Every time President-Elect Trump bashes the media, his popularity pops upward. Why?
The feeling on the street is that however many lumps President-Elect Donald Trump delivers to the media, just or unjust, they deserve it. The approval rating of the media among americana ordinarius is on a par with that of Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, hovering as I write around 24 percent. Approval ratings may not matter all that much. Both Mr. Trump and his Democratic Presidential opponent, the vanquished Hillary Clinton, were, according to fallible polls, highly unpopular. The polls themselves, this time around, were highly unreliable. In the post-election period, one imagines pollsters lying on psychiatrist couches, the psychiatrists digging deeply into their psyches in an attempt to salvage their sanity.
Is the media inescapably biased?
Possibly. Every writer or commentator brings his portfolio of prejudgments with him as he writes. There is a custom among reporters within the hard copy media to be “fair,” and being fair means providing space within stories for the opposition to stretch its legs. It’s fair to say that an overwhelming number of reporters here in Connecticut are liberal by inclination. Most of them favor progressives. National polls confirm that the left of center media looks favorable on liberals and progressives; conservatives, not so much. But so long as reporters lean heavily on the “fairness” crutch, their biases, they believe, do not prejudice their reporting.
Well then, are they fair?
Sometimes. It really depends on the individual reporter. There are, still among us, reporters who believe it is their mission to follow a story to the gates of Hell if need be, and to take a cue from God himself, who is said to be “no respecter of persons.” But in the news business, it is very easy to surrender to the current and go with the flow, which in a blue state like Connecticut has a leftist undertow. It takes no great moral virtue to swim with the current; that kind of swimming is really a surrender to the force of the status quo. Swimming against the current is always an ordeal, very discomforting. Then too, we often forget that news is a business and as such subject to the most destructive failing in business, which is mistaking the customer pool.
What should be more important to a political commentator: satisfying Senator Gasbag, whose political sentiments as expressed in his ubiquitous press releases reinforce your own, or demonstrating that Gasbag is a hypocrite and a fraud, when fraudulence and hypocrisy become too obvious to ignore? The answer to this question becomes difficult, to use the mildest of terms, when Gasbag is a politician-for-life who represents an unalterable gerrymandered district. Why waste reportorial energy on losers? The matter is made more difficult if Gasbag is a likeable character. One wants to satisfy the familiar hale-fellow-well-met who provides good copy and is on friendly terms with news editors. Close friendships between reporters and politicians have destroyed many a good story. A newspaper’s real customers are those members of the public who need the truth to make responsible political choices, and the mission of a good reporter is to satisfy that need. The mission of a good commentator is to be confoundedly obstreperous. It was Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the coveted prize is named, who said good journalists should have no friends.
In the past, the best commentators have been those who swim against the tide of undigested thought.
To the ambitious politician, Henry Mencken was a barely tolerable nuisance. A reader will search his political columns in vain for instances in which he compliments presidents, though once he came within a hairsbreadth of bestowing a backhanded compliment on Calvin Coolidge, about whom he wrote: “In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a couple of years - this we can only guess, and one man's hazard is as good as another's. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones - that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons... He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored... Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver [Warren Harding] and followed by two more [Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt]. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”
The Trump campaign was decidedly uncomfortable, but while many people disliked the messenger, they thrilled to the message, because it confounded and disappointed those who think it their business to confound and ultimately disappoint what Mencken called the booboisie.
Politicians may profitably take several messages from Trump’s successful campaign. Trump’s depreciation of the media is accidentally correct. We need an analysis more rigorous than that the media is unfair because it has been unfair to Trump. Barnum and Bailey campaigns work. Anxiety plus confidence equals impatience. The American public, often anxious – it’s why they conquered the frontier -- is impatient with politicians who place collegiality above real patriotism. Americans increasingly are growing impatient with fat and well paid public servants who are unable to make proper distinctions between the permanent and temporary in politics. Politicians are, or should be, temporary, while the enduring traditions of the country, always under attack by social anarchists, should be permanent. Many Americans are growing impatient with politicians who aim to regulate everything but politics (cf. U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal). All the chatter about Constitutional prescriptions is centered in the notion that a politics of limits is essential to democracy and republican government. It really is true that anyone can become President.
If Trump is not Mencken’s Coolidge, a tolerable politician, who is he really?
Who knows? It’s not the business of political commentators to go poking about in men’s souls. Trump has billed himself as a scourge of politicians, pretty much the way the progressive harridan from Massachusetts, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, has billed herself as the scourge of Wall Street. We know the anti-establishment establishment went for Trump in a big way, and they were not disappointed by his success. Middle of the road Traditional Republicans wept, and unappeasable Republican hardline rightists shouted from their barricades their usual war woop – not enough.
Who are the members of the anti-establishment establishment?
On the Democratic side of the political barricades, they are those commentators who style themselves progressives or populists; on the Republican side, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and Joe Visconti.
Who, the reader might ask is Joe Visconti? Never heard of him. Visconti was an early Connecticut Trump supporter. He ran for governor in a 2014 Republican primary prior to the re-election of Dannel The Just; that would be Governor Dannel Malloy. If the reader is not one of the emigres who already have pulled up roots in Connecticut and moved to Tennessee – to escape cruel New England winters and tax fleecing progressives -- Visconti is determined to introduce himself. He bills himself as “Trump without the billions” and already has thrown down several gauntlets: “BREAKING NEWS for the CTGOP - After being asked if he would run for Governor in CT again, here is what Joe Visconti had to say: ‘Well one thing I can guarantee is that I will not allow most of the CTGOP field to become governor after they walked away from Trump and destroyed our chances for gaining more wins in CT. Here are the names of those that I will never allow to be governor. Mark Boughton [a Republican, the longest serving Mayor in Danbury’s history] (voted for his dog for president, then tried to walk it back). Themis Klarides [Republican House Minority Leader] who in the end turned on Trump over comments he made after taking schizophrenic positions throughout the year. Tony Wang who's people tried to block me last week putting up Trump signs in Fairfield RTC office (more on this tool later). Toni Boucher who would not endorse Trump. Len Fasano [Republican Senate Minority Leader] who running unopposed would not support Trump, Joe Scarborough who turned into Mr. Never Trump. Heather Somers & Paul Formica, traitors in the flesh. The list goes on. This time these RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] don’t get a pass, I will be the CTGOP nominee [for Governor] if any of these are our choices or I will bury this [Republican] party in CT for a generation.’”
Of course, the above mentioned politicians peremptorily dismissed by Visconti as gubernatorial material have had some success. Connecticut Republicans did win seats in the General Assembly; the Senate is now equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, 18-18, and during the last few elections Republicans gained quite a few House seats, a Sisyphean chore in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two to one margin. It is true there were not many Republican office holders who eagerly embraced Trump immediately after the Republican Party nominating Convention.
Visconti was the exception to the rule. His only public office was on the West Hartford Town Council. Visconti withdrew late in the Republican gubernatorial primary and threw his support to Tom Foley, the Republican Nominating Convention’s choice for Governor. Politics is a reductive process. Visconti’s early support of Trump makes of him a party of one among Republican gubernatorial aspirants. And he cannot be dismissed as easily as he has dismissed other Republicans. Any registered Republican who is able to garner sufficient contributions to enter a Republican primary must be viewed as a serious candidate, because he may throw the election to an opposition Democrat.
The national and state Republican Parties may learn some few things from Trump’s campaign.
Given his background, a rich entrepreneur born to the purple, Trump astoundingly was able to present himself to voters as Everyman. He talked like the corner barber. Establishment politicians were dumb because they had little practical experience in the real world. The domestic policy of Democratic President Barack Obama – about whom the less said the better – was a mess, and his foreign policy was a tar pit. Hillary Clinton was a crook and a fraud. America, socially and economically, had jumped its track and must be righted. Foreign countries had got the edge on us because our politicians were unable confront them forcefully and successfully. The meaning of the United States – all we have been and all we may be – is defined not by utopian aspirations but by our borders, which are routinely violated by illegal aliens. ISIS must be destroyed. The left of center media is unfair and complicit in our undoing. It’s time we were unabashedly patriotic and nationalistic. Just as our borders, which ought to be inviolable, define our land mass, so our republican form of government defines our nation. Nationalism is not international provincialism; it is the form in which our political being and spiritual substance has been set. The nation’s good times lie ahead of us, not behind us. We can no longer afford to speak in tongues. We must throw off political correctness and speak plainly … and so on and on.
This messaging, and the manner in which it was delivered, struck a chord with Middle America, the forgotten Americans, the guys and gals who pays all the bills and who are seldom visited, said the New York Times in a rare post-election confession, by reporters who do not venture out of their cubicles to solicit the thoughts of americana ordinarius. Because Trump’s message was perceived as true, the messenger was perceived as authentic. Americans always have been big on authenticity.
Is Trump authentic or simply a masterful showman? In two years, when all the campaign masks have been discarded, we will know.