Stop treating Trump like he’s clever. Should you take him seriously? Sure. He has actual power now. Should you take his voters seriously? Of course. They’re our fellow countrymen. But stop treating his Twitter account as if it was the Da Vinci Code for all matters of state. Stop showing up when he asks you to. When he says “jump,” don’t ask “How high?” You make yourself look foolish and you give him a weight he does not have.
The most recent example of this was the tweet where Donald wrote:
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
But where is the evidence that this will be the case? What likelihood is there that Trump keeps his word? Is he going to build a wall? Is he going to drain the swamp? If you don’t think he’ll do those things, what chance is there that he’ll follow through on the rest of his wild-ass promises?
My friends in the media, you exist in a symbiotic relationship with the Orangeman, one which enables him, and makes money and buzz for you. I understand you feel duty-bound to cover him. And I realize the irony of someone who works in the media writing this. Oh, I get it.
But someone needs to say this: stop treating him as if his word was good.
You have to cover him now. There’s no way around it, even if you didn’t want to. Stop giving him a blank check.
All his life, people have given him more credit than he deserves: for loans to cover his losses, for books he did not write, for talents he did not have, for billions he did not actually possess, for plans he had no intention of putting through. The entire Trump brand, from politics to real estate, is one tightly-bound chain of unsupported assumptions, woven together like lilies and stinkweed. You are helping to forge this chain, link by link.
In your rush to cover both sides of the story you fall victim to the balance fallacy. The balance fallacy is the devil in our discourse: “Treat both sides evenly, even when one is wrong as hell.”
We all want to be evenhanded. But sometimes there isn’t an “on the other hand.” Sometimes there really is just the sound of one hand clapping. The balance fallacy is what happens when evolution gets “debated” in the public square. Every biologist in the world says evolution is real, and the media digs up some dude from the wilds of Creationism to debate them.
There’s no debate to be had. One of these people is right, and the other is talking out of their ass. There’s no dispute about it. Imagine if someone said: “One person says pi is 3.14159 and the other says pi is 3. Teach the controversy!” There’s no controversy.
What you are doing is the systematic enabling of bullshit. The solution between two extremes is not always the middle. The argument between “more cancer” and “no cancer” does not find its solution at “some cancer?” The correct amount is no cancer. No amount of spin will change that.
You repeat Trump’s tweets as if they were prophetic statements from the Five Year Plan or The Atkins Diet. But they’re not. Trump is not a disciplined, goal-setting, benchmark-achieving man. He doesn’t have the character for it. There’s no grit, no sand in him. He’s a man who has one talent, playing to the audience.
You think the audience is just the people in the sticks, right?
No. The audience includes you, the ladies and gentlemen of the press.
You are treating him as if there were two possibilities laid out before us: Trump is a schmuck with power, and Trump is a serious person with power. There is not a middle ground here. Trump is a schmuck with power. One thing schmucks do is say dumb, impulsive things that cause problems for other people. I have lived with such schmucks. It is the essential, Platonic nature of a schmuck. He will probably not change, no matter how many “Trump matures in power” think-pieces you write. Even if Trump achieves some good end—if he jails the Kardashians—he will still be doing it as a schmuck with power.
You protest: “But we’re just reporting the facts!” What are the facts, though? The old maxim for discovering a person’s character is to watch what they do, not what they say.
The media has been accused of taking Trump literally, but not seriously. Here we find an interesting twist. The media may have talked a good game about Trump being a joke; late-night comedians certainly found use for him. Yet what they actually did was give him unlimited airtime, and treat his every utterance as if it was worth printing. Your words said “Joke,” but your actions said “This is a serious man.” You laughed up your sleeves and then you gave him all the airtime you’d offer a head of state; and lo, he became one.
After Trump wrote his flip message about nukes, you spent the entire day suggesting the President-elect was about to start a new Cold War. You have ample proof the man is an idiot of the highest caliber. He texts what comes into his mind, and means almost none of it. Why is this hard for you to realize?
Trump said he was going to increase nuclear technology, and the world hopped to like the man had a starter pistol. If Presidents made things happen by just talking about them, then Barack Obama would be the single most successful progressive President who ever lived, instead of a smiling centrist with pocketful of drones and a detention center in Gitmo.
Trump is the President-elect, and you have an obligation to write and talk about him. I get it. I have the same duty. But doing your job requires comprehending who he is. A good cop knows when she’s being lied to. A good lawyer can only do his job when he masters fine print. A good businessperson only succeeds when they recognize a scam in a balance sheet.
Practicing any profession well means overcoming the particular pitfalls and special problems that come with the territory. A major part of being a canny professional who works in mass media is knowing when you’re being hustled by self-promoters.
Friends, you are being bamboozled. The man does not care about nukes. He doesn’t care about anything a day after it comes into his mind. Your headline shouldn’t be “Cold War resumes,” but “Trump publishes bizarre tweet about nukes.”
Trump is not a genius. He’s not a player of twelfth-dimensional chess. He’s not Machiavelli, or Bismarck, or Nixon. He’s not even Biff Tannen, because on the gut level, Trump doesn’t even have base cunning. The man has a platform, and wealth, and that’s pretty much it.
The Orangeman is not some sleek, super-efficient killer carnivore, but the one fish that had functioning lungs when the water receded. He wasn’t designed for this world, he was just the odd animal who had the right elements when our politics tilted the wrong way. The true weapon of mass destruction in this equation is Donald Trump, and the one enabling him is you.