Caravan clash: Press accusing president of 'fear' and 'falsehoods'

President Trump has declared war on the Central American caravan, and the media have declared war on the president for doing so.

That sounds stark, but I can't reach any other conclusion.

It's quite obvious that Trump has seized upon the roughly 7,000 Honduran migrants who are heading north through Mexico, and using them to rouse his base on the issue of illegal immigration.

But press accounts have gone well beyond that in slamming Trump just two weeks before the election, setting up the kind of classic confrontation that has come to define his presidency.

Here is The Washington Post's coverage of the issue, starting with the main news story:

"Trump and Republicans Settle on Fear — And Falsehoods — As a Midterm Strategy."

And here's a Post analysis:

"Trump's Embrace of a Fraught Term — 'Nationalist' — Could Cement a Dangerous Racial Divide."

Another Post analysis:

"Trump is Even More Hyperbolic About Immigration Now Than in 2016."

And here's the New York Times news story:

"Trump and GOP Candidates Escalate Race and Fear as Election Ploys."

It's perfectly legitimate for the media to point out that the president has offered no proof for his claims that the caravan includes gang members and "unknown Middle Easterners." The Times story called that "a dark and factually baseless warning," saying that "the unsubstantiated charge marked an escalation of Mr. Trump's efforts to stoke fears about foreigners and crime."

In a related vein, the Post jumped on Trump for calling himself a "nationalist" at a Texas rally, while saying that "a globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country so much."

The piece added: "A racially overt version of it — white nationalism — has been publicly ascendant since Trump launched his 2016 campaign by attacking undocumented Mexican immigrants as 'rapists' and 'criminals' and later proposed a Muslim immigration ban."

CNN host Don Lemon went further, calling nationalist "a favorite of the alt-right and is loaded with nativist and racial undertones. And globalist. Well, globalist has been used as a slur of sorts, sometimes even against those in the administration, often with anti-Semitic overtones."

That’s reading a lot into two words.

Look, immigration is one of the hottest of hot-button issues. And Politico says the Democrats are "spooked" by the daily images of marching Honduran migrants as the president's rhetoric has boosted the caravan into a major story.

Look at this Trump tweet: "Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms!"

Except the GOP controls the White House, the Senate and the House. If the immigration laws are so pathetic, why haven't they changed them?

But the broader point is this: the use of fear as a weapon comes from a very old political playbook. When Barack Obama or Bill Clinton and the Democrats were in charge, they would warn ominously that the Republicans want to take away your Medicare, slash your Social Security, shred the safety net, "turn back the clock" on civil rights or women's rights or gay rights.

That, too, is the politics of fear. And while it was covered, it was rarely called out as fear-mongering because many journalists believed those push-granny-off-a-cliff charges were basically on target.

Trump deserves great scrutiny over his use of the immigration issue, especially when he can't back up his claims. But he's hardly the first president to try to scare voters at election time.