Feb. 16, 2017– I just watched the full 75 minutes of Trump’s news conference today. I had read online articles about it earlier. About how bad it was. How Trump ranted and raved. How he focused almost exclusively on the poor job of the media. And I felt I wanted to see how bad it was.
But I come away troubled. Troubled by the state of journalism. Troubled by the state of politics. Troubled by the state of our country.
I want to be clear: I abhor Donald Trump. I think he is a failing, dishonest, corrupt businessman with little intelligence or integrity. His modus operandi is to say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. That’s a good sales strategy and helps him when making deals. It typifies what is wrong with capitalism and our greed-fed economic system. He should not be President and my constant prayer these days is that he won’t lead us into a no-win nuclear war.
But I am also baffled by what the response has been to him and to how journalists are handling it.
The video I watched started with some 15 minutes of mostly silent footage showing several television reporters standing at the front of the East Room waiting for Trump to appear. They each seemed to take time being allowed to record introductory comments for whatever media outlet they represented. It was excruciating.
They stood silently looking over the room, self-absorbed and distant. Occasionally they’d pull cell phones out of their pockets and study whatever information was on the screen. They preened and pimped, adjusting ties, suit coats, eyebrows. And then they would have 15 to 30 seconds to record sound bites for inclusion in the evening newscast.
This is journalism? God I wish Hunter Thompson was around for this show. At least we would get some damned honest drama and insight. This is a post-gonzo President who needs to be confronted by the best that gonzo can throw at him.
But what also troubles me is that I’m not sure the media yet understands the Trump phenomenon. Throughout last summer and fall, I (and Michael Moore) said that we needed to be very careful– that Trump could win. Many of us, including many among the mainstream media, discounted his chances and believed Nate Silver’s prognosis that Clinton would easily win. Trump was treated as an aberration, a clear outlier who had no chance of winning.
Clearly we failed to listen to the people. People were unhappy, dissatisfied. They had been promised for decades that the latest Presidential winner would fix our dysfunctional national politics and government. After the Nixon debacle, we briefly hoped Carter would save us. But that didn’t happen and Reagan became the next great hope. But he only instituted a more deeply rooted, equally corrupt theocracy that left the “common man” weaker and further abandoned.
Bill Clinton came along as an outsider Democrat whose policies and agenda looked more Republican than Democratic. His tenure was marred by petty scandals and nonsense that only deepened a growing distrust and disgust with American government. The second George Bush was saddled with 9/11 and proceeded to follow a pattern of “shock and awe” that just underscored how weak the U.S. had become.
And then came Obama. The Great Black Hope. He was inspiring. He effused hope and integrity and intelligence. But he was black and the political powers that Reagan and his Southern Strategy had planted simply could not allow Obama to succeed. And so the GOP embarked on eight years of all out obstructionism and negativity.
By early 2016, the country was deeply divided and tired of false hope. We were ripe for something dramatically different.
Two beacons of unconventional difference arose: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The disarray of the GOP made it easy for Trump to win their nomination. The arrogance and corruptness of the Democrats made it inevitable that Sanders would lose. In the end, it was no contest: the people wanted something different, something unorthodox. Clinton didn’t have a chance against Trump.
And now, here we are with President Trump and the media is wringing its hands and acting like they are martyrs. Their portrayal of Trump focuses on Trump himself rather than his message to the people who voted for him. And that’s where they’re wrong.
The problem with Trump is that his answer to the distrust and disgust many in America feel is not at all an answer to the problems and circumstances that have bred that distrust and disgust. He has surrounded himself with the super rich, greedy businessmen (with some token women) who have gotten where they are thanks to the Reagan-era trickle-down theories. With people who made the 2008 Great Recession a reality and survived the debacle unscathed.
Promising more jobs by “bringing back coal” and restarting failed manufacturing plants might be nice, short-term tactics. But that approach fails to recognize the fundamental shift that the American, and world, economy has been undergoing. Promising to destroy the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) fails to honor its popular and righteous goal of quality healthcare for all Americans. Promising to deport millions and prevent the entry of thousands flies in the face of America’s heritage as the land of the free that welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
That’s the message that the media is ignoring.
And their coverage of today’s news conference doesn’t give me any hope. Trump looked good today. He sounded concerned about “the people” and their safety, security, and well-being. Like a good salesman, he said the things his audience wanted to hear. Yes, he badly maligned the media. But I would guess that most people who watched the news conference and who were not already adamantly opposed to Trump would like what they heard. Certainly I don’t think they would believe that he ranted and raved. He looked calm and sounded almost rational for much of the event. I can well understand how many of those who are dissatisfied with the current state of the U.S. economy and the decades of political obstructionism in the “Other Washington” watched Trump’s performance and thought “Now that’s what we need in D.C.”
And that’s the real danger of the media’s failure: letting Trump’s audience accept his message without careful, reasoned challenge and counter-balance.