Is extreme Trump-hatred the storm before the calm?
Inveterate politiphiles didn't have to wait long in October for a ramdam of a surprise: President Trump testing positive for the coronavirus.
The news broke, via Trump's preferred social media feed (natch), overnight on Friday. No more than two beats later, the presses stopped, journalists were roused from their fitful slumber, Twitter devolved into a mass of speculative clinamina, Facebook feeds dematerialized and materialized again with the fresh takes, and every periodical from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated to Highlights magazine broadcast the news, and somewhere on a large LED screen — integers representing monetized attention spans shot up.
Then came Trump's spiriting to Walter Reed Medical Center in Marine One, after walking ably to the awaiting chopper on the South Lawn and flashing a thumbs-up to the press. After that was an error-laden press conference from the White House physician that was a flint scrape to the combustible brush in many journalists' heads, which, by turn, lit a conflagration of tittle-tattle over how long the president had actually been infected. W.H. chief of staff Mark Meadows didn't help matters by telling reporters, initially off the record, that Trump's condition was more severe than what his own doctor was allowing.
Trump's unwitting courting of the disease, and the administration's jerky balancing act of being transparent but not too transparent, made for the kind of irruptive news headline that web publications chase like junkies craving a fix. Two straight days of breakneck news-breaking created a boomlet in conjecture, with the blue-checkmark mafia casting lodestones ripe with dire assessments to attract notoriety.
Any other American president catching a virus would be news; Donald Trump catching it is a sensation. Sensationalism is the coin of the modern press realm. No president — let alone celebrity — traffics in that currency as much as the reality TV star cum chief exec.
These excitable episodes of furiously trading on rumors are routine to the point of lazily rote. Their regularity is driven by the irregular penchant President Trump has for being a magnetic pole to compassing news cycles.
It's worth asking after yet another smash-hit headline weekend how the media will fare when its litany of scribblers no longer have the Trump administration to feed off of.
It's not news that legacy-media pubs saw an eruption of subscriptions following Trump's election. His narrow victory was framed as a foreboding combination of the Munich Agreement, the Russian Revolution, the March on Rome, and the third act of The Birth of a Nation, when the KKK cavalcade comes to the rescue. Every editorial was quoting Auden about suffering the "habit-forming pain, / mismanagement and grief." Dark clouds were rolling in over America, shunting the blue, tranquil firmament off.
Then they kept coming, with no relief offered to the darksome shroud over the country. Journalists blew up every story, aggrandizing every stray Trump remark as encroaching authoritarianism. Democracy kept dying in darkness as the clicks mounted. Trump continued to lay gilded eggs.
News outlets have been running on full octane for over four years straight, baiting readers with the constant fear of an imminent right-wing, Nazi-ish suppression. But the media aren't the only financial beneficiary of the House of Trump decamping to Washington. A bumper crop of money-making schemes emerged, all revolving around the anti-Trump brand, including, but not limited to, insider tract publishing, speciously talented consultants, scamPACs, and small-time tchotchke-peddlers flogging Trump in a tumbril statuets on Constitution Avenue.
The Trump-hatred industrial complex will collapse when the target of ire leaves public service. The price of all the books, viral ads, "pussy" hats, resistance PowerPoint presentations, and clownish Trump gewgaws will zero out. And what greater good would be lost in any of it? Would the American public, voracious readers that they are, be heinously deprived if they missed the memoir of the assistant to managerial secretary to the under-secretary of commerce for oceans and atmospheres, which contains a damning anecdote about President Trump wondering aloud in a meeting how authorizing ANWR drilling would affect the price of the Filet-O-Fish? Every single recounting written by former administration officials has been a snore, with only a few spicy tidbits doing the morning-show rounds a month before the official street date.
The media's reliance on attention-economy scaling can't last forever. By the time the next president takes control, either next year or in four, the country will be thoroughly desensitized to any cottage industry of outrage. A President Biden, or President Harris, or President Haley, or President Cotton could never dance in the limelight like Trump. The subscriber base of traditional dailies will extenuate, especially under a Democratic president.
This weekend's drama of half-formed infection narratives loosed off by dozens of ill-informed reporters came off like a last-gasp effort to fill the Chartbeat tank with views. In resisting a president they view as a vulgar shyster of malfeasance, the cash-mongering press hounds have emulated the celebrity-seeking ethos they think degrades the Oval Office.