President Donald Trump announced the first serious military intervention of his young presidency on Thursday evening, a strike on a Syrian air base launched in retaliation for a horrific chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier in the week.
The strike was largely symbolic, and some critics of the move saw it as little more than a slap on the wrist for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. has accused of orchestrating the chemical attack. And while it raised a number of questions about a possible retaliation, civilian casualties, legality, and just how comprehensive the military strategy was, there was one constituency that, by and large, approved.
On cable news, Trump’s decision to take action was nothing short of heroic.
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said Friday morning that “Donald Trump became President of the United States” the moment the bombs started dropping.
Zakaria went on to suggest that Trump had achieved this milestone by recognizing that presidents should have a “broader moral and political purpose,” and that the U.S. has some responsibility to “enforce international norms.”
It remains to be seen if that’s an overly generous interpretation of this particular moment. Either way, it likely makes Trump the first U.S. commander-in-chief to “become president” not once, not twice, but three times during his first 11 weeks in office.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius was similarly excited about Trump’s airstrikes.
“In terms of the credibility of American power, I think most traditional Washington commentators would say he’s put more umph, more credibility back into it,” Ignatius said on MSNBC Friday morning, arguing that former President Barack Obama had disappointed many people by failing to “enforce the red line” in Syria.
To MSNBC’s Brian Williams, the images of U.S. ships launching missiles into the night sky were downright awe-inspiring.
“I am guided by the beauty of our weapons,” he said on Thursday, misappropriating a line from the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
Williams then riffed about the “beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is, for them, a brief flight over to this airfield.”
On Trump’s favored Fox News, Jeanine Pirro openly cheered the president.
“He took swift decisive action,” she said. “We finally have a man who knows the difference between right and wrong and good and evil and it makes us proud. Finally.”
Reporter Judith Miller, who somehow still gets consulted on issues of war, also went on Fox News to give her blessing.
“I’m glad to see that President Trump has done this,” she said. “This is long overdue.”
On CNN, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Marks had a hot take for anyone who might have wished pundits were taking a more sober approach to this drumming up of the U.S. war machine.
“This is not like Kentucky basketball one-and-done,” he said Thursday, referring to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program’s habit of sending players to the NBA after their freshman year. “This is the start of a series of operations.”
Across media outlets, two driving forces of our current political system appear to be coming together in a disturbing confluence. There are few things cable news likes to cover more than the spectacle of war, and there are few things Trump likes more than the affirmation of cable news. Both of these entities are motivated by the same basic need for ratings ― Trump’s are especially bad right now ― and they both seem to know where to find them.
But among the cable television commentariat, there also seems to be an inherent bias in favor of a president bombing things. Viscerally, they interpret this to be “action” and “leadership.” It’s not messy, like diplomacy. It’s decisive.
Pundits did this once with Trump already. After he praised the widow of a slain Navy SEAL during his speech before Congress, they called him “presidential.” At the time, Fusion’s Alex Pareene argued that this feedback loop could end up getting lots of people killed, because Trump loves nothing more than accolades on TV.
The reactions to the president’s Syria bombing campaign suggest Pareene had a point.