Groundhog Day in America

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CORAOPOLIS, Pa. -- "There is no limit to what we can achieve when we set free the dreams of our incredible people," President Trump said to a crowd of supporters standing on the decidedly cold cement floor of an equipment company in suburban Pittsburgh.

He paused to tell them they were incredible people and then peeled off a list of American achievements over the ages, from the early frontiersmen, to the workers who dug out the Panama Canal, to the building of the Empire State Building and the Hoover Dam, to the launching of a man onto the face of the moon.

"American hands and grit poured the concrete in our highways and forged the steel in our skyscrapers," he said. "Americans do anything, build anything and create anything -- as long as we have pride in our country, confidence in our values and respect for our great American flag."

It is unlikely that many outside of that room heard the words of what was, without question, the best speech he has given in his presidency; it was sharp, concise, to the point, filled with information on the benefits of his tax-reform bill and aspirational for his supporters. But for those who were there, it just reinforced the hope and confidence that his supporters derive from him when he delivers to his highest potential.

In the year since his inauguration, the Trump voters have rarely changed their minds about how they see this unique figure in American politics. For a year and few days, most of the news intake about him has been negative -- sometimes it is his fault; sometimes it's not; most of the time it is a combination of both. It is delivered by a press that still struggles with trying to figure out how this disruptive, unpresidential, blunt, sometimes uncouth man appeals to anyone.

As one gentleman at the rally, an engineer from suburban Pittsburgh and a Trump supporter, put it: "For me, it's like Groundhog Day every day. I get up, read the news, he says something that no president has ever been caught saying out loud, the press explodes, and they spend the day talking about how awful he is and wonder how anyone could support him. ... I go to bed, wake up, and it's the same thing all over again."

He said of former President Barack Obama and Trump: "Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think the press is too hard on him. It's that I don't think they were as equally hard on the last guy, and I voted for both of them."

And, yes, he thinks Trump is doing a great job.

"The problem is, we have lost so much trust in national news, and our local newspapers are either gone or shrinking," he said. "So, when a source says he says something, I am skeptical about whether it happened or not."

The latest Gallup survey shows that Americans' perceptions of news-media bias have increased significantly over the past generation, with only 32 percent believing the news media carefully separate fact from opinion. That's well below the 58 percent who held this view in 1984.

In fact, a whopping 66 percent of people across the ideological divide "agree that most news media do not do a good job of letting people know what is fact and what is opinion," up 24 percent from 1984.

About two-thirds of Republicans surveyed say they see a great deal of bias in the news coverage, as circulations and clicks dive in local news. Why aren't newspapers making a concerted push to diversify ideology in newsrooms?

One solution is for news desks to recruit more state-college graduates and reporters of all races who come from a blue-collar upbringing. If you don't understand the people you are covering, you are likely to unintentionally be unable to empathize with their situations.

In other words, newsrooms need to represent all people because the people who consume them needs to know that the paper is fair and looking at all sides -- there is a true ideological- and socioeconomic-diversity crisis in our newsrooms in this country, and if it is not evident in that survey for you, then it is evident in the crowd at Coraopolis.

"A good balance" in media coverage, said one young woman at the rally, "would be to focus on this speech, which was really inspirational, as well as his disruptive nature. Instead, it is all his disruptive nature, and I just turn it off."

Wyatt Eannarino, a kindergartener from Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, stood outside in the brisk single-digit temperatures with his father before the event, smiling from ear to ear.

Inside, the little towheaded boy stood in the last row of folding chairs with his father, perched up on one of the chairs as the president read his closing remarks.

"America doesn't belong to the Washington power brokers; it belongs to you," Trump said, and Wyatt turned to his father at those words.

Trump said in Youngstown, Ohio, last summer that he essentially could behave presidential if he wanted to; he just doesn't have to. When he does, he is aspirational to those who have long believed that the destiny and dreams of the American people lie within their own hands and not the government's. When he doesn't, he gives rise to speculation that his motives are dark, even if they are not.

The problem in Washington is it dives into the latter and the former gets lost in the noise. The problem for Washington is that too many people who live outside of the Beltway doubt its ability to measurably deliver both.

And both sides wake up the next day waiting to see whether the groundhog saw its shadow.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com


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