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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Like Captain Ahab spotting a breaching Moby Dick in the distance, there seemed to be palpable pundit excitement last week about the prospect of the elusive “presidential” Donald Trump finally being sighted in the wake of the United States’ bombing mission in Syria.

Eager to bestow a mantle of seriousness and normalcy upon him, some commentators rushed to proclaim the U.S. military strike on an airfield to be a defining moment for the still-new president; to stress how the bombardment meant that Trump had elevated himself in stature and was now conducting himself in a somber, statesmanlike manner.

We’ve seen this excited commentary regularly with Trump, perhaps most notably when a portion of the pundit class was eager to announce that a serious, “presidential” Trump had finally emerged following his address to a joint session of Congress in February. (It was yet another false sighting.)

Media declarations late last week about how Trump “became President Of The United States” with the Syria attack and “turned the page” on his troubled presidency presented the brief military incursion as a sweeping demarcation line for Trump’s presidency in terms of grading his seriousness.

We were told Trump had experienced an epiphany of sorts and suddenly understood how to use Oval Office power for good around the world. Indeed, Trump led with his “heart,” The New York Times announced in the wake of the strikes.

But the “presidential” spin isn’t based on fact. It’s well-established that Trump is an Olympic liar who pushes falsehoods about topics large and small alike. So why would journalists suddenly assume that Trump’s telling the truth about the motivation for the bombing attack on Syria?

The “presidential” narrative seems more like it’s the media projecting into the news cycle how they think the President of the United States should act during a time of crisis. But Trump is not normal, and his relentlessly strange behavior cannot be explained away, let alone normalized.

In its page-one analysis of the Syria bombing, the Times stressed Trump had been moved to action out of sympathy for Syrian victims of a chemical attack that authorities believe was ordered by President Bashar al-Assad.

Suddenly able to read Trump’s mind and peer into his heart (or listening intently to White House spin), the Times claimed unequivocally that the bombing raid was “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his — and that turning away, to him, was not an option.” (The Times also excitedly concluded the one-day bombing raid would “change the course” of Trump’s presidency.)

The Associated Press stressed that “the weight of world’s problems” had sunk in and forced Trump to act. Like the Times, the AP tried to read Trump’s mind and concluded that there’s “a growing awareness that an American president — even an unconventional one like him — is looked to as [a] defender of human rights and a barometer of when nations have violated international norms.”

The Washington Post suggested, “The Syrian chemical weapons attack seemed to awaken Trump’s sense of moral responsibility as leader of the world’s sole remaining superpower.”

But other than launching some missles at an airfield, where’s the evidence that Trump did any of those things? Where was the evidence he had suddenly transformed himself into a “defender of human rights,” or that a “moral responsibility” seemed to “awaken” in him?

If, according to one preferred media telling, the gruesome pictures of children being gassed to death last week represented an epiphany of sorts for Trump, why didn’t Trump simultaneously lift his proposed travel ban and welcome suffering Syrian refugees into America?

Trump relentlessly used the victims of the Syrian civil war as political punching bags during the presidential campaign. Yet parts of the Syria bombing coverage last week politely set that aside in order to suggest Trump had become more “heartfelt” and “presidential.”

He can’t have it both ways.

And this has been part of the on-going riddle for the press: How to treat seriously someone like Trump who is categorically un-serious. And how to treat seriously a president who seems to be profoundly uninterested in the details of policy. Or telling the truth.

This is why the pursuit of “presidential” Trump often seems like wishful thinking: Journalists desperately want Trump to meet them halfway. Lots of journalists seem completely willing, if not eager, to uniformly lower the bar for Trump in terms of acceptable behavior for a sitting president. They’re willing to rewrite the rules for him, which includes consciously looking away for very long periods of time in order to pretend he falls within the mainstream of American politics and our history of Oval Office inhabitants.

But if they’re going to craft new rules for Trump, the least he could do is alter, or improve, his behavior and meet them halfway.

But Trump’s going to keep doing what he wants to do, which is to often act abhorrently.

Still, when there appears to be even the slightest glimmer of normalcy emanating from this president, journalists overreact and pronounce that The Change, or The Pivot, has finally occurred and Trump is now ready and willing to act like an adult while serving as president.

He’s not, and he hasn’t. Yet the media’s “presidential” pursuit continues.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers an statement about missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.