Irony is dead.
As I contemplated the strange news of yesterday that Kellyanne Conway is rebuking a White House reporter (and the White House press in general) for being rude and disrespectful toward the current administration, Lewis Carroll’s phrase “Through the looking glass” kept popping into my cerebrum.
So I googled it and got:
“Through the looking glass” is a metaphorical expression. It means: on the strange side, in the twilight zone, in a strange parallel world. It comes from the idea of Lewis Carol’s novel: “Through the Looking-Glass,” and the strange and mysterious world Alice finds when she steps through a mirror.
The Trump experience has taken us through the looking glass in so many ways. I favor good manners, in a vague, general way. But, sad to say, to a lifelong journalist, good manners rank in the norms of my craft somewhere behind pursuing facts of a news story. So a certain amount of yelling and interrupting occurs.
I was born in the late Truman period, so Trump is my 13th president. That fact is depressing enough. But I would say that all of my first 12 presidents maintained a certain commitment to that vague, magic combination of seriousness, dignity and civility that gave them and their representatives at least an arguable basis from which to lecture reporters on manners and respect for their office and other elements of what might be called civility. Nixon detested the White House media (and violated his oath). LBJ was boorish and manipulative. But there was still a vague and evolving set of norms that preserved a modicum of civility in the president-press relationship.
Then my 13th president changed all that. He has put on a clinic of incivility, mendacity disrespect for those norms that previous training would have suggested would render any presidential candidate unelectable. And yet there he sits, in the Oval Office, defining presidential-ness down on a daily basis.
Well, they’re just norms, not mentioned in the Constitution. The current incumbent may well be violating things that are more important than norms of civility. And I should also say that Conway, while she is a spin artist of the first order and hardly a truth-teller, does generally stay calm and civil in her public appearances.
But, all that aside, for a spokester in the employ of this particular president, who routinely calls reporters liars and worse (in fact, the entire entity of the news media is routinely ignored, lied to or berated and denounced by this president) has moved the line, in a way that Conway’s relatively good manners cannot do much to repair.
Personally, I have no idea whether the old levels of civility can ever come back. But if this president wants to know who killed them, he should start by looking in a mirror.
If you’d like to watch Conway, very calmly and nicely rebuking the media for their manners, and what she calls the media’s “shouting and pouting” in the press room, there’s a clip of it in this link.
The other surprising/interesting thing about her fairly long rebuke is that the gaggle of reporters following her as she delivered let her get through it without interruption.