We’re now in month eight or so of Trumpmania. He has a core of support, and the media can’t get enough of him. The effect he has on people is fascinating. But it’s also remarkably annoying. Every casual utterance by Trump leads the news cycle until the subsequent outrage. And everyone flips out. Trump flips out. His fans flip out. His enemies flip out. The media flip out.
It’s enough to make you hate everyone. In fact, it does make me hate everyone. That probably includes you. Here’s a list of everyone in the Trump saga who is awful.
I admire Donald Trump’s ability to singlehandedly control national conversations, expose the media as corrupt, and generate popular support through sheer force of entertainment will. I am serious. I think he’s an absolutely brilliant communicator operating at levels we’ve not seen before. He is the closest thing to the physical incarnation of the Sweet Meteor of Death 2016 that some have been praying for. Oh, and as someone who truly loathes the Republican Party for its incompetence and impotence, I sometimes love that he’s destroying it with such efficiency.
But he’s a demagogue with no real solutions for anything at all. He’s a narcissist who takes no responsibility for the negative consequences of his ill-conceived and incoherent verbal spews. He flip-flops incessantly. He is not honest when called to account for previous things he’s said. He insults individuals and groups of people gratuitously. His ideas always involve an expansion in the size and scope of government. And his blow-ups seem perfectly timed to help people in the party he’s not running in.
Donald Trump Fans
I know many of the people who say they’re voting for Trump are probably just normal people who don’t pay a ton of attention to politics and think he’s an entertaining fellow who is funny and candid. It’s not entirely surprising that a man who has been a household name for decades would enjoy the support he has. I’m a political junkie, and once a week I have to think really hard about who all the candidates running for president even are. And another portion of his voters are probably people who are just sick to death of Washington, D.C., even if they’re not particularly ideological.
A Twitter user who goes by the name Political Math said of these people, and please excuse his French, “The world makes a lot of sense when you realize that the #1 priority of Trump supporters is to tell you to go [expletive deleted] yourself.” He added, “And I don’t mean this as a slur: Trump supporters are really just *more* sick of bull[deleted] out of DC than they care about Trump.”
Listen, I also hate the Republican Party and think it deserves to die in a fire (for reasons discussed here). This is a political party that has squandered majorities, favored the elite donor class over the base, and not only failed to thwart the creation and expansion of the administrative state, but in fact enabled it. It has shown disdain for conservative principles and people, even as it relied on them for victory. I’m sick of it, too.
So I get wanting to send a message. (And if you don’t get it, I commend this interview by Urbanophile’s Aaron Renn of his father, who is a Trump supporter.)
But don’t pretend that Trump has ideas, much less ideas that are good. Yes, he fights! Oh how he fights. And after years of Republican candidates sputtering and cowering in the face of stupid progressive questioning, that is an enjoyable thing to see. Although, it must be said that for someone who fights he sure does whine a hell of a lot. Just in the time I’ve written this, I’ve seen him whine about a half dozen different people. Trump’s support is based on his toughness. So why do he and his supporters cry like little babies anytime someone critiques him even slightly? I don’t get it.
In any case, there are real problems in this country and in this world, and don’t confuse message-sending support for Trump with actual support for Trump. And consider that you hate the Republican Party because of how poorly it has performed in service of the causes you care about; ask yourself whether the solution you’ve found yourself embracing is actually an improvement. Yes, it’s cathartic and you are scaring the hell out of the rest of the country, including those portions that have treated you with contempt for many years. But, again, there are serious governance issues that require a serious person who actually knows what in the hell he or she is doing. Get it together, you know?
Donald Trump Haters
OK, you people really annoy me. Ace of Spades put it well when he said you are like a divorced man who is obsessed with his ex-wife. He thinks everything she does is awful, and he can’t stop talking about her to other people to try to get them to agree. Yes, Trump is crazy and awful. Granted. But screaming about it constantly makes you seem crazy, too. Meghan Keane Graham once wrote an essay about how a crazy man on the subway picked a fight with her. After a few stops, she realized that nobody on the subway car had witnessed the original altercation and that meant that nobody on the subway knew that he was crazy and she was not. It was even odds, at that point, which one was crazy. Maybe both were. That’s what you people remind me of all the time.
A few months ago, some people who hate Trump completely lost it over his claim that he would not do the CNBC debate unless they agreed to shorten it. People I otherwise respect were going off about how this demand of Trump’s showed his disdain for the electoral process. No, it didn’t. It was actually quite smart of him. And if you complain about stuff that doesn’t matter, we get Chicken Little scenarios that do not work in your favor.
Also, if you hate Trump, which makes a lot of sense if you’re a rational person, could you reserve some anger for those figures and forces that brought us to this place? An old blog post by Megan McArdle has stuck with me over the last five years. It’s basically about how no matter what you thought about Obamacare’s passage, the manner in which it passed was cause for concern. She wrote:
Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority? Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.
The media, powerful corporate lobbyists, and the Democratic Party wanted something over the will of the voters. Perhaps Obamacare was the most dramatic legislative example, but time and again elite institutions extend their giant middle fingers to people, running roughshod over them. The size and scope of government grows through an administrative state that is evermore confusing and complex. We tell people they can keep their doctors, when they can’t. Courts gratuitously rule against the people. At some point you can’t be surprised when people are just fed up with playing the game according to rules always working against them.
If you hate Trump, that’s fine. But have the decency to hate other deserving people, too.
Media Who Cover Donald Trump
I’m not even talking about the conservative entertainment complex, whose star players seem downright scared to challenge Trump in any way. They have beclowned themselves, and their shame is upon them.
I’m talking about the political media. Matt Bai’s “All The Truth Is Out” (2014) and Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events in America” (1962) are good books to read about why political reporting wasn’t going so well even decades ago. But this has really been a banner year in awfulness.
The media flat out reward Trump for saying outlandish things by giving him even more airtime than previously. This perverse incentive structure has been going on for months. He is able to call in to any show he wants and is put on the air. He can completely dominate the conversation and control the conversation any time he wants.
One pundit noted that the homepages for various major media outlets — just the homepages alone — showed dozens of Trump references at Huffington Post, USA Today, Washington Post, The Hill, Politico, and various other media outlets.
It’s a compulsion, or some kind of codependency. It started out bad, and it keeps getting worse. How would a voter even know if other people are running? The only time you’re guaranteed to see mentions of other candidates is for the daily stories about whether they denounced Trump’s latest statement.
So when Trump proposed to halt Muslim entry to the country as a security measure, you saw a familiar pattern. The media flipped out. The media didn’t quite accurately convey his actual plan, such as it was. The media then demanded other candidates and elected officials and pundits denounce the proposal. When they did, there were stories about the GOP’s “escalating rhetoric” and when they merely disagreed but didn’t denounce, there were stories aghast about that, too.
Compare that to President Obama’s proposal on Sunday night to deny constitutionally protected rights without due process to anyone put on a secret list. Keep in mind that this was a proposal by a sitting U.S. president, not a mere candidate. First off, no media flipped out (a few days later the Los Angeles Times criticized the plan). Many media didn’t accurately convey his actual plan (was it a no-fly list or something else?), but in a way that helped make it seem less extreme. They did not demand other Democrats denounce the proposal, which would surely have targeted mostly Muslims. They did not write stories about escalating rhetoric. They did not write stories about Democrats refusing to denounce a plan that would violate civil liberties of Muslims.
When Trump announced his plan, two New York Times political reporters immediately wrote a piece described by colleagues as “hard-hitting.” And yet there has been very little coverage, particularly very little hard-hitting coverage of an actual Obama administration official speaking against constitutionally protected free speech rights and religious freedom. BuzzFeed broke the story but The New York Times hasn’t even published a story about Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s comments about going after anti-Muslim rhetoric. Shouldn’t an actual proposal by someone in power be vetted at least as much as a campaigning politician’s every word?
I know that Trump is this year’s Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but is it too much to ask our political press to not fall into precisely the same pattern with every single passage of gas from the bloviator? Instead could we chart a more moderate press coverage path? NBC went from cutting business ties with Trump in June to asking him to host “Saturday Night Live” a few months later. The Huffington Post said they wouldn’t cover him on the politics page but then did. BuzzFeed’s self-righteous memo on how to talk about Trump was unnecessary.
Yes, the media industry is just a way to make money via entertaining presentation of the news, and, yes, Trump is getting the media clicks we only dream about. But if there is any sense of gratitude for the role we’re allowed to play in the project of maintaining a civil society, could we just work to achieve a bit more balance? Neither self-abasing freakouts nor servile accommodations regarding Trump?
In any case, the point is that I hate everybody, even if I didn’t get around to mentioning you in particular.