Why the media can't stop talking about Trump
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all The Donald coverage, I have some bad news: This could go on for a while
Look around this web site, and you'll see plenty of articles about Donald Trump, the dominant story of this phase of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's not just us, of course — you'll find the same thing on any publication that covers politics and public affairs. Is it too much? Is the media going overboard in their Trump coverage? Is it coming at the expense of something more important? Are we being willingly dragged down by this spectacular clown into a swamp of titillating but trivial coverage that fails the citizenry?
Others may have a different answer, but mine is this: Don't worry, everything will be fine. There's nothing wrong with paying attention to Trump, whether you're the person producing the coverage, or the one imbibing it. And if we take a few steps back, there may even be valuable lessons about how we all take in the political world.
On Wednesday morning, political scientist and Washington Post blogger Dan Drezner tweeted:
I laughed in recognition, then felt a pang of guilt.
There's no denying that the public is fascinated by this story, and it isn't like the media is being dragged there against its will. Trump is definitely entertaining, and not just because he's a skilled entertainer (after all, the guy has spent the last few decades in front of the cameras, and over a decade as host of his own TV show). The ways he leaves reporters agog — and a healthy chunk of the Republican electorate cheering — show us just what we're missing in regular politicians.
Those of us who cover politics are constantly swimming in a sea of contradictions. We seek out "authenticity," then punish politicians when they veer from their scripts and say something that doesn't come out perfectly. We say we're interested in substantive candidates, yet we often treat policy like a 5-year-old treats broccoli — the unappetizing stuff you have to choke down so you're allowed to have the parts of the meal you really want. Trump exposes all that for what it is.
He's completely unscripted — even when he gives a speech, he just talks off the cuff — and the results never fail to appall. He doesn't give a damn about policy — pressed on what he'd replace the Affordable Care Act with, he replied, "something terrific." Unlike Trump, most politicians always knew, or at least suspected, that one day they'd be politicians, which caused them to lead lives filled with caution. You will simply not find an old tape of Marco Rubio on Howard Stern talking about Kim Kardashian's butt.
Trump has also demonstrated the limitations of the contemporary political party, even of the contemporary ideological movement. With a small number of exceptions, there are few powerful conservatives, establishment or otherwise, who don't want to be rid of him. Yet in the face of his particular brand of lunatic charisma, they've turned out to be utterly powerless, at least at this stage of the race.
So yes, we're going to keep covering Trump, but if you care about the state of the news media, you may not need to worry too much about what that coverage is displacing. It's possible that instead of writing a story about Trump today, your average political reporter might do a deep dive into the other candidates' thoughts about health care reform. But more likely, that reporter would be writing something just as trivial about the latest blip in the polls or some behind-the-scenes infighting on a different candidate's campaign. There are many criticisms one can make of political reporting, but its real problems existed before Trump became a candidate, and will continue long after his campaign ends.
Don't forget that no matter how many stories you see about Trump, there's still more reporting and analysis every day about the campaign and its attendant policy issues than any one person could possibly take in. Speaking for myself, I've written plenty about Trump (I hesitate to actually count the articles), but just in the last couple of weeks I've also written about immigration, the economy, climate change, health care, marijuana legalization, campaign finance, and self-driving cars. I'm sure many people who cover politics every day aren't much different.
Still, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the Trump coverage. If that's the case, I have some bad news: This could go on for a while.
Every time he insults some new group of people, observers say that this time, Trump has gone too far. Yet he continues to lead the Republican field. In his own mind, things couldn't be going better. I wouldn't be surprised if he has actually convinced himself he'll be president. As long as he believes that, he'll stay in the race. When you think about how often he uses the word "loser" to describe someone he doesn't like, you know that's the last thing he'll ever want to be. He thinks politicians are idiots, he's a genius, and he'll show 'em all, no matter how long it takes.
So was this entire column just a cheap trick allowing me to write yet more about Trump? I'll let you be the judge of that.