More than anything else, Donald Trump loves to congratulate himself as being the best at whatever he happens to be obsessing about at any given point in time. In his cartoon brain he has always done the most, rated the highest, known better, and achieved more than any recognized expert or experienced professional. For the most part his flaming ego is utterly out of control, but when it comes to slandering the media and opposing the free press, you just have to agree with him. He’s better at that than anybody.
Channeling historical totalitarian dictators, Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people.” And he spends more time insulting journalists than he does golfing. On Saturday he posted another frantic tweet expressing his rage at a mediasphere that he can’t control:
I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair Ã¢ÂÂpress,Ã¢ÂÂ now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent Ã¢ÂÂsourcesÃ¢ÂÂ are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2017
A usual, that’s just plain ludicrous. He obviously loves to tweet and does it obsessively. And he is primarily the one who refers to the media as “fake.” It would be interesting if he ever provided an example of the “non-existent sources” he whines about. But he won’t because he can’t.
However, he recently took a few questions from a New York Times reporter who approached him at Mar-A-Lago. The resulting interview was an embarrassment of incoherence and self-exaltation. And true to form, Trump managed to unleash a steady stream of lies that spilled out at the rate of nearly one false claim per minute. But perhaps the most painfully stupid remarks were regarding his relationship with the media. He said that:
“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K?”
To be sure, Trump has been good for ratings. The American people are aghast at what has assumed leadership in their country and they want to keep a close eye on it. That’s why viewership of MSNBC increased seventy-seven percent in 2017, far more than any other cable news network. However, no president is going to make or break the media. It’s an institution that has existed in America from the day it was born. It’s the only profession explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. It has had ups and downs, and will continue to do so in the future. But Trump’s presidency is no more newsworthy than the election of the first African-American president eight years ago.
The fact that Trump sees the role of the media only in terms of ratings demonstrates his shallow grasp of both politics and the press. He thinks everything hinges on the same metrics that his old reality TV game show did. And he sees himself as the star of an entertainment program that cannot survive without him. Of course any TV executive could tell him that when his show is cancelled, the network will carry on with new stars. And America will do likewise when he is impeached, resigns, or otherwise fails, and a new president assumes the role.
Trump’s example of the New York Times is ironically appropriate. He repeats robotically his catch phrase of the newspaper as “failing,” but in fact it has never thrived more than it does today with record digital subscriptions. What’s more, Trump’s logic (if you can call it that) which claims that the media will suddenly adore him six months before the next election doesn’t address why they didn’t fall in love with him prior to the last election.
Finally, Trump thinks that it’s within the power of the press to “let” him win. Surely the media can be influential to a significant degree, but if they had that kind of unchallenged control he wouldn’t be president today. And for him to suggest that the press would be forced to let him win in order to preserve their ratings shows how little he understands audience dynamics. Nothing would be more of a boost to television ratings than a good impeachment with plenty of drama stemming from treasonous Russian collusion, financial corruption, sex scandals, and the manufactured civil war threats from Trump’s PR division at Fox News. The networks would eat that (and him) up. So this is just another subject that Trump can’t understand because his acute narcissism clouds his already underwhelming intellect. Sad.