How Should The Media Cover Donald Trump?

New York City - NY - USA - September 3 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures emphatically during pres
New York City - NY - USA - September 3 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures emphatically during press conference at Trump Tower to announce he has signed a pledge not to run as an independent candidate

It seems that people in the news media are struggling with the question of how Donald Trump should be covered. Many feel that the media failed to answer that question well in the many months leading up to Trump's election.

There's reason to doubt about how many of our media organizations care about doing the kind of job the nation needs, as opposed to just going for high ratings and therefore big bucks. And there are grounds for fearing whether the media will yield to intimidation by the man who, as candidate and as President-Elect, has already stoked hostility against the media among his followers.

But even among some of those who wish to do their jobs right, and who have the courage to stand up to intimidation, there seems to be confusion about to cover Trump. Media organizations used to doing the usual, are uncertain what to do with so unusual a politician as Trump.

Let me propose a part of an answer: Focus on what's unusual in what Trump says and does. That's what the news generally highlights--the extraordinary.

The safe take-offs and landings of thousands of planes don't make the news, nor should they. It's the plane that crashes that needs to be reported. As the old adage says, "Man bites dog," being unusual, is bigger news than "Dog bites man."

Trump's specialty is doing and saying what's outside the norms of American politics-- perhaps more than any major figure in American political history.

• No one has ever treated his political rivals as he did.
• No presidential candidate has refused to release his income tax, or put his wealth into a blind trust, as he has.
• No one has ever just made stuff up as frequently or brazenly has he has.
• No President-Elect has refused to attend intelligence briefings as he has.
• No President-Elect has chosen - to head government agencies - people who have been so hostile to the missions of those agencies.
• No President-Elect has so intruded into the conduct of American international relations even before taking office.

The list could be expanded at length. Regularly, Trump does or says things the likes of which we Americans have never seen at center stage of our politics. And he will likely continue to violate customary American political conduct.

The violation of norms is no small thing. Although we are governed by the Constitution, and are "a nation of laws," the complex web of non-binding rules of conduct surrounding those structures also governs how power is used. When norms are violated, the nation itself is changed.

It behooves us Americans, therefore, to observe and evaluate how the nation is being changed - for better or for worse - by a new president who doesn't feel bound by the usual norms.

So that's what the media's job should be: call our attention to every violation of a long-standing norm of presidential conduct, and explore what it means for the nation and for our political culture for that norm to be ignored or attacked.

The media should discuss: Is this a norm that should be swept aside, because it gets in the way of our doing the nation's business at it needs to be done? Or is this a norm that has served the nation well?

Covering this extraordinary political figure in a way that addresses those questions will enable the us citizens of the United States to evaluate for ourselves whether the man who is our new president is making America better, or whether he is tearing down what's good about America.

It used to be that we as a nation could depend upon the conservatives among us to be protectors of the norms. It has historically been a fundamental part of the conservative creed that cultural norms are of vital importance. Societies cannot just be "engineered" by the passing of laws, conservatives have long argued, because so much of the heart and soul of a society is comprised of the customs and norms built up over generations.

Norms are an essential part of a nation's tradition, and conservatives have long been the guardians of tradition.

But in these times, the conservatives have given us a new president who seems adamant about not being restrained by norms.

So the media must now step up and fill the void left by this transformation of our traditional conservatives. As our political norms are being dismantled, transforming America into something different from what we have historically been, the media need to help us citizens decide what kind of nation we want to be.

This piece will be appearing in newspapers in my conservative congressional district (VA-06)

Andy Schmookler -- who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia's 6th District in 2012 -- is the author most recently of WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World-- and How We Can Defeat It.