Donald Trump has closed out the first month of his presidency by returning to his raucous campaign style and lashing out at the media as an agenda-bearing component of a corrupt system determined to undermine his time in office.
A day after dubbing journalists the “enemy of the American people” at the end of the rockiest week so far of this White House’s short existence the new US president stepped up his attack on what he called the bearers of “fake news” at a Florida rally.
“I am here to tell you about our great progress in making America great again,” he told about 9,000 supporters gathered in an aircraft hangar with presidential plane Air Force One as a theatrical backdrop. “I want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news.”
Invoking predecessors Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson as presidents who like him had jousted with the media, Mr Trump accused a “dishonest” press corps of seeking to sabotage his efforts to bring “bold” change to America by reviving its economy and securing its borders.
“They just don’t want to report the truth,” he said. “They have become a big part of the problem. They are part of the corrupt system.”
“When the media lies to people, I will never, ever, let them get away with it. I will do whatever I can that they don’t get away with it,” he said. “They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda.”
Mr Trump has long revelled in a combative relationship with the media and put it at the centre of his presidential campaign. But as the media has increased its scrutiny of everything from his business dealings and potential conflicts of interest to the functioning of his White House the new president has grown increasingly tetchy and stepped up his attacks on the media.
Saturday’s prolonged attack followed a tweet on Friday night in which the president declared: “The FAKE NEWS media . . . is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
That immediately drew rebukes from even fellow Republicans, who declared his labelling of the US media as “the enemy” an attack on the Constitution’s free-speech guarantees and the sort of move worthy of an autocrat.
“Dictators ‘get started by suppressing free press,” Senator John McCain told NBC in an interview due to be broadcast on Sunday.
But his escalating attacks against the media have also been a sign of Mr Trump’s discomfort in the new job and his difficulties in making the switch from campaigning with grand promises and raucous rallies to governing.
The frustration has become most apparent over the past week as leaks to reporters forced the resignation of his national security adviser, former general Michael Flynn, over his post-election contact with Russia’s ambassador to Washington. The departure of one of his loyalists came as calls grew in Congress for an independent investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials during the election with the FBI’s director, James Comey, making a rare trip to Capitol Hill late on Friday to meet with Senators to discuss what the agency’s investigators had found so far.
Mr Trump was clearly in his comfort zone among supporters on Saturday, however. During a 45-minute speech he repeated campaign promises including a threat to impose a 35 per cent tax on businesses that locate factories overseas and to crack down on currency manipulation by other countries.
He promised a new executive order on banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries that would survive the sort of court challenge that struck down his first attempt. A healthcare plan was coming within weeks. So too was tax reform.
Mr Trump also invoked a “great optimism . . . sweeping across our country,” since his election, citing new records in US stock indices and ignoring the rowdy mass protests against him that continued again on Saturday in a number of US cities and have become another new feature of the country’s politics.
Speaking to reporters on the short flight to the rally from his Mar-a-Lago resort, at which he has spent three of his first four weekends in office, Mr Trump said he would be meeting with potential replacements for Mr Flynn on Sunday.
According to the White House the candidates include former UN ambassador John Bolton, two active generals — HR McMaster and Robert Caslen — and retired general Keith Kellogg, who has been filling in since Mr Flynn’s departure. Two other high-profile candidates — former generals Robert Harward and David Petraeus — have withdrawn their names from consideration.
On Saturday Mr Trump made clear that he planned more such campaign events.
Asked whether it was too early to begin campaigning for re-election given that he had yet to conclude the first month of his four-year term, Mr Trump had a philosophical answer.
“Life is a campaign,” he told reporters. “Making our country great again is a campaign.”
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