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Of Bullfighters and Bulls

Been a while since I posted anything on here. I have to admit, my writing has suffered as I’ve been adjusting to running a small business out of my home. It’s not from a lack of time, I have plenty of that, but rather that any change in routine takes time for me to adjust to. Changes in routine are, for lack of a better word, mentally disruptive. It’s a bit hard to describe but I end up being on edge for quite a while. I’m adjusting more and more lately, and I’m starting to feel comfortable again, so I’m trying to get back to writing more. I’ve gotten several more chapters of my book finished in the last couple weeks, and I’ve also been doing quite a bit of reading lately. One of the things I’ve been reading is the news, which is depressing as usual. Some things just make me roll my eyes and sigh.

We’re now two years into the Donald Trump administration, a reign prophesied by The Simpsons as a joke over a decade ago. One would think that the outrage would have died down. One would assume that people would get used to his outrageous tweets, his divisive rhetoric, his blatant pandering to his fanatic base, and his combative attitude toward the media. One would hope that the people who run things, politicians, business leaders, pundits, media executives, newspaper editors, and other intelligent people would have figured out by this point that Trump thrives on conflict, division, and hostility and attempt to counter with quiet dignity, well-reasoned arguments and sound compromises. Unfortunately, that’s not the America we live in anymore.

I don’t know whether to attribute the media’s latest bungle to overzealousness, or outright stupidity, but regardless of motive, several hundred newspapers led by the Boston Globe have joined together in a combined editorial response to Trump’s assertion that the press is the ‘enemy of the people’. In so doing, they play directly into his hand. Eighteen months into his administration, and they’re still playing Trump’s game. This isn’t new. This is how the man operates. This is how he got famous. This is how he ran his campaign, and it’s how he distracts people from his actual governance now that he’s President. The man says or does something outrageous and controversial, then sits back and waits for the predictable outrage from the media. Then the spotlight is on him, the attention is on him, and nobody is paying attention to anything else. Winning the war of words becomes an end in itself, and nobody is talking about anything substantive.

Defending a free press is all well and good, but responding en masse to an obvious provocation from a man who regularly provokes others on purpose to drive his agenda is colossally foolish. At best, it’s rising to the bait of a man who has manipulated the press to serve his interests from day one. At worst, it’s a reflection of their motivations, a disturbing possibility that they really are driven not by facts, objectivity, and reasoned criticism, but by a particular political agenda. Let’s face it. A large segment of the American people don’t trust the media. There’s some justification for this. The most visible media outlets, especially the big city newspapers, are fairly far removed from the everyday lives of most Americans. I doubt anyone on the New York Times salaried staff has ever worked a minimum wage job, worked in a factory, seen his job sent overseas to a worker making pennies a day, or been replaced by a robot.

Donald Trump knows that. He’s known that since before he ran for office. He catered to it during the campaign. His base agrees with him, and many Americans who don’t necessarily like him personally also agree. When the big city newspapers stand up as a group to denounce him, it makes him look right. It confirms his words and further erodes their credibility with Trump’s base and with an increasing number of otherwise impartial observers who see the press’s behavior as unseemly for them as an institution. Now he can say, “See, I told you so. I knew they were all against me.” He looks like the smartest guy in the room, because he accomplished the political equivalent of waving a red flag at an angry bull. Like the stereotypical matador, he taunts his opponent, then whips the flag away only to repeat the process in a new location. Like the bull, the press can’t seem to resist the urge to charge. Trump is running the show and probably somewhere in his own mind shouting ‘Ole’. It doesn’t matter if the newspapers are right or wrong, or whether Trump is right or wrong. What matters is that the media are being played like a fiddle by a master manipulator. Whether you agree with him, or them, his tactics are working. One would think somebody in the media would have had enough sense to figure that out by now.

I’ve never liked Donald Trump. I never believed he was a real populist who would actually challenge the corporate interests or ‘drain the swamp’. He’s not Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon. Those people knew how to get power and to wield it effectively, often brutally, against their enemies. Those men were ruthlessly effective. Donald Trump is not them. He’s not a visionary or a revolutionary. He’s not a great politician, or even a particularly effective leader of men, but he’s no fool, either. He’s very good at what he does, and what he does is put on a good show. I believed, and still do, that Donald Trump is a masterful manipulator of public opinion, a genius at getting people’s attention where he wants it and keeping it there. He pretended to be a populist because that’s which way the wind was blowing, and he’s good at reading people. He read the outrage in middle America and played the piper’s tune all the way to the White House. The media missed the proverbial boat, either because they were too stupid or too shocked by the realization that there are people between the Rockies and the Appalachians whose lifestyle and opinions differ drastically from those on either coast.

One things for sure. I may not like Donald Trump, but I at least have some respect for him, because he’s good at something. He’s good at manipulating the media. He’s good at reading a room, playing to people’s emotions, and getting people energized.  He’s good at listening to people’s anger, understanding where that anger comes from, and then capitalizing on that knowledge. The media, on the other hand, don’t appear to be particularly good at anything right now. They failed to understand the rise of Donald Trump. They failed to realize their own role in facilitating that rise. They failed to understand the people who support Trump. They colossally failed in their many predictions for the election. They have failed to address the issues at the heart of Trump’s campaign, the plight of middle America, the job losses, the outsourcing, the exploitation of workers, both foreign and domestic in the name of ‘free trade’, the creeping inequity of an America, and indeed an entire world, marked ever more by a sharp division between a super wealthy elite who hold all the power in society, and everybody else. I have no respect left for a media that continues to charge blindly into every conflict that the master matador waves at them. Sometimes the right way to respond is not to respond at all. Until the media realizes that, they’ll continue as the unwilling and unwitting accomplices to Donald Trump’s presidency.

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