Though they’re corporate sisters, the two biggest brands in the Tronc family of fine newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, take very different approaches to the Trump administration.
The Times‘s editorial page gags. The Tribune‘s tsks.
The Times just wrapped up a six-part series of editorials on the theme of why Donald Trump is completely unfit to be president. (The first two installments were called “Our Dishonest President” and “Why Trump Lies.”) Why so soon? “Rather than wait until the public grew inured to the lies, the undermining of democratic institutions, the demagoguery and bluster,” the Times explains, “we decided to lay out our concerns at length and in detail.”
Concerns is a gentle word, most likely the only euphemism the Times employed against Trump. Revulsion would be more like it.
It’s in the context of these editorials that the Times‘s ambivalent assessment of the Trump-ordered missile attack on a Syrian air base must be read. Trump “failed to articulate any new strategy for ending the civil war in Syria,” said the Times editorial page. “But this much is true: The chemical attack that left more than 70 people dead and hundreds more sickened was a gruesome and egregious violation of international norms.”
The Tribune cut Trump a lot more slack than that. Its Sunday, April 9, editorial, “Trump climbs the learning curve,” called the missile attack a “success”—the right thing to do and done in the right way. “It was proportional in response, stunning in swiftness, clear in its message that the civilized world won’t tolerate the use of outlawed chemical weapons.”
The Tribune‘s way of spiking this praise with dollops of unease was to make mention of Trump’s prior “goofs,” of his “spotty track record,” of the “peculiar path” he’s chosen. “Is Trump up to the task?” the Trib asked. At the Tribune the jury’s out. At the LA Times, the jury’s in.
An editorial whose blistering critique peaks at “goofs” begs to be read closely and ungenerously. So I did. And I wonder why the Tribune is so confident that the president spoke for the “civilized world”—or believes it can read a clear message in a response that can as easily be read as an impetuous act ordered by someone with no idea what to do next.
And may I suggest that “proportional response” is a concept much more at home among war gamers than on editorial pages. Let me quote from the front page of Sunday’s Tribune: Trump was responding “to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children, and left dozens more writhing in pain.” The “proportional” response to this slaughter destroyed a few planes, hangars, and fuel stations without even damaging the runways. Did it prompt the butchers to stand down and ponder Trump’s reprimand? A day later Syria and its Russian friends resumed the aerial assault on rebel-held territory and more children died.
When poisoned children die on television, there may not be any response that’s just right. To say there is and Trump nailed it seems both cold and naive.