Does Trump Still Think He’s the Underdog Around Here?

That would explain his tweets — and at the same time open up a whole new set of disturbing questions.

By Tom Gilson Published on July 2, 2017

I’ve been trying to think of some way Donald Trump’s attacks upon the media lately might make sense. Unfortunately, I’ve thought of one.

If there’s any reason at all, it must have something to do with something he’s hoping to accomplish through these tweets. The explanation would have to be good enough to cover even the absurdly conceived CNN takedown video he tweeted early Sunday morning.

Obviously, he wants to make the point that the media are biased. So far, so good. The media really are biased. And I assume he wants to do something about that.

What might that be? It could be he’s hoping to shame the media into treating conservatives more fairly. Or it could be that he wants to raise awareness of media bias, so that the public will raise an outcry and demand the media straighten out their act. Or maybe he’s just mad at the media for beating him up, and wants to beat them up in return.

None of those explanations is the least bit satisfying.

Why Those Explanations Don’t Work

It’s impossible, first, to shame others into change while acting shamefully yourself — which is certainly the way the media view him now, and I’m finding it hard to disagree. They’re not going to change on account of this.

When it comes to these anti-media tweets, the underdog mentality is the only thing that approaches a reasonable explanation.

Second, most Americans already know about media bias, and those who don’t know won’t be persuaded by these means. His CNN boxing-ring video has received a few hundred thousand likes: Did even one of them come from someone who wasn’t already more than convinced?

Third, no one in his right mind would think that even the president’s office wields enough power to do the media any damage through these means. The media are independent enough from politics, they can simply shrug off attacks like these. If anything, Trump’s tweets are strengthening them.

So none of those explanations does us much good. Still there remains one other possibility. This one works, in a way, except it requires a significant re-writing of reality.

The Remaining Possibility: He Sees Himself as an Underdog

Suppose the media were a gang of true thugs beating up on Trump. Suppose it were obvious to everyone that he was a defenseless victim; that they were ganging up on him with bats and bricks, inflicting serious harm on him as a result.

If that were the case, then it could be at least conceivable that messages like Trump’s could evoke public sympathy: the sympathy we have for the weak, innocent underdog who’s been beat up in an obviously unfair fight. We could understand Trump’s tweets if they’d come from a victimized loser. We might still think they were pathetic or childish, but we’d probably sympathize anyway.

Does Trump see himself as this sort of victim? That would explain his tweets — and at the same time open up a whole new set of disturbing questions.

Of course he did spend months as an underdog during the campaign, right up until late Tuesday evening, November 8. Then the situation flipped. He didn’t just beat Hillary Clinton, he beat the media, too. Underdog no more!

No rational person could believe that by acting shamefully himself, he could shame the media into behaving better.

I’ve got to believe he’s fully aware of that. Most of the time he acts like he knows it. Sometimes, though, his swagger reminds me of someone who’s trying to act more secure than he feels. And when it comes to these anti-media tweets, the underdog mentality is the only thing that approaches a reasonable explanation.

The other answers certainly fail. No rational person could believe that by acting shamefully himself, he could shame the media into behaving better. No rational person could believe that tweets like Trump’s could successfully inform and persuade the public of some media bias they were previously blind toward. No rational person could think even a president has the power to get back at the media with some kind of point-for-point harm this way.

But someone who viewed himself as a badly bullied, severely injured underdog might think he could win some sympathy this way. I don’t like that as an explanation. It’s frighteningly far from reality. Yet it makes more sense than anything else I’ve been able to come up with.

In fact no one seems to know what Trump is thinking. I can only pray — fervently! — that he’ll settle down with the tweets, and get on with the business of leading us as a president should lead.

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