The Making of Donald Trump and the Unmaking of a Nation

ID-100392109As Donald Trump steamrolls through the primary season, the question many are asking is, “How could this possibly happen?”

The man’s life is a bundle of contradictions. His speeches, while mercifully brief, are also devoid of content, apart from sweeping promises no one could reasonably believe he will fulfill. He is often crude, insulting, and vulgar. Nonetheless, his campaign thrives without spending significant sums of money to make it happen.

Some theorize that Trump’s success has to do with fear and anger. I agree – in part.

People on both ends of the political spectrum are fed up with Washington and they are voting their unexamined anger. As Bret Stephens observed in The Wall Street Journal, for some people this year the vote is a “truck bomb.” They don’t really care what the result is, as long as it’s impact is felt in Washington.

But Donald Trump is also the media’s creation.

Together, since Richard Nixon’s appearance on “Laugh In,” Presidents and the media have been erasing the boundary between entertainment and national leadership. Presidents make the rounds on talk shows and fawn over the hosts, treating them as the high priests of public opinion. They try their hand at stand-up comedy and they reduce policy debates into punch lines.

In turn, both MSNBC and Fox have their resident comedians who are treated as experts. Their anchors spin the news. and more often than not their visiting journalists are little more than shills for each party’s position.

Shouting at each other, neither the forum, nor the content of what they have to offer advances civic conversation. The evening news isn’t news at all. It is red meat for people who have already made up their mind and who are simply looking for something to fuel their righteous indignation.

Worst of all, perhaps, for both the media and the political parties, what works has taken precedence over the truth and over complexity. So, when Donald Trump is confronted with his about-face on almost every issue of note in this year’s campaign, all he needs to do is own the difference and dismiss the contradictions as an irrelevancy. Never mind the fact that, as a result, no one knows what a President Trump would do, except that he will do whatever he pleases.

But if the media is sincere in its search for an explanation for Trump’s popularity, they need look no further than their own mirrors. The Donald is their love child. They used him and taught him how to use reality television. They capitalized on his outrageous and unpredictable behavior, used him to raise their ratings, and they laughed all the way to the bank.  They feign outrage at his popularity, but they are the ones who feature interviews with Trump whenever he makes the offer to appear on stage.

Sadly, however, the bread and circus is only popular because our society has responded in kind.

Thanks to a long-standing commitment to pragmatic solutions for everything, a disregard for office, disdain for protocol, a penchant for rewarding vulgarity, and a tendency to lionize winning over truth and virtue this year’s election is hurtling toward a predictable end.

We have set the table culturally. The media and campaign machines exploited our choices. And Donald Trump has read it all with a gift for calculation that is as telling, brutal, and empty as his candidacy. But what was entertaining and profitable to many is now dangerous, and Trump is no longer the media’s product, he is its master.

There are words from The Book of Proverbs comes to mind: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”

 

Image by Vectorolie, used with permission from Freedigitalphotos.net

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