For every ugly or threatening thing Trump has ever said about press, he’s gotten back ten-fold from reporters. If this is war, it’s surely been an asymmetrical one, with Trump tossing stones as the press lofts cruise missiles. Carl Bernstein, the New Republic’s Jamil Smith, and Robert Kagan have called him a fascist. David Remnick, Jill Abramson and Andrew Sullivan have likened him to a demagogue. Dana Milbank, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith and the Huffington Post have labeled him a racist....In Iraq we used to say that "Violence is a form of negotiation." That was to remind us that actual violence, like rockets being shot in our laps or bombs being placed outside our gates or a machinegunning in the night, shouldn't be taken as a commitment to war-to-the-knife. Much more often in that tribal environment, it was an expression of displeasure at something we'd done or were expected to do. With the right negotiating tactics -- which could also include some violence -- we could restore a working relationship.
It sounds alarming enough, but the anthropologist in me views the Trump-press contretemps as the endemic and persistent warfare associated with the stylized combat sometimes observed between tribes in the Papua New Guinea Highlands: The two sides pair off, shouting insults and derision at one another, claiming the other side started it. Much noise and many insults are traded, grudges are captured and preserved. Skirmishes break out here and there, followed by temporary truces until the cycle begins anew.
A lot of people pay attention. Only rarely does anybody die.
The metaphor here isn't to war like in Iraq, which was already better than war like in Stalingrad. It's to a stylized form of war in which the consequences have almost completely been replaced by demonstrations. And this is less violent than that: it's a metaphor of what is already just a metaphor of war.