But here’s the thing: Other presidents have had book-length gossip columns written about them. They mattered very little because they weren’t about gossip column presidents.
Indeed, Pres. Trump spent decade after decade obsessively courting coverage from the tabloid media. Now, having succeeded in receiving a large, concentrated dose, he of course threatened to sue, thereby ensuring the book will be a mega-hit and displaying the sort of political judgment and temperament Wolff apparently describes in the book.
Of course, the criticism from the right has extended not merely to the book itself, but to those establishment journalists who are treating it as “fake, but accurate.” I agree with the critics. I also note that most of those critics have spent serious time arguing that we must not take Trump — arguably the most powerful man in the world — literally either.
We are ultimately discussing a question of standards, or double-standards. I wrote about this last May, in comparing Trump to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight:
“[W]hat if Trump was the Batman? What if Trump is the escalation? What if the Left, despite all of its long-term successes, sees the Democratic Party at its lowest ebb in a century, with the Electoral College delivering the crown jewel into the hands of no less than Donald J. Trump?
In reality, the history before the start of a particular episode is much more complex. Trump is not the first escalation. Progressives, for better and worse, aren’t into norms. But it often seems as though Trump’s fans and defenders do not want to acknowledge that he was in fact an escalation.
Indeed, Trump’s supporters often want to have their cake and eat it too. They back(ed) a man whose political point of entry was Birtherism, who condoned or encouraged violence at his rallies, and accused a rival’s father was involved in the JFK assassination, to name but a few items on his resume.
Moreover, his biggest fans did hail him as a wrecking ball to be swung against the corrupt elites of the coastal corridors. And one of the primary sources of his appeal was his unfiltered rhetoric; his fans and his votes [sic] particularly valued that “he FIGHTS!”
Trump’s supporters nominated and elected a #WAR politician. Did they really not anticipate that the swamp, the elites, would not similarly decide to escalate, would not go to war? Because one of Nolan’s lessons is that, as small-l liberal institutions sink into decline, escalation is met with escalation.
It also seems as if Trump’s supporters have failed to realize that, by riding a man who gleefully tramples norms and has little appreciation for institutions into the White House, they have largely forfeited any moral authority they may have had to demand that institutions like the bureaucracies and the establishment media play by the rules.
That forfeiture doesn’t mean that the Left’s reaction to Trump is morally just, legal, or even effective. It just means that the abandonment of norms and institutional restraints by the GOP in embracing Trump will cause people to take the more high-minded attacks on Trump’s enemies less seriously.”
One of the main forms the current escalation takes is the erosion of journalistic standards and the vanishing line between traditional reporting and partisan entertainment.
Am I concerned about that erosion? Sure. I wrote about it during the 2016 campaign. I also noted that Roger Ailes and Fox News Channel pioneered putting talk radio on TV as a simulacrum of the news. Most on the Right didn’t care about that; most still don’t care about how, for example, Sean Hannity presents himself. They will defend FNC largely by pointing to Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and the like, pretending that the defense is not a version of “clown nose on, clown nose off.” They care a great deal more when it’s CNN behaving that way. Funny, that.
Am I concerned that blurring of politics and entertainment also runs in the other direction? Do I think it’s ridiculous that anyone would consider a late-night comedian like Jimmy Kimmel to be the political conscience of the nation? Sure. I’ve written about it. And I agree that Kimmel has no clue what he’s talking about, and that he’s mostly about attracting an audience.
Of course, Trump won the GOP nomination by playing the insult comic, conspiracy theorist and general policy ignoramus, buoyed on a wave of excess media coverage. What was (or is) a Trump rally if not the funhouse mirror of a second-rate comedian getting cheap clapter from his or her adoring fans? “…and Mexico will pay for it!” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
If you believe the behavior of the media and Hollywood is How You Got Trump, I don’t know how you dismiss the idea that the behavior of Trump and his supporters are How You Got the Media and Hollywood, other than by descending into the “they started it!” claim made by unruly toddlers in the back seats of cars..
Those who wanted to “burn it down” in 2016 won. But they’re now upset that it wasn’t a controlled burn. They all lived with the fantasy that Trump could trample norms and his opponents wouldn’t. It hasn’t turned out that way.
Wolff’s book arrives at an inconvenient time for Trump and his supporters. The media, esp. many in the non-Left media, were touting the administration’s policy successes (and exaggerating them to some degree). Most of those columns ignored or glossed over Trump’s performance as head of state.
You can see a version of this in yesterday’s David Brooks column about Wolff’s book, which urges us to imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. But he does. Trump is the guy who screws up his own administration’s Mideast diplomacy on Twitter. And the guy who helps fuel special counsel investigations of his campaign associates on Twitter. And the guy who undermines his own cabinet on Twitter. And the guy who scares the bejeezus out of parents nationwide by claiming on Twitter that his “nuclear button” is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s.
And that’s just on Twitter. Offsite, he’s the guy who helped derail the GOP healthcare bill by calling it mean, and by having his flunkies threaten Senators who had less to lose than he did. He’s also the guy who almost blew up the tax reform bill by demanding an 18% corporate rate. And he’s the guy who chose to cozy up to the alt-right after a racially-charged political melee left a young woman dead in Charlottesville. And he’s the guy who frequently seems to not be on the same page as the rest of his administration, creating destabilizing uncertainties at home and abroad.
Trump’s supporters would like to pretend his behavior shouldn’t matter, even as his record-low approval ratings help threaten the GOP’s House majority in this year’s midterm elections. This despite a humming economy and no immediate foreign policy crisis. But “imagine if Trump didn’t tweet” is just a different flavor of truthiness than Wolff is offering the Left.
This is a land of Wolffs now.
[Note: Other business may interfere with posting in the immediate future. We’ll see how it goes.]
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