• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Acosta and Trump: Knowing the Names

November 2018

I feel as though I’m alone in sensing the nominal irony of two men—one named “Acosta” and the other “Trump”—who’ve made it their combined mission to engage each other in a silly war of words. More than mere names, though, the two are characters as well. The former is none other than Jim Acosta—the now perhaps former White House correspondent with the media outlet CNN. The latter, as if it needs saying, is President Trump—the subject around whom all news infatuations and frustrations turn.

To put it mildly, from the outset the two parties have been mutually ill-disposed. Acosta, putatively an objective reporter, can no longer so much as wink at that given name; he’s made little attempt to conceal the political springboards from which he leaps (spoiler: they’re mostly from the left). For all who’ve bothered to listen to him these past few years, he’s made clear, day in and out, that he has an ardent distaste for this administration and in particular, its executive in chief. He’s poured out upon the airwaves a full bucket of enmities, a constant splash-zone of scorn whose every drop falls upon Trump.

He’s capable of much greater sympathy. In fact, we’ve seen it before. Acosta received Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, in a noticeably different way. On the whole, he treated him with a kind of warmth and geniality that I thought unbecoming of a serious journalist. His questions aimed at Obama were softer and of a gentler breed, posed less for provocation’s sake and more for that of amicability. His tenor was less confrontational, his posturing less frequent, and his grandstanding was less blatant over all. Now, the reverse is true.

Acosta, it appears, is taking his name and becoming its literal manifestation. He’s begun accosting the president and his staff at every conceivable, televised turn. No clearer an example exists than that which occurred late last week.

Repressing the dying breath of the “objective” reporter—whose whimpers can be heard fading within—Acosta chose to play the role of preacher. He donned the mighty mitre and held in his hand the vicar of the left. Instead of asking the president an interesting question, as lately he’s become disinclined to do, he decided to engage in a juvenile quarrel. For what had been weeks prior, President Trump had been characterizing the South American caravan as a legitimate “invasion” marching toward our Southern border. Probably, it was not (though curiously, we’ve not been updated on the urgency of its threat ever since the midterm election’s end), but it was an arguably useful piece of rhetoric to frighten an unenthused electorate to the polls.

Acosta, seated directly in front of the president days after the Republicans had secured the Senate and the Democrats the House, proceeded to ask Trump why he had chosen to portray this caravan as an invasion. Impatiently, the president responded by saying that he “considers it as such” and that the two merely enjoy a difference of opinion in measuring its imminent threat. The point being moot, it might’ve been better off tossed into the bin of semantics and laid aside.

That said, considering the question adequately addressed, the president moved on to a new inquiry, but Acosta wasn’t done. Refusing to forgo the microphone (he pulled, as the emcee approached, with a downward jerk of his arm; whether the movement was intentional or instinctual, we still cannot tell), he harried the president with an irrelevant question about Russia. Seldom inclined to expound on that particularly nettlesome topic, the president cast it as a hoax, as always he does, and began to turn away. Before he did, however, he found the opportunity ripe to admonish Acosta by calling him a “rude, terrible person” and recommending that he not “treat people (specifically the young lady who had attempted to retrieve the microphone from him) that way”.

It’s at this moment we see President Trump becoming the literal manifestation of his name. He trumped, or bested Acosta in this case, and likely in previous ones as well. He won a victory against a mainstream media reporter with whom, in a never-ending and addictive battle, he’s been so inexhaustibly engaged. But more “winning” and triumph was to come. Adding legalities to victories, the Trump administration rescinded from Acosta’s grasp his “hard” press credentials to the White House. Such a “hard” pass is, for a White House correspondent, the key by which all doors open. To lose it is to lose one’s importance in the world. And so, for the time being, Acosta is of no import.

A reporter turned preacher, Acosta looks now to be venturing toward the status of journalistic martyr. CNN, responding in his defense, has already issued a complaint against the Trump administration, which may have constitutional implications if it’s to be taken seriously. Its contention is that Acosta’s first and fifth amendment rights have been demeaned and that, with the utmost haste, his press clearance ought to be reestablished.

Likely, Acosta will be permitted to return to his prior station, and by doing so, he’ll have successfully trumped the administration. And so, we’ll return to the very place we began: Acosta trumping Trump and Trump accosting Acosta—or was it the other way around? In either case, the names matter.

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