Pundits in the mainstream American media are driving themselves crazy.
Their coverage of President Trump has been at a fever pitch for the past year and a half, but somehow it feels as though the pitch is constantly rising. Each time we turn on the news, we hear that the Trump administration has said or done something that spells the imminent collapse of his presidency, the country as we know it, or even the world. But in case it doesn’t, they have at least five other stories in the pipeline of things they hope might.
And as each supposed crisis dissipates, pundits quietly shelve it and turn their attention to the emerging stories without ever acknowledging that they might have overreacted to the previous one. Much like the auditory illusion of the Shepard Tone, where a looped piece of audio gives the impression of a never-ending glissando, the media loops the same outrage over and again giving the impression of a constantly increasing state of crisis. If Chris Cuomo, Rachel Maddow, and Joe Scarborough believe a third of the invectives and warnings they spit daily, it’s hard to see how they haven’t had a dozen nervous breakdowns yet.
Of course, none of the scandals and outrages that have dominated the news since the beginning of this presidency have really amounted to much. Remember when President Trump’s tweets about Kim Jong-un were going to start a nuclear war? Or when his castigation of the media signaled his impending Hitlerian censorship, prosecution, and perhaps assassination of journalists? Or how a supposed in-kind donation of $130,000 would force Trump to resign, even though Obama survived failing to report nearly $1.8 million in last minute contributions during the 2008 election?
More recently, we’ve heard that his tweet (innocuously reminding us of an imminent economic report) would destabilize the world economy, that his lawyers’ hypothetical speculation over Article II powers spelled a constitutional crisis (never mind the denial that Trump would ever use said powers and the reminder that impeachment was a valid check of the pardon power), and that his disinvitation of the Philadelphia Eagles was a divisive and dangerous politicization of the NFL (with no acknowledgement that the NFL had already politicized itself).
Six months ago, Keith Olbermann retired his political commentary, confident that Trump would be forced out of office within thirteen months by his own party. The Blue Wave™ seemed inevitable and the only question was whether Democrats would pick up enough seats for a successful effort to impeach Trump.
But Trump doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; he is instead uniting the Republicans behind him. Polls suggest that Democrats have lost any advantage they once had and that Republicans might even have a slight edge. It’s not hard to see why. The New York Times recently admitted that they “ran out of words” to describe how good the recent jobs numbers were. Trump’s gambit with North Korea seems close to paying off, paving the way for a historic deal. Oh, and contrary to hysterical warnings from the Left, he has not yet killed eight million Jews, locked up dissenting journalists, started World War Three, declared himself leader for life, or arranged the public execution of Rosie O’Donnell. And all the while, Trump’s approval rating continues to tick upwards, slowly but surely.
It can be instructive to go through the archives and see some of the op-eds written during Reagan’s first term by the pearl-clutchers of that era. We would do well to remember that Reagan’s approval briefly dipped into the mid 30s in his first term before his landslide reelection.
It took a little while for the American people to realize what he was doing, but once they did, they liked what they saw. Given the other ways that Trump has conscientiously modeled himself after Reagan, it’s plausible (if not likely) that his presidency will have a similar trajectory.
Many people have forgotten or actively ignore the way Reagan was treated in his 1980 campaign and during his first term. It’s relatively easy to do so. But given the depth, permanence, and searchability of today’s political commentary and news coverage, it’s hard to see how the mainstream media would recover from a Republican victory in the 2018 midterms or Reaganesque landslide in 2020. They already have a number of strikes against their credibility from the 2016 election. What happens if they continue to be repudiated by the American people?
The mainstream American media is in great danger—not from anything that President Trump has said or done over the past year and a half, but rather from the way that they have acted over the past few decades.
Perhaps come November, Maureen Dowd’s op-ed from August 2016, describing an institutionalized and delusional Donald Trump, may be more aptly applied to her colleagues in the media.
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