Distraction in Chief: The Perils of Paying Too Much Attention to Donald Trump

by Ken Burnside

Donald Trump is the most powerful man in Western Civilization.

He’s also thin skinned, prone to only think of people he knows personally as full individuals, an inveterate liar, and rose to power by lying faster than the press could fact check.

He’s still doing it.  Trump has claimed credit for talking Ford into keeping a production line open in Kentucky…which Ford has subsequently denied, and with the UAW has documented happened because of their negotiations.  He’s protested the plea the cast of Hamilton gave to Mike Pence at the close of the show on Broadway.  He’s protested and complained about being the satirical target of Saturday Night Live.

Yesterday, he called a meeting with five news anchors for an “off-the-record” meeting, and then, had one of his staffers leak the meeting to the New York Post, calling it a “fucking firing squad.”

Trump expects no accountability in the face of journalists.  None.  He expects to be able to bafflegab and blather his way as he did on the campaign trail.

While this news has broken, Trump University’s fraud case was settled for $25 million. His mouthpiece swore it would never be settled, because settling is an admission of guilt.

By that standard, I expect the media to hold him to the same standard they held Clinton to:  Regardless of whether or not the allegations turn out, they should force him to constantly deny his guilt and prove his innocence on this matter, and every single one of the remaining 75 lawsuits he’s a named party to.

Traditional media outlets, conditioned by thirty years of 24/7 news coverage to race towards the scandal to get the first story and the most eyeballs, are shitting the bed over Trump’s ability to act without caring what they think.  Monday’s meeting and subsequent leak was him telling them he didn’t care what they thought or said, he’d just claim they were out to get him out of personal animus.

For a lot of Trump’s voting base, causing the traditional news outlets to panic at his utter lack of fucks given to their disapproval?  Oh, they’re enjoying it.  They’re enjoying every second of it.  Couldn’t happen to a worthier bunch of assholes.

As a critic of modern “celebrity gossip” style journalism, a small part of me is also enjoying some schadenfreude.  Trump’s antics are a human Distributed Denial of Service attack on the Fourth Estate.

It’s the same way he rode to the election.  It’s also dangerous to our country, perhaps more so than any deliberate policy put into place by Donald Trump.

There is a finite personal capability to absorb information and to pay attention to things.  People, in a representative government, need to pay attention to that government, and they need to pay attention to multiple aspects of that government.  People, as consumers of news, will gravitate towards stories that confirm their biases, and which have an emotional hook. This means that, given a choice between a long think-piece discussing the merits of Michael Flynn for National Security Adviser, or news of the most recent TrumpGaffe, viewers will go for the TrumpGaffe 99 times out of 100.

This is how Trump won the nomination.  Anyone talking about Trump meant that they weren’t talking about what Trump was talking about.

Given single party dominance in the House and Senate, who’s to say that Trump’s greatest contribution won’t be carefully timed outrage to pull all media attention to him while Congress does something truly odious?

It seems likely that there will be no quiet news days during a Trump Administration.  That’s a problem; if nothing else, it will make American voters relieved if or when Trump resigns for “health reasons” (or gets bored…) and Mike Pence takes up office…

I’d like to say that we need more investigative and research-driven journalism, and that it would help. Unfortunately, we’re in a media environment where the funding to do that kind of work isn’t available, and in a cacophonous free-for-all distribution system which means that work of that nature that is done…gets drowned out.  In a real sense, modern news “infotainment” is facing advertising driving Darwinian pressure to do as much scandal reporting as can be fit into the on-air time slots.

And Trump will make them a lot of money.

I’ll cover solutions in a later post.