One day after he was inaugurated as 45th President of the United States, handed the nuclear codes, gave a forceful (indeed, even threatening Inaugural Address), and dominated the media world's 24/7 news cycle, Donald J. Trump was reduced to sending out his media spokesperson basically to assert that "Mine's bigger!" in terms his Inaugural crowd size. This defensive reaction coincided (and not by accident) with what became truly a million woman march around the U.S. and the world, including the biggest of all right on the Inauguration territory. Actually, it turned out to be 2.6 million marchers globally.
Trump's assertions about the "biggest inaugural crowd in history," read with a scripted-straight face by Sean Spicer, was probably, visibly a lie. The brand new Administration obviously had been very effectively provoked by the mass, peaceful assembly of women into four fundamental professional PR missteps all at once: (1) stepping on its own Presidential Day One narrative; (2) sending an unmistakable signal of Trump's remarkable insecurity and thin skin; (3) showing it intends to have its very own facts even in the face of photographic evidence; and (4) revealing its fear of taking any questions on its own "evidence." Kellyanne Conway at least was honest enough on Meet the Press to acknowledge that the administration was presenting was using "alternative facts" in the Spicer press briefing.
Spicer blatantly used a misleading "apples and oranges" comparison of DC Metro ridership to make his alleged point about biased reporting of attendance (since there are no official crowd estimates, as he knows) He equated the "all-day" ridership figures for Trump's Inauguration with only the 11 a.m. ridership figures for Obama in 2009. No wonder Spicer refused to take questions. Perhaps Vladimir Putin can send over some Pravda professionals to teach Spicer and Company how to do fake news.
So what Trump favorite Frank Sinatra might have called the March of Dames actually enjoyed its first accomplishment while it was still going on, by tying the new Administration in knots instead of setting its own agenda. The son of Trump's National Security Adviser suggested on Twitter that all they were marching for were "free mani-pedi's" -- but nobody paid him much attention because the marchers' agenda was long, diverse and progressive.
Let's start with where the Trump Administration has begun: the marching women (and men) were certainly focused on opposing one of the first acts of the new President, an Executive Order authorizing the Health and Human Services Secretary to reverse policies issued under the Affordable Care Act that he find causes "fiscal burdens" on states, individuals and health care providers, including the contraception coverage. This not a small or idle threat to women; the Affordable Care Act also mandates that insurance plans cover a set of services without charging for them (beyond monthly insurance premiums), but it's up to HHS to lay out the specifics. For example, that part of the ACA that requires contraceptives be provided to insured women free of co-pays or deductibles? That's not written in the law; it was part of how the law was interpreted by the Obama administration. By one estimate, that interpretation saved women $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket spending from 2012 to 2015. Another estimate found savings of $483 million in a single year. The contraceptive mandate has been an object of ire and the subject of a Supreme Court case and is likely to be one of the first things to go.
But the women who marched want far more than free contraception. Inherently, the marches reflect a call to Trump and all those in public office first and foremost to listen. And the speech by newly-elected Senator Kamala Harris set the tone in the broadest possible way: that the term "women's issues" must have a broad new definition, as reported by The Washington Post. Women's issues are not a separate concern, she argued: "The economy, national security, criminal justice, immigration and health care are all women's issues."
The second African-American female senator and the first Indian-American senator, Harris is often named as a possible future presidential candidate.
"It's going to get harder before it gets easier," she told the crowd, but "There is nothing more powerful than a group of determined sisters marching standing up for what is right."
Those brief words of Senator Harris are both idealistic and realistic. There are genuine disagreements with respectable views on all sides of questions about the economy, national security, criminal justice, immigration and health care, and as President Obama himself said, Trump won and is entitled to make his own decisions on policy. His Inauguration was widely and broadly celebrated by many folks who saw themselves and their well-being as forgotten, and Trump as their spokesman and champion.
Moreover, some commentators (including President Trump) fairly asked, where were all those women (and men) on Election Day. Yes, Secretary Clinton won the popular vote just like the unfairly-maligned polls predicted she would - well within even the famous "margin of error." But the real error turned out to be primarily the way her campaign was run. In this season of professional football playoffs, the size of the crowds in the Saturday Marches itself suggests that the Democrats could have used a much better playbook and game plan.
Clinton lost far more because of strategic and tactical misjudgment, lesser enthusiasm, a lack of respect and understanding of her opponent and his followers (and, yes, the ref Comey made a couple bad calls late in the fourth quarter that are, for the moment, "under review" by the "league"). President Trump and his tram are entitled to spike the ball - that's what Inaugural Balls are for. But the campaign "game" itself is now over, and the winners strangely are questioning Instant Replay!
The only truly bad news for all Americans that has emerged in the wake of the Women's March about the new Administration instant adoption of the authoritarian playbook of disinformation, stonewalling and press-bashing when it comes to managing -- not to say inventing -- the news. The Trump communications team is apparently heedless of whether that sort of game can be played in what remains the world's leading a constitutional democracy. (How did that approach work out for President Nixon, one of Trump's acknowledged role models?)
Some media have already chosen to play the Pravda role: Fox News just chose not to renew the contracts of several commentators who have at times been critical of Trump, including the conservative George Will. Fox provided much less coverage of the women's marches than the other major networks.
It will be important for all those with access to a media voice to call out the signs of authoritarian communications behavior by President Trump and his Administration. This will not be easy, as Trump has proposed to "open up" the libel laws, apparently by lessening dramatically the burden of proof in the case of public figures from the current "actual malice" or "reckless disregard for truth standard that has been the law of the land since established by the U.S. Supreme Court in1964. Such a change would permit Trump and his supporters to tie up reporters, editors, and publishers with endless court proceedings.
Ironically, that of sort of change in the legal standard for libel could also end the careers of several right-wing talk radio hosts who were instrumental in Trump's victory; the new President may feel he doesn't need them anymore. Trump will need a changed Supreme Court (possible) and a compliant Congress to silence media criticism, including 60 votes in the Senate (much less likely). At the end of the day, the president would do well to remember the Mark Twin adage never to pick a fight with people "who buy ink by the barrel" -- which in the Twitter age might be updated to those who know how to byte back.
Nonetheless, as Senator Harris urged her audience: "Let's buckle in, because it's going to be a bumpy ride..." — channeling the great Betty Davis in All About Eve. After the massive Saturday marches, perhaps it's not going to be all about Trump.