What were you doing the day Donald Trump announced he was running for the presidency of the United States? What went through your mind? How were you feeling?
Thinking back, I didn’t snicker. I wasn’t in a snickering mood. I took a deep breath, inhaled, sighed. I thought to myself: this is what they wanted (“they” being establishment conservative media), even if now they’re saying otherwise.
But I can understand if your first reaction was to chuckle or guffaw. I one hundred percent get it. Most people didn’t take it seriously. Back in 2012, Trump flirted with the idea of running, tapping into the anti-Obama birther-conspiracy as fuel. In the end, he opted out.
Three years later, he made his way back to the drawing board. This time, opting out was out of the question. Bored with his billions, he wanted a challenge. The “big bucks tycoon” went full throttle into his new “business investment.” He hired actors for his candidacy announcement event to play up his popularity with the masses. He spent a portion of his announcement speech bragging about being one of the billionaires deservedly loathed by another potential candidate and insisted that his position as a master of the universe makes him presidential material. He accused America of growing soft and falling prey to weak leaders — two ailments that, in his opinion, had sunk the country into an economic coma. Pretty standard conservative fare, so far.
He amped up his insults masquerading as analysis, taking the moment to abuse Mexican immigrants. Echoing Ted Cruz, he promised to build a wall at the Mexico/U.S. border to keep out “rapists.” He vowed to ban Muslims from entering the United States. In standard Jim Crow fashion, he pinned the so-called U.S. crime problem on Hispanics and Blacks, attributing the escalation to poor work ethics. Old guard Republicans went on alert because, for the first time in a long time, one of their own was airing the unedited, uncensored script of their beliefs.
Establishment Republicans apeshit, saying Donald Trump does not reflect Republican values. But after the last of the dying breed that were Trump’s opponents dropped out of the primary last week, the “independent” but right-leaning presidential candidate found himself a lone traveler on the road toward the general election this fall.
Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. The Republican base put him there. That doesn’t square, or, for that matter, circle, with what leaders are saying about the rift between Trump and the GOP. Questions like, ‘what does the first 100 days of a President-elect Trump administration look like?’ which would’ve sounded satirical a year ago, are now serious fare. One cannot help but wonder: how the hell did this happen?
Let me suggest that Donald Trump’s presidential prospects didn’t so much morph into something unrecognizable mid-race as it did sneak up, sucker-punch style, on everyone. There’s a meme floating around that reads, if I may paraphrase, “Not all Republicans voting for Donald Trump are racists and white supremacists. But every racist is voting for Donald Trump.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. I’ve briefly explored why in a previous article.
There, I argued that racism and an anemic economy are helping Donald Trump win the heart and soul of Republican white base, that with a rising focus on Black lives a white backlash was inevitable and that white conservative voters see in Trump the return of “white protectionism.”
Viewed from that perspective, the rise of Donald Trump is not an accident. It’s not a flux. It is a byproduct of the times and the resurgence of the Black freedom struggle.
But racism and white supremacy alone are insufficient. There’s another component to the Trump phenomenon: our media’s obsession with the outrageous, particularly when the outrageous tilts towards the repressive, perverted and irrational.
There’s nothing more repressive, perverted or irrational than racism and white supremacy.
Arguably the single greatest asset at Trump’s disposal in this contest, aside from his vast wealth, has been the media. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman recently made a good point about this. But, to really get the idea, I would urge you to watch this breakdown here, and another here, of Rachel Maddow discussing the media’s love affair with Donald Trump. I’m not an MSNBC fan, but when Maddow says that Republicans and FOX News “made this monster,” she is spot on:
“When Donald Trump wanted to become a real candidate and note a celebrity; when he wanted to start being treated like a candidate, FoxNews did that for him. They created this thing.”
The reason behind this, Maddow went on to say, is that FoxNews prioritized ratings over substance. She’s right. But it wasn’t just FoxNews.
MSNBC had a hand in this as well — remember, I said I’m not a fan. I’m thinking specifically of Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, who are not only besties with Trump, but defend him against attacks that only, or mostly, racists support him.
Media outlets such as these hung on to almost every ugly word Donald Trump uttered. And while everyone clamored for soundbites from Trump, progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders were notoriously ignored.
None of this is to suggest that the mismanagement of establishment Republicans or media are solely responsible for putting Trump on the political map.
Still, it cannot be denied that racism sells (and the country’s unwillingness to root it out sells). It’s able to do so because political journalism continues to be disciplined by Pulitzer’s counsel: that the media’s responsibility is to report on “men biting dogs” not “dogs biting men.”
Racism is the man biting the dog. So, too, xenophobia. So, too, nativism and fascism. So, too, class oppression.
At this crucial juncture in American politics, when reason and sanity have gone out the door, when every piece of the social fabric seems up for grabs, a man-biting-dog approach to journalism, rather than providing us with credible information, has bitten us in the ass.