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Friday, March 03, 2017


Bested by the lizard brain

by Tom Sullivan

Media bashing over the gushing that occurred during and after President Trump's speech to a joint session of congress on Tuesday has been good sport all week. Stories declaring Stephen Bannon Trump's Rasputin pop up like weeds too. The problem with all the stories is they convey an underlying sense of grand strategy at work in the Trump White House. Okay, Bannon may have one, but Trump?

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters writes that the fawning praise for the Trump speech as at-long-last presidential shows how Trump has bested the media. Will Oremus wrote at Slate"[I]t’s in their nature, and the nature of the form, to get caught up in the moment -- and to elevate perception over reality.” Boehlert responds:

But I think there’s more to it than that. You have to take into account Trump’s ongoing war on the press and his daily denunciations of journalism to understand the media’s submissive behavior.

Observe what was noticeably absent from Trump’s speech to Congress. “He avoided any criticism of the media, a hobby horse he has ridden hard over his first weeks in office,” Politico pointed out.

Indeed, Trump’s defining criticism was quietly set aside for the night. The result? The press corps that Trump claims to hate so much rallied to his cause and elevated him to new heights.

Mission accomplished.

We’re seeing something akin to a Stockholm syndrome situation unfold: Trump doesn’t viciously attack the press in public, so the press sings his praises.

Recall the warning from Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page director for The Wall Street Journal, in the wake of the “gaggle” banning last week: “This is an attempt to bully the press by using access as a weapon to manipulate coverage.”

Guess what? The bullying worked.
It's bullying, sure. But what's bothersome about many lefty critiques is the implication that underlying the media bashing is a reasoned calculation. That behind the curtain of Trump's getting into people's faces is a mastermind using clever manipulation to achieve strategic goals. Branded "working the refs" or whatever, it's a thinking person's rationalization for being bested by someone else's lizard brain. It's that look we saw on Al Gore's face in 2000 that said, "I'm losing to this guy?"

The truth is more base. Sebastian Gorka, Trump's "Breitbart propagandist and Hungarian ultranationalist" told Sean Hannity, "The era of the Pajama Boy is over January 20th and the alpha males are back." This quote on "alphas" headed a Forbes post a year ago:
"My point is the following. Behavioral scientists from another planet would notice immediately the semiotic resemblance between animal submissive behavior on the one hand and human obeisance to religious and civil authority on the other … And they would conclude, correctly, that in baseline social behavior, not just in anatomy, Homo sapiens has only recently diverged in evolution from nonhuman primate stock."

--E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
We flatter ourselves that that only applies to our conservative counterparts. Plus, let's not kid ourselves that there's more going on than Trump's instinct for getting what he wants. It's only a strategy insofar as bullying is a strategy for obtaining submission from weaker animals. Trying to rationalize it as something deeper is failing to come to terms with how this works on a gut level. Trying to think your way around it is trying to reason through the irrational. Thinking has very little to do with it.