Two years into his term of office and, following the midterm elections, United States President Donald Trump may now consider himself to be on the veritable home stretch, beginning his campaign for re-election for 2020. If that indeed is his outlook, then what we are witnessing is a campaigner-in-chief. That is the only reasonable assumption that can be taken from President Trump’s continued attacks on the media.

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For candidates running for office, the claim of not being treated fairly by the press is one that is often heard — for candidates are, by nature, seeking to persuade an electorate through the one-sided approach and party manifestoes offered by their partisan politics. That is why campaign ads are part and parcel of any campaign — they are blatant one-sided advertisements bought and paid for by candidates, their parties, political supporters or like-minded.

But for those in elected office — be it at a city or municipal level, at state level, or in the highest office of the land, there must be checks and balances on their actions, ensuring that they are acting in the best interests of all, holding them to account, offering both impartial coverage and opinionated commentary on their actions. That is a freedom that is cherished the world over, advocated in civil societies and, as is the case in the US Constitution and others, enshrined as a core principle and tenet of law.

It is no coincidence that truth becomes the first casualty of any war, and the last time America was so deeply divided came at a time of racial tensions in its southern states and military intervention in southern Vietnam. And it was then the nightly words of Walter Cronkite and images from the cotton fields of Mississippi and the battlefields of the Mekong held the White House to account. If we are to believe the rhetoric of the midterm campaign, then the US itself seems on a warlike footing, where it is about to be invaded by a caravan of Central American migrants, or where darkness pervades as in some Gotham City graphic novel. Even Trump has promised a warlike response if the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives asks too many questions about his finances or business.

No, President Trump, America is not such a place. If it is at war, it is one of outlook; it is a conflict not a combat over its values; it is a phony war, one manufactured by the Right, that thrives on half-truths, conspiracy theories and lies. Clashing with the press is counterproductive. They are not enemies of the people, but messengers, whose job is to hold the powers that be to account. Mr President, you must take that into account.