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At Arizona rally, Trump again proved himself a canny salesman: Westwood

It’s not by a whim that in his campaign against the media, Trump would claim journalists “don’t like” America. Nationalism is his administration’s North Star.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday.

Ralph Freso / Getty Images North America

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump addressed a campaign rally of die-hard supporters in Phoenix in the bombastic style we know him best: aggressively disjointed, dancing around the rhetorical gutter and occasionally jumping right in.

At this point, Trump knows he can’t get any dirtier.

It was the middle of three key speeches this week — the first and last more teleprompted affairs defining U.S. policy in Afghanistan and calling for “unity” and “healing wounds” in front of the American Legion — the meat of the Trump speech sandwich, meant to rile the emotions of his immovable base, who leaped at the chance to condemn the media.

“These are really, really dishonest people, they’re bad people. I really think they don’t like our country, I really believe that,” Trump claimed of journalists, before accusing news outlets of trying “to take away our history and our heritage” — a reference to the recent debate over Confederate monuments. Then the crowd chanted, “CNN sucks!”

And Trump, nodding, agreed.

“If only President Trump denounced neo-Nazis as passionately and sincerely as he castigates journalists,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof bemoaned on Thursday morning. (Fact: He hasn’t, nor as often).

But Trump is not only incredibly sensitive to the media’s critical coverage, he’s also a canny salesman. And in selling himself to Republican voters, he’s doubled down and likely hardened the already bitterly partisan view Americans have of their national media.

Axios reported in July that 89 per cent of Republicans view Trump as more trustworthy than CNN (perhaps his most-hated outlet, though it’s a hard call).

In June, a YouGov survey found that 85 per cent of Republicans believe that ownership and funding influences media’s coverage of the news, compared to 52 per cent of Democrats. (Note that Trump recently blasted Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, on Twitter.)

Then there’s Pew Research Center’s May report, which charted the greatest political divide in views on the media since 1985, when the centre’s polling on the question began.

While 89 per cent of Democrats support the media’s “watchdog” role and believe critical coverage keeps politicians “from doing things that shouldn’t be done,” only 47 per cent of Republicans agree.

Democrats’ support for media jumped after Trump’s election, an effect common to both parties when their candidate loses, and has now reached unseen heights. Meanwhile, the Republicans’ views dropped at the fastest rate, from 77 per cent under President Barack Obama to a low roughly in line with the George W. Bush era. That means Republicans are no more in favour of national media now — with a president like Trump — than they were during Bush’s reign, which many liberals only half-jokingly now long for.

It’s not by a whim that in his campaign against the media, Trump would claim journalists “don’t like” America. Nationalism is his administration’s North Star. If Republicans were already dismissive of mainstream media (see: the creation and popularity of Fox News), Trump has turned a disagreement about policy and even bias into a full-fledged war and raised the stakes: Patriotism is now on the line.

There can be deadly consequences to viewing journalists as evil or criminal, in the way Trump loves to paint them. But the trend poses even bigger risks. Americans already know — thanks to Trump — of the deep alternate realities they live in. What consequences await the nation if all media is downgraded to pure propaganda?

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