We know that President Donald Trump is an unconventional president, but it’s still surprising that he would telephone a 29-year-old reporter and spend hours talking with him. Josh Dawsey, a reporter for The Washington Post, has lately been the recipient of this kind of egalitarianism, as he explained recently in a talk at Colorado College. Obviously, this consideration has influenced Dawsey in favor of Trump, and during his talk he attempted to explain to a skeptical audience what it is about the president that makes him a fascinating personality and why he is committed to giving Trump a fair hearing.
After listening to Dawsey, I feel that he is not naïve, or taken in by blandishments, but rather that he embodies the ideals of good journalism. Journalism as it should be practiced is all about objectivity. Objectivity is often not found on the left and the right. I want to make it clear that neither conservatives nor liberals give each other a fair shake. I crave old-fashioned fairness and it was refreshing to listen to Dawsey, who is definitely not conservative, telling a liberal audience objective truths — or at least “perceptions” — about a conservative president. During his talk, Dawsey repeatedly stated that he does not draw conclusions about Trump. He leaves that up to his readers. He merely reports the facts, as we would expect from good journalism.
There is so much about Trump that is problematic. But this young journalist made me stop and think. Dawsey is the kind of guy who makes you feel two ways about things. I realize the need for objective journalism, but when we look at the big picture how can we be objective about a president who invites Russian diplomats into the Oval Office and then shares classified information with them? But wait a minute. Was this some kind of strategy to convince the Russians that they should be circumspect in dealing with the U.S.? Perhaps. Standing next to Russian President Putin, Trump stated that he believed Putin but did not believe American intelligence agents warning about Russian interference in U.S. politics. Was this another example of Trump’s distrust of the so-called American “Deep State?” Was it more right-wing conspiracy obsession? Or was it a true revelation? When Trump mocked John McCain, the wounded Vietnam War hero and ex-POW, it was hard for me to accept. As a Vietnam War combat veteran, I am very sensitive to any disparagement of those of us who fought honorably in Vietnam. Trump may not know it, but McCain had no choice but to surrender after he was shot down over Hanoi. I admired John McCain, who chose to remain in the Hanoi Hilton with his POW comrades even when the North Vietnamese offered to send him home. This made McCain the rare Republican for whom I could vote.
After his talk, I questioned Dawsey about this and many other things. How could he not draw negative conclusions about Trump given all the faux pas? Dawsey insisted that he was always objective, saying that Trump is an intelligent, likable and very complex man who is often misunderstood. I left it at that.
Dawsey made me think that there is some good in Trump. And I remind myself that Trump has many Latino supporters. I feel that I need to understand why this is in spite of Trump’s description of Mexicans as “rapists and criminals.” I say to myself, “maybe I’m out of touch with my own people.” But like many other Chicanos (Mexican Americans) I was justifiably angry with Trump over this. So, here I go again, pulled in two directions. Let me explain. When you belong to a negatively stigmatized minority group in this country the pressure to conform, to stick together, can be hard to resist. It has to do with our low status on the social totem pole. Most Latinos are working-class people, but aspiring to be middle-class. In our quest for the American Dream we feel stiffed by power elites, something we share with many Anglo working-class people. In spite of his anti-Mexican rhetoric, Trump speaks to us about that frustration.
What has the president got right? Most of what he has correctly done and said is in the realm of foreign policy. An example is Trump’s outreach to Putin. In the current great power equation our main rivals for world hegemony are the Chinese. Make no mistake about it. They already are, and in 15-20 years they will have parity with us. To counter the Chinese we need the Russians as allies. Yes, I know: Putin is a dictator, the Russians have hacked our computers, attacked Ukraine, and there is no democracy in Russia. But we need to weigh things in the balance. It’s a harsh world in which we live and within reason we need to practice “realpolitik,” a system based on practical considerations rather than moral or ethical principles. The important thing is that we cannot let the Russians fall into the Chinese orbit. Another good Trump effort is his attempt to induce the North Koreans to stop their nuclear program. We must take the North Koreans seriously and work to end the impasse with them. “Little Rocket Man” may have misled him, but at least Trump has met Kim Jong Un on several occasions and we hope has created a human connection with the North Korean dictator which may someday save us from nuclear attack, a very real possibility. My grandchildren may have to deal with that, but I want to leave them a better legacy and that may result from Trump’s efforts.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.