If you are a stereotypical Massachusetts liberal (I plead guilty, your honor), the story of President Trump’s first few months in office is one of incompetence, corruption, and cruelty, all playing out beneath the penumbra of the burgeoning Russia scandal.
But that’s not how it looks to Breitbart News, the right-wing nationalist website that has served as Trump’s most outspoken — and outrageous — media cheerleader. In a new e-book titled “The First 100 Days of Trump,” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak describes the president in glowing terms.
When “measured against his predecessors,” Pollak writes, “Trump’s first 100 days place him in league with Reagan and Johnson, for sheer impact.” He adds that “there is agreement — however fragile, and grudging — on one thing: President Trump has generally fulfilled his promises. Even those who don’t like his promises seem to acknowledge that.” Trump’s address before a joint session of the House and Senate, Pollak says, was “arguably one of the most successful speeches ever given to Congress.” Ever! And so on.
In some respects Breitbart could be described as the Trump house organ. After founder Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, his eponymous site was taken over by Stephen Bannon, who left in mid-2016 to help run Trump’s presidential campaign and is now a counselor to the president. Bannon was widely portrayed as Trump’s brain, a characterization that the president reportedly resented. As a consequence, Bannon has had some ups and downs, and his former Breitbart colleagues have occasionally published items on his behalf (but reportedly against Bannon’s wishes) — such as articles critical of chief of staff Reince Priebus, an establishment Republican who is considerably out of step with Bannon’s and Breitbart’s populism of the right.
In Pollak’s book, Trump comes across as the great hero, winning entirely through unilateral actions to roll back trade deals, undo environmental regulations, and drop bombs on airstrips and caves even as everyone else lets him down: the perfidious congressional Republicans, congressional Democrats (needless to say), the lying media, feckless judges, and the “deep state,” a term that is used to label members of the intelligence community who are supposedly out to get Trump.
What we are dealing with here, from beginning to end, are “alternative facts,” the infamous Kellyanne Conway phrase that earned her a rebuke from NBC News’s Chuck Todd. And yes, Pollak defends the term, writing that Conway merely said White House spokesman Sean Spicer “was presenting ‘alternative facts,’ as an opposing side in a legal argument might do.”
For all that, “The First 100 Days of Trump” is a turgid, tedious affair. The book is written chronologically, with lists substituting for narrative and bland assertions standing in for argument. One unrelated sentence follows another.
Over and over, necessary context is omitted. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell rebuked Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “for breaking the rules of decorum.” There is no mention that Warren was attempting to read a letter by Coretta Scott King. Sen. John McCain committed “an unusual breach of political protocol” by delivering a speech in Germany that was critical of Trump. Unstated is that McCain was standing up for NATO, whose very existence Trump had called into question until he later said, incongruously, that it was “no longer obsolete.”
Pollak can be as petty as Trump, exulting over the wrong winner being announced at the Academy Awards following “a night of jabs at the president.” Seriously? Keep in mind that this is a 71-page book with large type and lots of pictures, yet Pollak needs to include filler in describing Trump’s accomplishments. Then again, there are two references to the New England Patriots.
Pollak also dismisses any questions about former national security adviser Mike Flynn, even going so far as to say that Flynn may be seeking immunity from prosecution for his dealings with Russian agents “to avoid political prosecutions of the kind that targeted ‘Scooter’ Libby in 2007.”
The Trump administration would appear to have far bigger things to worry about with respect to Flynn following former Justice Department official Betsy Yates’ testimony before a Senate committee on Monday. (Pollak’s take: “Ted Cruz Cleaned Sally Yates’s Clock.” Well, of course.) The House vote, backed by Trump, to dismantle the Affordable Care Act is deeply unpopular. Then again, so is Trump. The latest Gallup tracking poll shows that 40 percent of respondents approve of Trump’s job performance and 53 percent disapprove, a ratio that is essentially unchanged over many weeks. Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey on Tuesday created a wave of outrage whose consequences may not be clear for days or weeks.
But all this is fake news, an attempt by the crooked mainstream media to bring down the great leader. In that sense, perhaps the best way to think about Pollak’s book is not as “alternative facts” as seen from the Trumpist point of view. Rather, it is a rallying cry for Trump’s own supporters, reassurance that the Trump presidency is not falling apart. We shall see.