American presidents can come to be defined by the fights they choose to wage.
Ronald Reagan fought big government at home and the Iron Curtain abroad. George H.W. Bush fought Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton fought a "vast right-wing conspiracy" and Slobodan Milosevic. George W. Bush fought the Axis of Evil and the wellspring of extremism that his invasion of Iraq unleashed. Barack Obama fought the Islamic State, climate change and, occasionally, the U.S. Congress.
What, then, are Americans to make of the early fights President Donald Trump has picked with American institutions he seems to perceive as his primary foes: the press and the intelligence community?
Those battles, which have simmered for many months, came to a head over the weekend when the president held what amounted to an anti-press pep rally at the Central Intelligence Agency, whose analysis he had long disparaged, and his press secretary used his first appearance in the briefing room to shout easily disprovable "alternative facts" about the size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration, then stormed out without taking questions.
It would be easy to dismiss these developments as stunts aimed at distracting the public from some unpleasant failing, like the chaotic transition Trump's team has overseen or the scathing reviews of his grim inaugural address, or, perhaps, as spontaneous tantrums that speak more to temperament than to nefarious intentions.
But a closer look reveals a clear and unsettling logic behind Trump's two early fights and a common thread that links his unorthodox adversaries.
Trump is taking on two institutions in American life that are traditionally charged with establishing the factual basis that inform national-security decisions––the press in its public discourse and the intelligence community behind closed doors in the Situation Room.
In making foreign policy, what a government does should flow from what it purports to know about the world. For an administration that says it is bent on upending aspects of the established order, that means there is a premium on seizing control of baseline facts to fortify its narrative of an America in decline, our economy depleted by trade, our borders overrun by hordes bent on doing us harm.