Merrill Brown, a journalist, educator, business executive and consultant, is currently Founder and CEO of The News Project Inc., which provides technology and services for small to medium sized news organizations. He was founding editor in chief of MSNBC.com, a former reporter and executive at The Washington Post, and from 2012 to 2017 served as founding director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
(CNN)While it may be easy to dismiss a significant number of President Donald Trump’s supporters as members of a worshipful cult of celebrity, underneath that storyline is a stark policy reality — one that’s inadequately understood and reported on. In Trump, politically conservative America has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally alter the direction of the nation.
It is an opportunity to abandon the US’ commitment to engaging politically and militarily around the world after World War II and alter the relationship between Americans and their government — one built in the New Deal and solidified since. Meanwhile, the press is too unprepared, under-resourced and distracted by the noise surrounding the White House to grasp the momentousness of this shift.
This opportunity also involves reshaping the judiciary, and abortion rights in particular. This issue is discussed widely among Democratic candidates and somewhat more quietly by mainstream Republicans. When Trump delivered a speech at last month’s March for Life, becoming the first US president to do so since the annual event began more than four decades ago, many supporters agreed with
his own claims
of being the “most pro-life president in American history.”
If Trump wins a second term, he will likely have the opportunity to add at least one justice to the Supreme Court. Trump will also continue to appoint conservative judges in the federal court system — all but guaranteeing the most concerted legal and legislative attack on abortion rights since Roe V. Wade.
In a piece written a month
before Trump’s inauguration, I suggested that the media was unprepared for both the policies the Trump administration was about to unleash, and the communications strategy that would be implemented
. There was an inadequate sense at the time about the level of drama and change that would characterize these years. The Trump administration has ushered in daily fact-checking challenges for journalists and policy initiatives with grave consequences that have not been sufficiently explored or analyzed.
While national media has received generally deserved plaudits for covering the scandals surrounding Trump’s presidency, it has largely fallen down on covering the administration’s impact on social policy, federal regulations and foreign affairs.
To be fair, some of the changes under President Trump have been previously unimaginable. In the run-up to the 2016 election, how seriously did the media assess the possibility of truly disruptive change in US foreign policy and the strain Trump would place on our country’s relationship with our allies?
Was the rapidly shrinking role
of the State Department contemplated before Inauguration Day? And how much reporting has really been devoted to understanding the implications of that kneecapped department? How much attention in late 2016 and early 2017 was given to the possibility of a $1 trillion deficit
by the end of Trump’s first term and the implications of such a quick reversal after decades of Republican orthodoxy about balanced budgets?
Then there’s Trump’s embrace of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and other strongmen, and the revolving door
of the Trump cabinet (recall former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt
, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
, among others, left the administration under clouds of scandal). Their policy legacies and the condition in which they’ve left their respective agencies o