For journalists, the sky is falling as the president’s performance goes from bad to worse.
By the end of the week, count on headlines declaring this the worst week of Donald Trump’s presidency. That’s not really surprising. Any president who in one seven-day period threatened nuclear war in Korea, talked of a possible war in Venezuela, and found “some very fine people” marching with Nazis and white supremacists could expect those headlines.
But there is another reason why they won’t be surprising: Journalists and analysts have fallen in the habit of declaring almost every week in this presidency the worst yet. Perhaps befitting a president unlike any of his predecessors, this is a journalistic trend never seen before.
This is the 30th week since Trump was sworn into office. A neutral ranking of those weeks would show that 20 have been bad for the president, while only four weeks have been positive for him. The other six weeks were neither good nor bad.
Some weeks have been challenging to assess. The week of Feb. 27 to March 5, for example, began on a high note with the president’s well-received address to a joint session of Congress. But before the week ended, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, and the president tweeted his incendiary accusation that President Obama had wiretapped him. Six months later, those two negatives more than outweigh the standing ovations during his speech.
Another week that the White House wanted to chalk up as a big win for the president similarly looks much worse in hindsight. That was the week of May 1 to 7, the highlight of which was the festive rally in the Rose Garden celebrating the House passage of a Republican replacement for Obamacare. After the crushing defeat in the Senate, that celebration looks more silly than positive.
The only “good” weeks that hold up for the White House were the April week when he ordered a missile strike on Syria and watched the Senate confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the subsequent week when Gorsuch was sworn in to the delight of conservatives, and, finally, the week in June when the Supreme Court reinstated much of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
It is more time-consuming to chronicle the “bad” weeks—and a little embarrassing to look at how many times journalists were quick to declare them the worst ever. The earliest came when the Slatest blog on Slatelooked at Trump’s fifth day in office and proclaimed it “the worst day yet.” Two days later, The New Republic headlined a story “Trump’s Worst Week Ever,” seeing only “utter chaos.” That same day, The Huffington Post said “Trump Already Looks Like the Worst of Richard Nixon,” adding, “and it’s just the first week.” Nor did The Guardian like Trump’s first week, seeing “carnage, both real and imagined.”
When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Trump’s travel ban in early February, the online woman’s magazine Bustle wrote of his many bad weeks, “this week may have been the worst. It was the week he lost, big league.”
Looking at the week that began with the speech to Congress, The Villager saw “Trump’s very bad week.” Satirist Samantha Bee called it “Trump’s very bad no good week.” Seth Meyers waited another few days and saw “a really bad week.” Then, when the Russia investigation intensified two weeks later, Washington Monthly noted, “It’s already a bad week for Trump”—the same assessment leveled that day by the New York Daily News. On March 24, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews declared, “This has been a bad week for Trump.” And Washington Monthly ratcheted up the stakes, asking if it was “the worst week ever for a first-term president?” The New Republic, on the same day, agreed it had been a bad week, adding confidently, “But next week will be worse.” And it was, according to Newsweek (“worst week in office”), NBC News (“a bad week for Trump”), and, again, Newsweek (“Donald Trump’s No Good, Very Bad Week With Europe”).
April passed with no one issuing a “worst week” proclamation. But they returned with a vengeance in May. U.S. News & World Report looked at the firing of James Comey and the Oval Office meeting with Russian officials and declared it “a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.” CNN saw a “disastrously bad week in Washington.” After Robert Mueller was appointed special prosecutor, the Los Angeles Timesobserved that “an already bad week got even worse for President Trump.”
In June, during a week when the president was feuding with the mayor of London, accusing Comey of lying, and mocking an American ally (Qatar), Curve, the lesbian magazine, declared June 8 as “one of the worst days” in the presidency because of Comey’s testimony. The very next week didn’t go much better. CNN proclaimed that Trump “had the absolute worst week in Washington.”
None of this could prepare you for the number of times Trump’s weeks in July and August were to be condemned—weeks featuring the rise and fall of Anthony Scaramucci, the sacking of Reince Priebus, the elevation of a new chief of staff, a bizarre speech to the Boy Scouts, an encouragement of police brutality, the threats of “fire and fury” on the Korean peninsula, and the meek reaction to Russian expulsion of American diplomats.
Mother Jones on July 26 said, “It’s Been a Week From Hell for Trump’s Cabinet, and It’s Only Wednesday.” The next day, The San Diego Union-Tribune, in a now-familiar refrain, wrote of “President Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.” The next day, MSNBC saw “President Trump’s worst week yet.” The Political Insider blog tweaked that a little, calling it “Donald Trump’s worst week—so far.” Business Insider wrote that Trump “may have just had his worst week yet.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionsimply declared it “Trump’s worst week.” The Boston Globe put it in a question: “Was this Trump’s worst week ever?” The Atlantic was more certain: “Trump’s Worst Week Yet.”
The Financial Times was more colorful, writing that “Trump’s week staggers from bad to worse.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saw a week “quickly shrouded in defeat and discord.” CNN ratcheted up the gloom on July 29, taking note of “Donald Trump’s manic, fantastical and utterly disastrous week.” The Daily Beast, on Aug. 4, showed self-awareness regarding how many times it had judged Trump’s weeks. This time, it proclaimed “Trump’s worst week since last week.”
And all that was before he threw the prestige of his office behind a march that was organized by Nazis and white supremacists and resulted in the death of a woman. Based on the last seven months, there is a pretty good chance that some news organization in the next few days will look at the past seven days and declare them to be President Trump’s worst week yet.