But So Are You…
The media is to blame for Trump. But maybe it’s not to0 late to turn things around.
This part won’t come as a surprise. The media doesn’t cover the issues. They cover the game. Political races and sports are covered in the exact same way in America. You get predictions about what a competitor needs to do to win, a brief spurt of action, postgame analysis, and a bunch of repetitive talkshows during which former players provide often obvious insights — which consumers continue to rehash around the social media watercooler. Seriously, is Chris Matthews any different from any SportsCenter anchor? If anything, he’s more sports than they are. His show is called Hardball. Even the MLB Network’s shows aren’t called Hardball.
And it’s not just MSNBC, Fox, and the political blogs. It’s every major news source, from PBS’ Shields and Brooks to Charlie Rose’s roundtables to the opinion (and front) pages of the top newspapers.
I don’t need to go on. You know exactly what I’m talking about. And you know it’s true because you’re partly responsible (partly in the nearly completely sense). Whenever the media tries to cover the issues at stake in an election, you turn them off. When they cover the game, you leave them on. You watch their shows and read their columns. You tweet. You post. You talk about it at dinner parties. You can’t talk about the issues themselves in that setting because no one in America ever has dinner with someone who doesn’t agree with them on the issues. And how could that not get boring after a few minutes?
You love the game. The game is easier to learn. Think about the way we cover debates. They are 100% about zingers, every single time (other than those times Ben Carson was participating — the doctor doesn’t zing.)
So Donald Trump knows it’s not about the issues and sees a game he can win. In his earliest days of considering a run, did he gather the team to create a platform? Hell no, he announced he had a winning media strategy. Most politicians don’t like to answer the strategy questions. Trump almost only answers those. He loves that topic. His campaign is not really about a wall or philosophy or an ideology. It’s about winning. I will win because I’m a winner. Because I just won, I will continue to win. You keep criticizing me and trying to get me to become more like the establishment, but last time I checked, I’m winning. So I give the advice. Check the scoreboard. Hit the bench. Grab some pine, Meat. And let me tell you this: Winning.
That’s the exact same in-your-face bravado we idolize in professional athletes. And it’s hard not to be somewhat impressed with it in any realm. If this were a Ping Pong match or stand-up comedy competition, I’d be jumping on the winning bandwagon faster than Charlie Sheen on tiger blood.
But this is a presidential election. And the media has got to stop covering it like a sport. It’s gone on too far and we’re in danger of getting what we sort of deserve.
This week, Trump lashed out at the press even more aggressively than usual. The headlines of the day were locked in on that topic. And again, the question of the day became a strategic one: Can Trump continue to act like this much of a ridiculous lunatic and still maintain the support of millions of Americans? That question has been asked and answered. And any time spent on Trump’s relationship with media is a victory for Trump because it’s another minute not spent on issues, and a further reinforcement of what we value in a candidate.
This guy is not being judged on his intellect or his seriousness. The absence of both of those just spice up his postgame press conferences. He’s being judged on his ability to out-brand his opponents, out-entertain his opponents, out-zinger his opponents … it’s not about out-witting them, it’s about out-winning them.
Look, I know there are exceptions to the kind of coverage I’m describing. But let’s not fixate how well I’m covering you covering him covering the spread. That’s giving Trump exactly what he wants.
Most of you in the media hate this guy to the core. You’re afraid of what he could do in (or on) the White House. You despise what he’s done to the level of discourse in the country and you’re deeply worried about what his support tells us about America. So do your job and hit him where it hurts: Talk about the stuff that really matters if one intends to be president. He can’t win the game when it stops being one. Make it about the office, not about the running. Play the playa. Don’t play his game.