Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Out of nowhere yesterday, President Trump entertained the possibility on Twitter that he might get to run against Hillary Clinton again in 2020. He brought up the subject a second time in a news conference yesterday afternoon.

As The Washington Post's Michael Sherer notes, Trump's M.O. as president is to conjure up enemies, just to rally the base. To Sherer, this is like entertainment television:
Most days bring another round, often at dawn, like plot points in a 24-7 miniseries.

... when the president is on track — he calls Twitter “my voice”-- he can script his presidency like a professional wrestling match, where the heel, or bad guy, is the one who makes the face, or good guy, shine in the ring.
Sherer doesn't use the phrase "reality TV," but that's another favorite pundit metaphor for how Trump runs his presidency.

All of these are reasonable analogies -- but most pundits miss the obvious one: the conservative media, particularly Fox News. Fox programming isn't really news, of course -- it's a 24/7 roundup of liberal/culturally "elitist"/Democratic (and occasionally RINO Republican) villains, contrasted with conservative heroes. Consider Scherer's round-up of Trump's recent feuds:
In just the past few weeks, Trump has started, without any clear provocation, fights with football players who kneel during the national anthem, departments stores that declare “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and late-night television hosts for their “unfunny and repetitive material.”

Then there are the individual targets: Clinton, of course, but also “Liddle” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” Kim Jong Un, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and a shifting array of reporters, newspapers and networks he labels as the “fake news.”
Just one enemy after another. Now here's part of the front page of Fox News Insider this morning:

Fox staffers scour the earth day after day, looking for enemies to denounce. That's the central feature of Fox programming. It's why Fox fans, including Trump, love to watch.

It's true that, as Scherer notes, Trump singled out enemies long before he was president:
It’s a tactic he has employed for years — defining himself against a negative space, as a tough truth teller who opposes others. In 1990, he condemned his New York real estate rival, Leona Helmsley, as a “truly evil human being,” and decades later he spent years nursing a viciously personal feud with Rosie O’Donnell, a daytime television host, largely through social media.
But Fox has taught him to juggle multiple enemies at once, to maintain a rotation of go-to enemies, and to continually add new ones. This tactic has helped Fox keep its viewer base after the loss of Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, and Megyn Kelly. It's helped Trump keep his base despite his failures as a president.

Trump would make and taunt enemies if Fox had never existed. But he probably wouldn't sustain as many feuds at once.

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