A tip for David Brooks and every journalist obsessed with President Trump's psyche: To watch Fox News is to understand Trump.
On Trump's days-long campaign against NFL players protesting during the national anthem — "Tremendous backlash against the NFL and its players for disrespect of our Country" — Time magazine played Freud. Reporters Alex Altman and Sean Gregory wrote Thursday:
[H]e spotted a wedge issue that pits his rural, conservative white base against both wealthy black athletes and liberal elites who scold the NFL for everything from racist team logos to soft-pedaling the risks of head trauma. ... White House advisers were pleased that the President had found a way to turn Colin Kaepernick--the unemployed quarterback who pioneered the kneeling protest--into the new ‘Crooked Hillary.' … The point was not that he was attacking the actions of black football players; the point was that he was telling his supporters, once again, I'm one of you, I'm on your side, and I'm willing to endure the ridicule of the elites in order to say out loud what you are thinking.
It's like they took a local paper's horoscope, inserted the words "Trump" and "NFL" and then reprinted it as a news story.
Trump's method is not this complicated or calculated. It's more simple and still more effective.
Boiled down, Trump watches Fox News and then uses his rallies to hammer the channel's most potent themes, which are the suffocating politically-correct culture, a self-evident media bias, and a forceful patriotism.
Fox has covered these areas for years on a series of TV studios encased in waving digital stars and stripes.
Trump tweets almost daily about the stories Fox is airing at any given hour. He pays special attention to the morning "Fox & Friends" program, having tweeted directly about it 78 times (always in a complimentary way) since he became president, according to the Washington Post.
He had his own weekly call-in segment on "Fox & Friends" for four years, during which he denigrated then-President Barack Obama and cultivated his image as a tough businessman who knew what the country needed.
During his rally backing Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., Trump said, "Luther and I and everyone in this arena tonight are unified by the same great American values. We're proud of our country. We respect our flag."
Then he went into the rant about NFL players kneeling during the anthem.
CNN's clueless Brian Stelter said the tirade came "seemingly out of nowhere."
It didn't. It came from Fox's programming.
Here are some of Fox's headlines from just this year:
—"US Navy veteran ordered to remove American flag wrap from mailbox," Aug. 3, 2017
—"Veteran banned from putting American flag on mailbox," Aug. 5, 2017
—"July 4 warning: Decade-old law bans waving American flag at Arlington cemetery," July 4, 2017
—"‘Patriotism Triggering People': College Votes to Remove Flag From Meetings," April 16, 2017
And for good measure, from March 11, 2015: "Professors: US flag symbolizes racism, should not be displayed on campus."
Trump knows what the flag, the anthem, and pride in America means to his supporters, even if it means nothing to certain commentators on MSNBC and CNN.
But the media see something deeply sinister and (their day wouldn't be complete without it) racist in his choice to trash the protests.
"[I]n his usual bullying and race-baiting way, Trump has made [the NFL protest controversy] much, much worse," wrote New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, "by multiplying the reasons one might reasonably kneel … and then encouraging his own partisans to interpret the kneeling as a broad affront to their own patriotism and politics."
In an op-ed discreetly titled, "America has a racial demagogue for a president," the Washington Post's Michael Gerson said Trump's "current crusade against sideline activism at professional football games" was triggered by Trump knowing that "rallying his white base against young African American protesters is feeding racial tension and providing permission for bigotry."
(After calling Trump racist for defending the flag, Gerson somehow managed to say in the same piece that, "The American flag is not the racist symbol of a racist country.")
Monday morning, after his comments on the NFL had stewed over the weekend, Trump said of NASCAR:
So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
At the day's White House press briefing, Jim Acosta, always short on information, asked if the tweet was an attempt "to wage something of a culture war" because NASCAR "obviously is geared towards a different [white] demographic."
As stupid as the media believe Trump is, they attribute an extraordinary degree of wit to his tweets.
Coincidentally, that morning, "Fox & Friends" had twice aired a segment on NASCAR owners warning their drivers and crews against engaging in protests like NFL players. Trump's tweet about NASCAR came shortly after the segment.
Acosta and his peers didn't know that because they hate Fox News like they hate Trump.
But if they watched Fox, they might learn something about Trump.
Eddie Scarry is a media reporter for the Washington Examiner.