A long time ago I wrote a series of dialogues, mostly private. Nevertheless, they gave their name to my non-political website, Conversations with Dio. A few of those dialogues pretended I might be president someday. What would you do if you ran the zoo? What would you do if someone appeared and asked if you wanted to run the zoo? Suppose some muses appeared to prepare you for leadership someday? And what is my destiny anyway?
I would write those conversations late in the day, before I went to bed. It felt like a fantasy of course, but also an interesting vision of the future, to think deliberately and dialectically about how unpredictable one’s life can be, and how unpredictable history can be.
Having Donald Trump in the White House nevertheless shows no fantasy is too extraordinary to contemplate.
A friend even asked me if I thought I would be president. The question surprised me, as if I had communicated these private thoughts and fantasies somehow. Who knows the strength of brain waves between people who know each other well? I evaded the question slightly, but also answered truthfully: “Not under the current system of electing presidents,” or something similarly indirect. I knew I would not take the presidential oath after a victory in the electoral college.
Having Donald Trump in the White House nevertheless shows no fantasy is too extraordinary to contemplate. No one – certainly not in the press – talks anymore about how the media reacted when Trump declared he was a Republican candidate for president in spring of 2015. That was more than two years ago. The mainstream treated his announcement as a bad joke, and worse. Moreover, they were entirely confident their ridicule would force him from the race, before the race even began.
If they had any understanding of the country’s mood, they would have known that each time they mocked him, they increased his chances in the competition for the White House. Their treatment of him did not change, from the the day he announced until election day in November. They did not treat him the way they treated other candidates. They treated him as their boy to whip, a dolt, most of all a pretender who could not possibly win. As the campaign developed, media’s representatives exuded utter confident in their assessments.
Interestingly, the media have not disguised their attitudes toward him since his election, either. They apparently thought they had not done enough yet to make him successful.
Trump and the media declared war on each other. By doing so, the media entered a fight they could not win, as they had virtually no allies outside California and the eastern seaboard, and few enough there. They did not guarantee Clinton would lose the election, but they certainly helped her opponent win. When she said, “I don’t see why I’m not fifty points ahead in this race,” the media answered silently, “Amen.” Reagan cautioned, “Always run as if you are a few points behind.” Instead Clinton treated her opponent, and more significantly his followers, with contempt.
You might say all of that becomes clear in hindsight, but in fact a lot of people declared, before November 8, that the media’s pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias hurt the Democrat’s chances of victory. Critics suggested that if you do not adopt the fair and balanced standard here, you will help an unbalanced guy get elected. We know, a year later, how well the media listened to that advice. In their public attitudes toward Trump, they apparently could not help themselves. He was like fentanyl for them, and they self-destructed.
Interestingly, the media have not disguised their attitudes toward him since his election, either. They apparently thought they had not done enough yet to make him successful. Do they want to prove Trump’s attacks on them correct? They ensure his rather narrow base won’t desert him. Worse, they deny themselves respect from independents, and even some Democrats.
Altogether, the mainstream strategy to ‘get Trump’ is not a strategy at all. It is akin to the reasoning, if you can call it that, of those self-satisfied, over-confident people of power in The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman’s book about historical actors who made mistakes so profoundly stupid, they could not even see they had done anything wrong. The media still think if they discredit Trump, they can extinguish the forces that elected him.
The media cannot grasp their own irrational or self-defeating behavior. If they could, they would completely change the way they respond to the president.
That is, the media believe their own convictions about his craziness and unfitness for office will, at last, become common belief. They still do not grasp their environment. They do not grasp how profoundly angry, alienated, discouraged and defiant citizens are at the moment, or how long these sentiments have had to grow. These fundamental political commitments, which reside in people’s hearts, do not depend on who occupies the White House, or on who does not occupy it.
Thus the media cannot grasp their own irrational or self-defeating behavior. If they could, they would completely change the way they respond to the president. I have a friend who correctly comments, when I suggest the media ignore Trump: “Well, he is the president. They feel if he says something, or does something, they should report it.” The argument is reasonable, but the media have a fair amount of discretion about what they report, and how they report it.
They consistently go for the easy hit. They invite you to share in the train-wreck high, where you stop to look at a bad accident. Suppose you have a bottle of aspirin in your medicine cabinet: you may want to swallow a couple occasionally if you do not feel well. Or you can take a powerful analgesic and mainline it. I don’t think Marx was correct to say religion is the opiate of the masses, but he might have added that propaganda offers its own pain-killing qualities. As a public figure with a Twitter account, Trump is the opiate of the media. Look at the clown in the center ring. Who can resist at least a glance?
If the media devoted even a little thought to what they do, they would end the campaign they have already lost. They would understand every sentence they write about the buffoon is a sentence they could have written about something else. That keen sense of opportunity cost assumes more self-awareness than they have shown for a long time. They cannot escape their tunnel, or their dependence. If media came to appreciate their deficiency or their failure, how they enabled a once vibrant republic to reach its current low point, they would have to cut their own chains. Most addicts need help to do that.