Friday, June 3, 2016

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

Poor Donald Trump can't seem to catch a break from the press these days. According to him:
I'm the only one in the world who can raise almost $6 million for the veterans, have uniform applause by the veterans groups, and end up being criticized by press.
Those remarks were made after it was revealed that money he supposedly raised for veterans at a fund raiser held during one of the Republican debates he refused to attend because of an ongoing snit with Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, didn't reach its intended beneficiaries until after reporters publicly questioned where the money was. In response, according to a CNN report, Trump called the press :
"dishonest," "not good people," sleazy, and among the worst human beings he has ever met."
Wow that must have stung.

I'm sure over the duration of his campaign to win the  Republican nomination for president, many tears have been shed on both sides of the on-going struggle between Donald Trump and the press. And every one of those tears has been of the crocodile variety.

The truth is, calling the relationship between Donald Trump and the press mutually beneficial, would be the understatement of the century. 

For the American news media, Donald Trump has been a godsend. Like covering a ballplayer on a torrid hitting streak, every time Trump opens his mouth, be it a racist rant, a sexist slur, or a generous helping of bigoted bluster, every time he lowers the bar on decorum and common decency, it's newsworthy. Every time Trump displays his prodigious ignorance of domestic and foreign policy and even the very purpose and function of the job he allegedly aspires to, people can't get enough of him. Articles on Trump like this one, have a way of writing themselves. All a writer has to do is print the vile garbage that comes out of his mouth and then say: "did he really just say that?" Whether they love or hate him, Donald Trump brought people back to news in an era when at least in this country, interest in current events was at an all time low.

As for Trump, a long time ago he learned there's no such thing as bad publicity. It's almost as if the purpose of Trump's candidacy is simply to prove the point that a candidate needn't spend billions of dollars to become president, so long as gets enough attention. For their part, the press has been more than willing to oblige by giving Trump all the attention he wants, for the mere price of a comment or a diatribe filled with them.

That of course isn't my idea; the notion that Trump really couldn't care less about being president has been bandied about quite frequently in the past year. For the record, I happen to buy into that theory. In my mind the Trump candidacy is a sham, nothing but cynical disregard for our government, our people, and our political process.

Could that in any way be a good thing? God knows our political system is flawed and in need of either repair or complete overhaul. Perhaps the silver lining to all this is that candidate Donald Trump is like a safecracker hired by a bank to figure out the vulnerabilities of its vault.

Safecracker Trump has certainly exposed many of the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of the Republican primary system, as another safecracker, Bernie Sanders has done on the Democratic side. Far more serious, Trump the safecracker has exposed the morally reprehensible, seedy underbelly of the American psyche that some thought had disappeared along with the days of Jim Crow. Trump supporters claim their man is a breath of fresh air who "tells it like it is", destroying the tyranny of "political correctness" as he derides minorities, immigrants, women, and anyone who happens to disagree with him. His slogan "Let's make America great again" is a thinly veiled call for a return to the exclusive white, male hegemony of this country's past. Trump says publicly what millions of frustrated white male Americans have been saying under their collective breath for decades.

For the other side, Trump bashers have the privilege of being able to take the moral high ground without any reservation, intellectual rigor, or in some cases, logic.  Case in point is this open letter to the American People initially signed by 450 notable American writers and subsequently by tens of thousands of citizens.  For eight sentences the letter spells out the power, both good and bad, of language, the values of democracy, justice, diversity and truth, the evils of nativism and bigotry, and the threat of demagogues manipulating "the basest and most violent elements in society." For those eight sentences the writers had me eating out of their hands. Then came the last sentence that completely lost me:
...we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States. (emphasis mine)
As far as I know, Donald J. Trump meets all the demands the Constitution specifies for being a candidate for president, namely he was born in the United States, he lived here more than fourteen years, and he is over 35 years of age. We may not like him, agree with him, or think he is qualified for the job. We may think he is in fact entirely unqualified for the job and if elected would be a detriment to the country. The good news is we have a say in whether he gets elected or not, and that doesn't involve a select group of like minded people unequivocally opposing his candidacy.

While it's certainly well within their rights to create a petition expressing their opposition to his candidacy, I'm afraid it will only serve as fodder for Trump as he will no doubt use it as an example of how little concern the liberal establishment has for the democratic process. I can hear him now: "how dare these elite eggheads oppose the will of the people who choose to support me." And in this case he'd be right, democracy allows for people to vote for whomever they please, even a buffoon. It is completely meaningless for a group or individual to oppose the candidacy of someone who meets the constitutional requirements for running for office.

Unlike the character Trump plays in this reality TV version of a presidential campaign, I have a very strong notion that the real Donald Trump is not a buffoon. He knows exactly what he's doing. As he has done continuously throughout his candidacy, Trump has managed to spin viral negativity against him to his favor, and this petition will be no exception.

I also believe that Donald Trump does not believe half of the things he says on the campaign trail. As I said, any publicity is good publicity, and Trump welcomes the bad along with the good. As long as he and his floppy hairdo are on the air and in people's minds, as long as we the people continue to be fascinated with him, he benefits, and so do those who wouldn't vote for him come hell or high water. 

In his excellent book Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, author Charles Leerhsen suggests that we need our villains for no other reason than to make us feel better about ourselves. That's why some people took a dead baseball icon with a challenging personality and turned him into a psychopathic monster. The myth of Donald Trump, just like the myth of Ty Cobb the monster is pure bullshit, The only difference is this, it was Trump himself who invented his own myth. And unlike Cobb's reputation, the myth perversely continues to serve Trump well. 

The biggest lesson I suppose we're learning from Safecracker Donald is that getting a candidate before the people early, often, and relentlessly, is an effective strategy for getting votes. We the people have decided that we may not necessarily like Donald Trump, but we sure can't get enough of him. And the press has responded in kind by giving us exactly what we've asked for, more and more Donald. We can probably thank Trump for teaching us the lesson that this is no way to elect a president.

A bank hiring a safecracker is indeed an effective way to discover and correct that institution's weaknesses. That is until the safecracker becomes president of the bank. Then it's time to look for a new bank.

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