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Monday, September 19, 2016


They love him because he's a jerk

by Tom Sullivan

This tweet by David Atkins is a blunt lead-in to Matt Taibbi's column about the left's complaints of "false balance" in the press:

Ahead of the February 20 Republican primary in South Carolina, John Baldwin, a Greenville used-car dealer supporting Trump, told reporters “We’re voting with our middle finger.” They know Trump's a jerk. Being jerks is the point. They're acting out "Banks of the Ohio" with the country.

Taibbi points out at Rolling Stone how "laughably snobbish" it is that liberals who somehow have divined the truth in spite of the press complain that "other, lesser humans, with weaker minds" have not. It is somehow the fault of the press that they haven't. Secondly, he writes, we live in a dumbed-down, clickbait culture accustomed to reality TV, where voters are more inclined to watch instant video of Hillary Clinton stumbling into a van than read position papers:
No doubt about it, the country is in a brutal spot right now. We are less than two months from the possibility of one of the dumbest people on the planet winning the White House. And it seems that all anyone's talked about this week, whether around the water cooler or on TV news, Twitter or Facebook, is the lung capacity of Hillary Clinton.

That sucks. But it's not all the media's fault. This is classic horse-race stuff, and if you're getting it, it's at least in part because you spent decades asking for it.
Thus has the presidential campaign devolved into infotainment.
Anyone who tries to argue that there's insufficiently vast documentation of Trump's insanity is either being willfully obtuse or not paying real attention to the news. Just follow this latest birther faceplant. The outrage is all out there, in huge quantities. It's just not having the predicted effect.
That's right on point. What the left is really angry about is not that the media is failing to expose the outrages of the man-child Trump. It is that his coverage is not having the desired effect on voters. But Trump supporters like John Baldwin know who Trump is and they don't care. They are not rejecting Trump for being a self-aggrandizing asshole. They embrace him because of it. What frustrates the left is what Atkins tweeted above. Yet the left demands the press to do more of the same reporting to expose Trump, hoping for different results. And that is?

Taibbi writes that the false balance debate comes down to this:
The essence of that debate is whether or not it's appropriate to write negative things about Hillary Clinton when there's a possibility that Donald Trump might become president. Or, rather, we may say negative things about Clinton, but only if we always drape reporting in plenty of context about the worse-ness of Trump, or something.
But there are more layers to this onion. My recent posts here argued that the reason it seems the press spends more time on negative coverage of Hillary Clinton is that, one) with her long history she is easier to write substantive posts about (she makes a "good villain"); and two) Trump offers few details about his business dealings (to which few of his supporters would pay attention anyway). But Trump is an endless supply of clickbait and self-promotion people cannot resist, not even the press. The cultural environment Taibbi describes makes it easy for Trump to rickroll the press over and over.

Proving he is the kind of jerk who can put things over on people and get away with it is not a negative for his base. It is just the sort of thing Trump supporters love about him. Last week, Lawrence O'Donnell condemned what he said was Trump's personal philosophy, revealed in comments to the NY Economic Club regarding China violating trade laws:
"Who can blame them and I don't blame them at all. If you can get away with it, they're going to get away with it."
In the world of authoritarian followers, it is the alpha dog's right to get away with whatever he can. And getting way with things, O'Donnell said, is how Trump lives his life, whether it's cheating on subcontractors, lenders, or wives. Trump's followers know this and approve. Being a jerk makes him a fit authoritarian leader. Catholic nuns taught O'Donnell otherwise. "The true test of character," he said, "is what you choose to do if you can get away with it." But that's only meaningful if you have any character to begin with.