The White House can’t seem to handle criticism
The Short Version
Multiple incidents into this still-young administration demonstrate its inability to accept criticism without lashing back at its source, especially when that source is the news media. Yesterday alone, the president called any negative polls “fake news.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lashed out at NBC’s Saturday Night Live depiction of him. The president also referred to a critical piece in Sunday’s New York Times regarding his personal habits as “total fiction.” Those statements follow a similar pattern the administration has used repeatedly of throwing a hissy fit every time they are criticized.
The Larger Picture
Every president has their critics, especially in the press. One can easily argue that it is the job of the press to keep the president and all other politicians honest by reporting their actions and words to the public. Criticism of president George W. Bush, for example, was unending during his second administration. Every gaffe, every misstatement, was reported and often made into headlines even when there was little supportive content. Even president Barak Obama, who enjoyed a much friendlier press, was swiftly challenged when his policies seemed flawed, especially regarding foreign wars and the ongoing detainment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Each previous administration has had a habit of addressing those criticisms with a carefully crafted statement outlining the reasons for their actions and the steps they would take going forward. Rarely has any exchange between the White House and the press become adversarial outside the Nixon administration. However, the administration of the 45th president has, from its earliest moments, shown itself to be easily offended and more than willing to lash out at the press and anyone else who criticized or challenged the White House.
Right off the bat, the president’s staff, and later the president himself, made false and misleading statements regarding the size of the inauguration crowd. Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, the White House continues even now to defend its position of having the largest inauguration ever. The president was angry that anyone would even question his assertion. The next thing we know, the White House is labeling the press as “the opposition party.”
With each executive order signed, there has been criticism of the president’s action and with each criticism has come a defense that is short on facts and long on insults. Consider the president’s reaction last Friday (3 February) when a Seattle judge halted the travel ban that had been imposed a week earlier. The president immediately took to Twitter, insulting the judge and calling his decision “ridiculous.”
Then, yesterday (6 February), the president made the claim that the media under-reported terrorist attacks around the world. However, when pressed to provide evidence to back up his claim, the White House released a hastily compiled list that not only contained several well-publicized events but several misspellings as well. The president also responded to a Sunday New York Times article that claims he was not fully informed on some decisions by calling the article “a complete fiction.” The president also referred to polls that cast his actions in a negative light as “fake news.” Then, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lashed out over a Saturday Night Live skit, calling actress Melissa McCarthy’s satirical impression of him “mean.”
Worth pointing out is the fact that such seemingly immature and childish behavior on the part of the president and his staff is characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder. DSM 5 diagnosis 301.81 includes among the symptoms of that disorder, “Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her.” The president’s actions regarding criticism and his relationship with the press are evidence of that symptom, along with others listed. That resentment displays in impetuous acts of defiance such as we’ve repeatedly seen from the president.
The president’s problem has not gone unnoticed. The Associated Press released an article this morning detailing the unusual level of criticism and protest the president has received, and his response to them. CBS news anchor Scott Pelly said the president is “divorced from reality.” CNN’s Jake Tapper, who has been a frequent critic of the president, also pointed out the problems with the president’s response to criticism. Even Britain’s speaker of Parliament lambasted the president yesterday and refused to allow him to address Parliament as other presidents have done.
With this administration still being so very young, one can hope that they will eventually learn the advantages of a more measured and disciplined response. We can hope, even if the current attitude is more like that of a four-year-old child tussling with its sibling.