Donald Trump‘s presidential publicity stunt reached its natural and entirely predictable denouement yesterday when, boosted by press coverage generated by yet another pretend flirtation with a political campaign, his reality television show was renewed by a hit-starved NBC.
For a good example of the news media’s maddeningly narcissistic role in our national political life, see Chris Cillizza‘s comment in The Washington Post that “Trump’s Icarus-like rise and fall in the 2012 presidential race is likely to wind up as no more than a footnote in the story of this election. But, that doesn’t mean the Trump saga — and, it was a saga — is without lessons to be learned by the Republican candidates who will run for president in 2012.”
First, “Icarus-like”? No, I don’t think a prideful Trump ignored his father’s wishes and destroyed himself by flying too close to the sun. Trump played a schoolyard bully until President Obama boxed him and mocked him, at which point the thuggish self-promoter withdrew, having met his strategic objective to get his television program renewed. Icarus wished his result was like Trump’s.
Second, “likely to wind up as no more than a footnote”? Why the weasel-word `likely’? The episode was always going to be a footnote, and it is never going to be anything but a footnote. Unless it was left out entirely.
Third, “the Trump saga–and it was a saga”? Not to be pedantic, but in what way does this episode of applied cynicism equate with “a medieval Scandinavian story of battles, customs, and legends, narrated in prose and generally telling the traditional history of an important Norse family” or, more generally, “any long story of adventure or heroic deeds”? Not adventurous, not heroic, not Scandanavian, and not even long. Cillizza might have won style points for using `saga’ as hyperbole, but instead lost them with his dunderheaded insistence on defining this bubble as a saga.
Finally, after three excursions into crap writing, Cillizza finally reaches the point of the sentence, which is that the Trump campaign is not “without lessons to be learned by the Republican candidates who will run for president in 2012. The most important lesson? Confrontation is good. Confrontation works.”
Let us not dignify this banal observation with any adjective even as tepid as “insightful.” Of course, confrontation works, as several thousand years of human history illustrates. Confrontation has worked in every single instant except when it hasn’t. Confrontation worked for Trump in getting him headlines, and it worked for Obama when he first, confronted Trump with his birth certificate, which left Trump revealing a deeper ugliness, boasting like a rooster and issuing more racially-charged demands; second, confronted him with Ali-like jabs at the White House Correspondents Dinner that left Trump bloodied and sniveling; and third, confronted Osama bin Laden with a couple of bullets. How shall we say Trump’s confrontation worked in the aftermath of those events? About as well a gnat’s confrontation with the windshield of an onrushing Buick.
The real lesson here is the narcissism of the news media, which Trump played, at least for a while, with the virtuosity of Itzhak Perlman. The Trump candidacy was a vessel for his own ambition, which the media used as a vessel for its own. It invested the candidacy with meaning so that it could harvest the candidacy of its meaning. Like high priests who discern augers in the entrails of a goat, the media sees meaning in non-events, and then defines itself as the discerners of meaning. Cillizza and others point to Trump’s rise and fall in the polls as proof of his impact, when what this really shows is the limitations of polls, their inherent ephemerality.
I’m so glad that we are past this episode, so the media can begin to explain that the ability of Mitt Romney to raise $10 million is a sign of his power in this system, rather than a sign of the average person’s pathetic weakness.