This Donald J. Trump character has really caused quite a ruckus in the media as of late. I really trust that’s not an understatement.
As Trump’s day-to-day behavior grows more and more erratic and as his policies and beliefs are further and further scrutinized, “ruckus” probably doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s not the most accurate, anyways. No, his presence in the media as of late is better described by a different word: pervasive.
Love him or hate him (and the between option disappears more everyday), Donald Trump has caused a media sensation unlike anything this generation has seen. He is everywhere; his influence seemingly extends to everything and every part of American culture. Really, when you think about it, what forms of media haven’t seen a massive surge in available content?
Satire? It certainly has. The Onion has never seen a target like Trump and his cabinet. It seems they were created for each other, The Onion the perfect artist and Trump the perfect muse. They hardly have to use their imagination anymore.
The real life happenings coming out of politics these days are at times so outlandish that any attempt to satirize them just sounds like an odd recounting of true events. Similarly, “Saturday Night Live” and, ergo, Alec Baldwin, have had an astronomic resurgence thanks to Trump and the antics of one Mr. Sean Spicer. Their ratings are high and their content near limitless.
What about opinion pieces (like this one, in fact)? Editorials? Yes, they too have much to chatter about. Every week there are quite literally hundreds (maybe even thousands) of opinion articles written about, inspired by or in support/disdain of Trump and his colleagues. These come out in publications both national and local. Take a couple minutes to scroll through the first few pages of the Opinion section on the Nexus website. How many stories are about Trump directly, about his policies or his rhetoric? How many are about his cabinet members or supporters in some way? You’re gonna need more than two hands to count.
You have your tweets, obviously, both for and against him. You have your viral Facebook posts from all kinds of liberals and from the perceived nonexistent people like “Women for Trump.” There’s, as always, the clickbait sites where you can see how one person “totally destroyed Trump/Clinton supporters in just one video, and it’s glorious.” You have rappers and hip-hop groups that have jumped fervently on the “FDT” train. You have the memes renaissance. Even the musical Hamilton, so acclaimed as it was, took a couple minutes to call out Vice President Mike Pence during one of its showings. Remember that?
All things considered, the medium most sensitive to Donald Trump’s actions and words is the news. Legitimate news sources and the bloggy “news sources” alike have seen a ridiculous amount of material flying at them each and every day. Just refresh the front page of your preferred journalistic source and you can basically see it update in real time.
Along with all the other Trump-related media mentioned, the press’s constant reporting of all things Donald has led to what we have presently: Trump Content™. The pervasiveness of this Trump Content™ is both the cause and, now, a further consequence of the death battle the news media has found itself locked in with the president.
These are trying times for legitimate news sources, times they’ve been simultaneously waiting for and praying never would come.
A little while ago, Senator John McCain (R – AZ.) was interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd. McCain, the gruff old Republican, revealed that, for him at least, the news media held a sort of contradictory position. He said, “I hate the press. I hate you especially [referring to Todd/NBC]. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press … It’s vital. If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.”
The press has been the literal definition of “adversarial.” Trump, what with his all-caps “Fake News” labels and his comically ominous “the fake news media … is the enemy of the American People” tweet, has firmly established himself on the counter-offensive. These are trying times for legitimate news sources, times they’ve been simultaneously waiting for and praying never would come.
Many bright-eyed journalism students go into investigative reporting to uncover the “truth,” which now, oddly enough, is revealing itself to be more on the subjective side of judgment. The chance to become the next Woodward and Bernstein on any scale is very enticing. However, one never actively wishes for something unfortunate to happen. No young journalist stays up late into the night hoping for some ill fate, born of governmental corruption, to befall the country so that they, the journalist, will have a chance at glory. That’s not the most healthy mentality for anyone, not even the most crazed zealots. In this sense, one can imagine most never hoped for an active brawl with the President of the United States, either. Nevertheless, they were trained for it, and they were ready.
Like with every battle, there will be collateral damage and many civilian casualties. The most alarming potential casualty of the present fight may be the people’s attention spans.
The great flood of Trump Content™ in both the entertainment and news media has opened the doors for a very scary and sobering possibility. It’s a mindset toward the media that can develop on a mass scale, shaped and formed in all of us by the exhausting banality of current political news. It won’t be a McCain-esque “hate” vs. media necessity mindset. It will just be the “meh” of apathy as we struggle to care.
No young journalist stays up late into the night hoping for some ill fate, born of governmental corruption, to befall the country so that they, the journalist, will have a chance at glory.
In other words: Trump Content™ is being shoved down America’s throat so thoroughly that it can become boring. This is an issue.
Trump Content™ is obviously timely and in high demand, but it is also the only subject being discussed in any earnest manner. Pros and amateurs alike are coming out in droves to take a bite at the latest Trump-related incident while it’s still fresh and bleeding, and there are very few unique or original angles left to cover.
It’s like a goddamn feeding frenzy. The administration’s links to Russia? Covered. Trump’s sophomoric rhetoric? New inspiration every day, just check his Twitter. Did Sean Spicer say yet another silly or vaguely Orwellian thing? Get SNL on the line. There is much to discuss, but it’s all the same as what came before, just with a fresh coat of paint or some different quotes. The dead horse is nothing but bones.
But if the news media is to resist and prevent what’s on the horizon — whatever that may be — then they must fight back. They must ride Trump’s ass constantly; they must report every stench of foul play and inconsistency they can sniff out. They must produce, and reproduce, Trump Content™. Unfortunately, to the public, the fight can appear to be (and is, at times) a desperate and uncreative effort, however vital it may be.
When we’re bombarded with “Trump, Trump, Trump” all day everyday, we can grow desensitized. The Onion ran a poignant article at the end of January entitled, “‘Nothing Would Surprise Me At This Point,’ Says Man Who Will Be Shocked By 8 Separate News Items Today.” Yes, it’s satire, but it rings true, as satire always does. When you spend so much time being shocked at the news coming out of D.C., you get to the point where Trump verbally lambasting journalists and making up terrorist attacks in speeches just becomes par for the course.
If the American people begin to see the blatant lies, media attacks and twisted facts as simply “business as usual,” then we’ve approached the slipperiest of slopes. If we collectively, and permanently, click off from Trump Content™ and onto reality shows or some juicy celeb gossip, then there will be real cause for alarm. The media battle will be lost. The media battle will be for naught.
When you spend so much time being shocked at the news coming out of D.C., you get to the point where Trump verbally lambasting journalists and making up terrorist attacks in speeches just becomes par for the course.
The consequences of losing this battle are uncertain and frightening; frightening because they are uncertain. People are a little too quick to place Trump up there with Stalin or Lenin or any other G.O.A.T. haters/suppressors of the media. However, when the head of a government criticizes — and openly derides — the media for doing its job (i.e. being a governmental watchdog), then there are the faintest stirrings of fascist tendencies. There’s no smoking gun yet, but it’s not something to just laugh off, not by any means.
Concerning as all this is, there’s a bright spot that’s come from the Trump vs. news media bout. The good news is that the people, the everyday men and women, the you and me, aren’t refugees of this great war. We’re fighting, too. And we don’t seem to be bored yet.
While the news and entertainment media are off at the frontlines, smaller skirmishes, fought in the dank and dirty trenches of internet comment sections, have broken out. This is nothing new. Web-dwellers have always had opinions, and they’ve always been willing to share them under the guise of anonymity. Political discourse now, however, has spread from the anonymous comment sections and made its way onto social media, where everyone’s identity is transparent.
Again, this is nothing new. Usually, the sharing of divisive political opinions and caustic remarks is reserved for older people who are new to Facebook, like your uncle or maybe your ex-Luddite grandmother. Either them, or your high school acquaintance who “doesn’t give a fuck” and “tells it like it is.” The strange thing now is that everyone has joined in on the sharing, and regardless of if they’re mean-spirited or not, political opinions are no longer a thing to be hidden.
Politics now, it seems, is only a taboo subject if you don’t have an opinion. And though Trump Content™ is pervasive, though it’s redundant, though it’s so boring, it allows this new generation of debaters, if they’re willing, to be informed and educated about the latest issues at all times. It allows for the formation of strong opinions on all things politics. People, college-aged people especially, are much more willing to argue openly (in both civil and inflammatory fashions). They’re much more willing to be vocal and public with their opinions, as evidenced by all the post-inauguration demonstrations and “March(es) for/against …”
Though oftentimes nasty, these political fights and disagreements are beautiful — much in the way one imagines gladiatorial combat was beautiful.
Those who have usually found themselves silenced, or those who usually found it unnecessary to speak up in the past, now feel an obligation to join the fight, to educate or discuss. The election of Donald Trump has permeated every fabric of American society, and many feel personally affected in some way. Some were overjoyed, some were ambivalent, but citizens in both categories have found many reasons to speak out and many outlets through which to do so.
Though oftentimes nasty, these political fights and disagreements are beautiful — much in the way one imagines gladiatorial combat was beautiful. Regardless of which side you’re on, you have to appreciate the courage — even if it’s a shameless type of courage — of all those who cast their opinions out there with their name attached. When you see Republicans and Democrats, Alt-Righters and Socialists and Independents drawing blood with bared teeth and harsh words, you have to appreciate the savage beauty present in their use of First Amendment rights. It’s crass, brutish and wholly patriotic.
As the ideological divide of the nation widens, better a verbal civil war than the alternative. Better inane political arguments than no political arguments at all. If you are one of those who has grown bored of Trump Content™, perhaps reconsider. If that’s too much to ask, at least realize the implications of your self-censorship. Like John McCain, realize that the press holds great importance regardless of your opinion of it.
Zach Morgan fears for the day Trump Content™ ceases. When people stop yelling at eachother, then we’ve either reached harmony, which is unlikely even in the best of times, or we’ve finally gone past the tipping point and into the abyss.