Donald Trump now has a better-than-50 percent chance of being the Republican nominee for president. And if either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz doesn’t drop out soon, it will be closer to 100 percent. Trump has won two of the three primary contests and probably would have won Iowa, too, if Ted Cruz hadn’t convinced some caucus-goers that Ben Carson quit the race early to go home and get some pants.
Despite thousands of hours of media coverage, we just learned last week that — after accusing George W. Bush of lying us into Iraq — Trump has been lying about his own stance on the war. And we only learned that because of Buzzfeed. Trump has run a nearly fact-free campaign full of demagoguery, scapegoating and unqualified bullshit.
But when it comes to a tendency toward fascist thought (think mass deportations and a travel ban that would extend to 1.6 billion people), coupled with a fragile ego, fear of humiliation, and near-bloodlust for revenge, Trump is the scariest potential major party nominee in modern American history. Maybe there’s just too much garbage to sort — but this problem didn’t start last year.
Much as the Republican Party invited this disaster by indulging Trump’s birtherism in 2011-2012, the media abdicated their own journalistic responsibility by overexposing Trump without attempting to hold him accountable — a lunge for ratings on par with the role they played leading up to the Iraq War.
Here are five ways the press gave us Donald Trump.
- Presenting “both sides,” even if one stands opposite the facts.
In place of the truth, the press often affects a sense of balance. Why else are conspiratorial climate-deniers booked as talk show guests opposite the scientific experts who represent the near-consensus of their academic fields? During this campaign, the media has attempted to equate Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s campaigns in order to further the narrative that both parties are sides of a coin. As if doing something to fight climate change and actively trying to make it worse — begging droughts, floods, and chaos — are two equally acceptable opinions. Sanders’s campaign is built on a health care promise that has been adopted by every advanced country on earth, and a promise of subsidized higher education that used to be the norm in much of the United States. The anger Sanders is harnessing is directed at a conservative culture that responded to the Great Recession with Citizens United, as if America’s biggest problem was that corporations didn’t yet have enough power. Trump is harnessing anger against immigrants when undocumented immigration is at a decades low. He’s fear-mongering against Muslims even though American Muslims have played a huge role in preventing terrorism since 9/11; even though more people in the United States will die this week from guns than have died from terrorist attacks since 9/11. Trump’s decades long media saturation gives his radical race-baiting a backdrop of normalcy — of convention. And the press’ need to affect balance leaves them incapable of explaining how dangerous he truly is. They simply cannot bear to say that there’s no analogy to Donald Trump on the left and no example of this sort of hate creeping into the mainstream since the height of George Wallace’s campaign against integration.
- Completely ignoring the Republicans’ demolition of political norms.
In 2009, Republicans handed President Obama an economy engulfed in flames, and then blasted him for the deficit created by Bush-era policies. When a billionaire-backed Tea Party arose “spontaneously,” the press told us it was “non-partisan” and focused only on fiscal issues. When the GOP-controlled House refused to service our debt, causing a global financial panic, the press painted this as politics as usual, a problem Obama needed to fix. Today, the press is letting Republicans deny a president with more than 300 days left in office his choice of a Supreme Court nominee. In a world without accountability, everything is permitted.
- Indulging Trump’s whims with almost no accountability.
Last Wednesday night, MSNBC — America’s “liberal” news channel — devoted a whole hour to a “town hall” with Donald Trump, something it has offered to no other single candidate. “Wednesday night, there was no mention of his racist comments toward Mexicans; his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin; or his stigmatization of Muslims,” Slate‘s Isaac Chotiner wrote. “He wasn’t pressed hard for any policy details, nor challenged about his well-catalogued dislike of the truth.” Instead, it was pure infomercial: Trump was treated like a Morning Joe cast member being honored for his place in the celebrity-political culture the show exists to venerate.
- Passing on nearly all coverage of his policies or past.
Most of the coverage of Trump’s policy proposals is really just the press’ celebrating the notion that people don’t care about the details of his policies. They — much like Trump’s declarations of his net worth — make almost no sense. The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus actually did a bit of digging and found Trump’s platform “utterly ridiculous“: President Trump would, apparently, reduce the debt without cutting Medicare or Social Security, while offering trillions in tax breaks that go mostly to the rich and which would require eliminating the entire military several times over to balance the budget. It’s the height of insanity and instead, the media is off repeating whatever racist nonsense Trump’s managed, without much effort, to distract them with. And forget substantial questions about his past, or about the horrendously expensive-yet-useless wall he wants Mexico to pay for.
- Tolerating his racism without inflicting any cost to his campaign.
As Marco Rubio becomes more competitive, Trump is beginning to hint that he will go “birther” on the senator — who was born in Miami. Trump’s evidence that Rubio isn’t a “natural born citizen” is a substantive as his evidence that Barack Obama wasn’t — skin color. Today, Trump won’t even comment on the Obama birtherism that made him a conservative star. And instead of pointing out the obvious racism in his attack — and his many others, including the hideous slander of the so-called “Central Park 5” and his scapegoating of Mexican immigrants — the press is treating it like any other political argument. Because their only fear is that he won’t give them another interview.
Photo: Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Sumter Civic Center in Sumter, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill