Monday, December 12, 2016

Trump's the Media's Gift that Keeps Giving

Look who was photographed in the lobby of Trump Tower!  Back in 1988, though...

Be thankful for small mercies.

Ever since he won the presidency, Donald Trump has managed to refrain from mocking the handicapped.  He hasn't taunted Carly Fioria's looks in quite a while, and he's even considering her for a post in his new cabinet.

He's also invited other former opponents from his presidential race to his transition headquarters in New York for cabinet interviews, staging a sort of letting-bygones-be-bygones theater in the lobby of Trump Tower that likely is calculated to convey an impression that he didn't intend for people to take personally all that awful stuff he said about them during the campaign.

Trump is still childishly venting through social media, using his Twitter account as his personal press secretary, but the only people who haven't gotten used to that yet are the talking heads in the mainstream media.

Indeed, the mainstream media seems incapable of understanding what has just happened.  They've asked Trump supporters why they voted for him, and Trump himself has told the media how he intends to run the presidency.  Yet all the Ivy League journalists and the "bubbleheaded bleached blondes," to borrow from Don Henley, can't process the paradigm shift unfolding before them.

Trump told his supporters he would be unconventional.  His supporters voted for him mostly because they wanted an unconventional president.  Trump ran his campaign in an often frightfully unconventional manner.  And now his transition period seems to still be confounding the media.  They just don't get it.

No matter what you think about Trump, you have to agree that he's not a politician.  Yes, he's emotionally immature, and profoundly narcissistic, but those aren't just qualities of many politicians.  Trump isn't even an expert business leader; he's mostly just a glorified real estate developer who knows how to market what he's built.  If he's an expert an anything, it's self-promotion.  He's gotten away with it all his life - a very gilded life, by the way - and until the media finally catches on, he's going to keep exploiting any avenue of self-promotion he can find.

Indeed, the mainstream media gave Trump his win.  Mainstreamers devoted far more column inches, headlines, and tweets to Trump than he deserved, simply because anything Trump-related was calculated to draw lots of click-throughs.  Trump was the ultimate political click-bait for the mainstream media, and they didn't realize it until (for them) it was too late... if they've realized it yet.  Doesn't it seem as though everything Trump says and does even after the election is designed to rub mainstreamers the wrong way, and elicit yet another headline?

The media doesn't like Trump talking with Taiwan.  They don't like his sloppy embrace of Vladimir Putin.  They don't like Trump only getting his security briefings once a week, instead of once a day.  They don't like Trump's dismissive attitude about the CIA's report on Russia's possible meddling in the election.  And they definitely don't like most of the folks Trump has invited to his signature tower in Midtown Manhattan for private meetings.

Meanwhile, isn't it obvious that Trump is playing the mainstream media for all it's worth?  The gaudy, marble lobby at Trump Tower is officially a public space, a concession he made to the City of New York when he was building the tower, and wanting to add twenty more stories than current zoning allowed.  So Trump got his twenty additional floors, the city got a public park inside a prominent Fifth Avenue building, and now Trump can parade whomever he wants in front of the mainstream media's television cameras - and a new webcam from C-SPAN - to generate as much attention as possible!

One wonders how much higher Trump is going to jack the rents at Trump Tower, now that it's the most photographed building in Midtown.  With all of the reporters and photographers camped out in its lobby, Trump Tower's elevator banks have suddenly become a distinctly recognizable background for a who's who in our new era of political intrigue.  It's almost as though Trump is inviting anybody and anybody to simply waltz through just to get the reporters chattering and buzzing.

After all, no matter who they're talking about having seen in Trump Tower, the media is talking primarily about Trump, and that's just the way he wants it.  From his campaign we learned that he apparently doesn't believe there's any such thing as bad publicity.  All publicity is good publicity to Trump.  That's one of the things that's so vexing about him, especially since his appetite for publicity seems insatiable.

Trump also knows that dropping some of the most controversial names he can find into his cabinet mix generates plenty of headlines that keep people talking about him and his unorthodox style.  Part of this scenario is due to the reality that many competent yet less controversial candidates for his cabinet simply refuse to work for somebody like Trump, which makes for a severely limited pool from which he can choose.  Yet it's easy to suspect that much of Trump's motivation in entertaining such PR lighting rods as Rex Tillerson, John Bolton, James Mattis, and Rudy Giulianni involves not so much the individual qualifications of these people, but each of these people's ability to generate attention for Trump himself - as long as they don't overshadow him.

Just as Trump can't resist self-aggrandizing, the mainstream media can't resist reporting on him as he does it.  It's as if the media elites still expect - for whatever reason - that at some point, Trump is going to click into a conventional presidential mindset, and begin acting "presidential" (whatever that means anymore) so they can calculate his every move based on textbook politics.

But Trump has never given the media elites any reason to expect that he will ever do such a thing.  Trump waged his campaign completely unconventionally, he won in a flat-out surprise, and he's preparing to enter the White House with the same unpredictability.  Politics involves give-and-take, and Trump has never given any of us any reason to expect him to give anything.  He doesn't give anybody else the benefit of the doubt.  He doesn't give apologies, or concessions, or deference.  He gives compliments, but only as long as what he's complimenting are things that fit into his very narrow definition of success - and are therefore things that affirm his own myopic worldview.

To a certain extent, it's not a very big leap from Trump's myopia to the self-centeredness of the conventional Washington politician.  So in a way, the mainstream media can be excused for expecting Trump to somehow morph into the type of operative they're more comfortable seeing within the Beltway.  But Trump won based in large part on his outsider status, and even though he appears to be populating his cabinet with insiders, even these insiders are just enough outside to be as rogue as Trump.

The media wants to interpret Trump's moves according to their pre-planned playbooks by which most other political operatives operate.  They're trying to anticipate the calculations they envision Trump is making, because in the political world, two-plus-two should always equal five.  But in Trump's mind, two-plus-two equals something else, and it's not four, or five.  And that's driving the mainstream media crazy.

Not only do they not like Trump, or his cabinet picks, or his views about Russia and China - they don't like the way Trump is careening through this political process without giving them any clues as to his methodologies.  It's also easy to suspect the mainstream media is feeling a new sense of powerlessness, since they can't analyze what he might do next.  Some media elite may also personally revile Trump for exposing our current president, Barak Obama, to some uncomfortable diplomatic scenarios, since Trump can act like a bull in a China shop (pun intended) while somebody else is still around to pick up the pieces.

It will be interesting to see how cavalierly Trump will act on his first full day behind the presidential desk - and the presidential red phone.  We may have to suffer through a couple of his rookie mistakes as a nation before Trump finally gets slapped in the face with the profundity of the role he's just inherited.  And hopefully it will only be a couple of minor flubs, and hopefully Trump will learn quickly about his limitations.

Nevertheless, it seems as though the mainstream media is willing him to fail.  It's almost as if they're reporting on his every move and tweet in the hopes that so many people will so utterly distrust and disdain him that his first day in office will be utterly horrible.  Since Trump is flouting the prescriptives deemed by the mainstream media as proper political protocol, the media would rather gloat over his many inadequacies than consider the possibility that Washington really is broken.  And that some eggs may also get broken turning Washington into a more functional omelette.

No, Trump is not the best person to penetrate the Beltway and perform major surgery on Washington.  And no, Trump is not the most moral, beneficent, charitable, and gracious person to represent the United States on the international stage.  But if anything, the mainstream media should still be very thankful for him.

After all, he's giving them a lot of stuff for them to excitedly report. 

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