives. To say that is a stretch is an understatement.

Along with "you have to understand, the president is frustrated," some other key phrases that let the viewer or reader know that they are about to experience some Trump-splaining are, "we should take the president seriously, but not literally” and “the president is a counter-puncher.” In other words, the president continually exaggerates and outright lies, but that is ok because there is a serious point that underlies it.   Similarly, just because he is counter-punching, if what he is doing is responding to criticism by personally insulting the critic or saying something that is untrue-both of which are often the case-it is still wrong.  It is also a myth that all he does is counter-punch, Ask Ben Carson or Ted  Cruz about Trump’s false and nasty attacks during the primaries--attacks in which Trump punched first.

The Trump-splainers continue in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous words to “define deviancy down.”  Instead of making threadbare excuses for the president, Trump would actually be much better served if they criticized his behavior. That might provide an impetus for a mid-course correction.  As the mid-term results drove home, most American voters disapprove of the president's demeanor and dishonesty and are not buying the explanations.

Since, I expect, however, there will be no shortage of Trump-splaining over the next two years. we can all look forward to more creative excuses for his inexcusable and unpresidential behavior from pundits and commentators that are nearly as shameless as the president.  


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island. 


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