Shame on Michelle Wolf for acting like Donald Trump

The White House correspondents’ dinner was a grotesque and ugly disaster, because the most important speaker, comedian Michelle Wolf, echoed the style of vile and sickening insults that have become a trademark of the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

The dinner became an example and a metaphor for why the national press is widely distrusted by so many of the American people, in the same way that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE is widely distrusted by so many of the American people.

I have argued, for two years, that the Trump style of personally insulting political opponents with vindictive, unfair attacks is a nauseating spectacle that is unworthy of an American president. Likewise, the Michelle Wolf comments at the White House correspondents’ dinner was a nauseating spectacle unworthy of the free press that was supposedly being honored at the event. 

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It was nauseating for anyone addressing the White House Correspondents’ Association to dish personal insults against the individuals who travel in Trump’s circles, no matter how much I may disagree with their politics. No matter how low my opinion may be about White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy Stephen Miller defends Trump, accuses Democrats of 'witch hunt part two' George Conway, conservative attorneys urge House to move quickly on impeachment MORE, no matter how much I may disagree with the performances at the podium of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, they should be contested in the court of public opinion through aggressive political discourse, not subject to petty personal insults and vindictive personal attacks.

 

Observing White House Strategic Communications Director Mercedes Schlapp and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp walk out of the dinner in protest, I must say for the record that I fully respect and support their position. In fact, had I been present at the dinner, I would have walked out with them. It would have been fitting for leaders in the White House press community to have done the same thing, en masse.

Where I differ from the Trump supporters who chortle at the deservedly negative reaction to Wolf’s words is that I believe the worst aspect of her words was that they were too much like the vindictive insults regularly dished by Trump. When Michelle Wolf acts like Donald Trump, the proper reaction is to condemn them both, not to condemn Wolf while praising the president.

Wolf was miscast as the lead speaker at this dinner. She is right to suggest that the WHCA should have researched her style before inviting her to speak. She is wrong because she appears to have done no research herself, and given no serious thought, to the fact that this was a dinner intended to honor and cherish the free press.

Americans do not want to wake up every morning to watch their president insult and attack his political opponents, to say that his opponents should be put in jail or making fun of their physical appearance. That’s one reason Trump is so unpopular.

One reason the major media is so distrusted is that the media too often thrives on the personal attacks that most readers and viewers deplore, offered in all directions.

Future historians and psychologists will someday assess whether or not these personal attacks caused was long-term damage to American democracy. Most likely the president’s supporters will learn the hard way that the short-term impact of Trump’s political style in the midterm elections could well become an epic disaster for their party.

The president has attacked the free press in ways that are unprecedented in the history of the American presidency. It would have been far preferable if the WHCA had invited a globally respected figure to give a serious, thoughtful and profound speech to the dinner about the vital role of the free press to democracy, and the great danger to democracy when the free press is attacked.

When Michelle Wolf acted like Donald Trump, she contributed to lowering the standards of our democracy, and insulted the great notion of a free press — which should bring a civil clash of ideas by reporting competing points of view — as much as Trump lowers the standards of democracy with his vindictive attacks against his political opponents and the free press. 

Shame on Michelle Wolf, and shame on Donald Trump.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.