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We need to avoid the madness of TOTUS and remember to vote if you want change.MA

 

24April

by Jon Katz

(Note: The purpose of my pieces on politics are not to hate anyone or boost anyone, but to try to explain to confused and frightened people what is really going on, using my own experience as a former TV news producer (CBS News) and as a political writer and reporter and media critic. I see a lot of argument, but very little honest insight and analysis. People need it, judging from my e-mail. I don’t do left-right parroted dogma, nor do I argue my ideas on social media. If you don’t want to think about things, go somewhere else, thanks.)

The first thing to understand is that President Trump is neither crazy nor stupid.

If he were either of those things, he would not be where he is, and I would not be writing about him, and you would not be reading what I write.

In political terms, he has accomplished the impossible and is now the most formidable force in American politics. It is imperative to understand how this happened and is happening.

The second is a quote from George Orwell: “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your choosing.” We can see that happening every day. That is his power.

Donald Trump has made it quite clear that he knows nothing about curing the coronavirus, or about medications and how they work or if they work. Nor does he care if what he is saying is true or false, or if it might kill people if we took it.

He is a survivor, and he will do what he has to do to survive, at all costs and by any means.

His survival now depends on him being accepted as a true leader during this crisis. If not for the partisanship crippling our politics, he would probably have resigned by now.

As it is, victory remains within reach for him, providing he can establish himself as a powerful and competent leader.

So what is really happening here, when a President of the United States suggests people might inject themselves with disinfectant to fight off a Pandemic? I look at it this way: I’m not interested in joining the chorus of outrage,  but in exploring this extraordinary window – his mind-numbing advice – into who he is and how he uses outrage for gain.

We’re not playing by the old rules, the way America processes things is radically different than what most of us know and accept, or what I grew up with. I take Donald Trump seriously.

This is something we need to understand if we want to know what is happening and how to respond to it.

Last night was another triumph for Trump, it worked for him in every possible way, and I want to try to explain why.

Every morning, we awake to a new and shocking Trump “controversy,” and all of the media oxygen in America is his. He takes up all the space in the media universe, day after day, more than any political figure in American history.

Every morning we – the people from the previous world – wake up in shock, anger, and disbelief. It works for him every time. No one has ever understood how modern media works better than President Trump. His political opposition has no idea what he is doing or why and how and why we are all complicit in his rise.

As a politician, Trump works the dark side, not the bright side. He doesn’t evoke a city on a hill, as Reagan did. He lives and works on the dark side of fear, grievance, and xenophobia. That’s where his political soul resides. That’s where his strength is.

This morning, the outrage of the day was his sly – and yes,  seemingly insane – ruminations about how ultra-violet light and sipping Bleach and disinfectant might cure the coronavirus.

Almost in unison, his many critics fumed and screamed – this is outrageous, irresponsible, dangerous. As they are ethically obliged to do, every responsible physician in America tweeted and sounded the alarm: don’t drink disinfectant, don’t try drinking bleach.

The people who dislike him freaked out, wringing their hands at yet another horror coming from the mouth of this President.

They made this President very happy, yet again. It worked one more time.

For President Trump, being outrageous is like pushing a button and watching Times Square light up at night. He can grab his remote switcher, lie in bed, watch the fireworks,  and see his image everywhere.

He makes Big Brother look like a pretzel vendor on the street.

The elemental truth there is that one can’t understand what he is doing by putting him down as an ignorant lunatic or getting stressed and discouraged.

This completely misses the point of what is happening. Media wise, Trump is pure genius, being outrageous is his core ideology, the reason he is President and might be once more. And in this corporate media climate – ratings and profits are everything, there is no other ethic – it just keeps on working.

To Trump, saying outrageous things is now an art form, he can sit back and watch journalists and millions of educated people jump up and down like hungry puppies. For cable news, it’s now a ritual, broadcast everything he says, and then argue about it. Everyone has bought into it.

What a travesty.

And everyone in the universe this morning has one thing in common: they are talking about one thing: Donald Trump, they are talking about him and thinking about him. There is nothing else; Trump takes precedent over everything,  even the deaths of 50,000 people.

Without this greedy corporate media, Trump would have long ago become a fringe figure. If I were looking for blame, I could go there. What a wide-open door for a demagogue.

That is what real power is—every day. So chalk up another win for the President.

Once again – for perhaps the thousandth time – everyone bit this morning, everyone did what they were supposed to do and what he wanted them to do. He wins by losing.

The so-called “Left” – liberals, progressives, college people, elitists, smarty-pants, etc. were outraged, angry, and lining up to condemn this unquestionably irresponsible, even dangerous idea.

How can he say such things? How does he get away with them?

How can we not know the answer to this question by now?

And when will we finally learn it, and move onto the next chapter in our political lives?

Once again, Fox News rushed to defend him. MSNBC rushed to attack him. CNN rushed to fact-check him, each pretending they are the honest brokers, that they care about the truth and health of people, each pulling in big ratings and billions of dollars. The serious print press – the New York Times, the Washington Post – tracked down various experts to explain to us why gulping down bleach isn’t a good idea.

By being “insane,” Trump is the story again, all day.

Once again, his followers rushed to defend him against the bureaucrats, elitists, and entrenched experts who are again plotting to thwart him and his so-called war against the norm.

Everybody bit, everyone followed his script. If it weren’t so disturbing and fraught, it would be boring.

I should say here that when I was a producer at CBS News, just before the corporate takeovers of TV and TV news, we would never have aired Trump’s press conference live for two hours every night in an election year.

That is how much things have changed in the media landscape. Donald Trump has been paying attention all along.

When I was hired at CBS, my boss told me that only one thing could get me fired instantly, and without any discussion or due process, and that was airing something I wasn’t sure was 100 percent true. If you’re not sure, he said, wait until you are.

If it’s inflammatory, or politically expedient, or irresponsible, don’t dare put it on the air.

The networks were hardly angelic then, but they were owned by individual people who had pride in them, and who felt accountable for what they puy on the air. There were four hundred fact-checkers at CBS News when I worked there, there is a handful now.

I don’t mention this to rail about the old days, but to point out the radical change in media ethics that is standard now in almost all of the broadcast media, online and off.  This and social media have transformed our politics.

They created a system that makes Donald Trump inevitable, as well as successful.

Facebook, one of the largest news organizations on the earth, is proud of taking no responsibility for what they publish. It is the kingdom of lies and provocations.

If CNN is concerned about airing President Trump’s calculated lies and misinformation about the coronavirus, they won’t air his press conferences for two hours every single night, so that they can “correct” them.

If MSNBC thinks the President is dishonest and dangerous, why broadcast his daily show and talk about him for hours and hours every single day?

Corporations – including Fox News – are constructed to care about one thing: profits and ratings bring benefits, and President Trump brings ratings and big profits. He doesn’t hate fake news, he loves fake news, and they love him in return.

While Fox News anchors dismissed the virus as a Democratic plot, the corporation was sending workers home to quarantine themselves and stay out of the office.

As for Trump himself, he understands well the lessons of modern media. It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, honest, or lying. What matters is that you are out there, that your image is ubiquitous. In media terms, Trump is everything all the time. In politics, air time is more precious than anything.

How often have you seen Joe Biden on TV in recent weeks? This is what it means to be complicit.

There is no one else. Just think of that when you consider the political implications in an election year.

Trump’s genius comes from understanding that the more shocking, outrageous, and irresponsible he is, the more the media and “progressives”  will hate him,  his followers will worship him and accept him and rationalize him. What does he have to lose?

The process is stuck in the wrong place, and Trump knows how to milk this cow for all it’s worth. It’s simple enough to hate him for it, but it’s getting harder and harder to blame him for it.

Trump is like the cheeky schoolkid who dares to get up in front of the teacher and read a book report when it’s obvious he hasn’t read the book. Most of the class loves him for it.

To his followers, he is the rebel, the outlier, the renegade, challenging the system, and its conventional wisdom every single day.  In this sense, they see him as one of them. If every doctor goes on TV to say never inject yourself with disinfectants, he says think about it, study it, don’t let the establishment tell you what to do or think.

And if there’s anything his followers hate more than journalists, it’s rich doctors that they and their children can’t afford to go and see. Why should they listen to them?

It’s an appealing message to the alienated and dispossessed.  Whatever the establishment says, say the opposite. All criticism is a conspiracy.

For President Trump, the essential thing is topping himself almost every day by being outrageous and, to some, offensive. Open up the states (kind of), stop giving money to the WHO (maybe), ban all immigration (mostly), think about sipping Bleach to kill the coronavirus. And this is all in one week.

He knows most people can’t even keep track of all the outrageous feints, promises, and falsehoods. In our country, outrage has a shorter lifespan than milk. TV is never static, up and running 24/7; it is even needier than the Presidents’ Grievance Machine.

What on earth would they do without him?

And what is the common denominator? The so-called “elites” are angry and messed up and outraged. Always. They are offended at the Presidente so often that outrage isn’t even outraged any longer, it’s reflex.

His followers get to admire his courage and daring, the media has a dream story that will earn them lots of money day after day, and they get to pretend to be virtuous,  holier than thou, and full of “truth.”

And yes, our minds are being torn to pieces.

Trump has mastered Orwell’s doublethink more than anyone in the history of modern media.

It is a major reason he is President and the primary reason he needs to be outrageous, each day more than the next.  He has created a monster that is hungry and needs to be fed: every day.

Doublethink, wrote George Orwell, is the power that comes from holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them.

One day the President admits in writing to the quid pro quo, the next day he says it’s a hoax. And nearly half the country believes today that it was a hoax. Call him anything you want, but don’t call him crazy.

If you study the texts of his outrages and outright lies, you can see the calculation and animal instincts in play. He isn’t just running his mouth; he knows precisely what he is doing.

One day he calls the Governor of Georgia to commend him for opening up businesses in his state when every medical expert says it’s too soon.

The next day at his press conference, he cuts the governor’s legs off by saying that he told him opening up was a huge mistake.

This is how doublethink works so well for him  – he can hold two or three different truths at one, tearing human minds to pieces and putting them back together again in new shapes of his choosing.

When reporters challenge him, he further delights his followers by calling them names and insulting them, showing them how tough he is, how willing he is to stand up against his conspiratorial detractors and accusers.

The difficult questions do not harm him; they strengthen him, give him some martyrdom. Every night there, he is,  for two hours at a pop, an extraordinary gift of free television for a political candidate. In the moral inversion that Trump has so skillfully created, there is no lying, no penalty for being false.

Every lie is a win. And all of us are enablers.

The befuddled and abused journalists in the White House press room are perfect foils for Donald Trump; they are content to be both abused and used. Why else would he submit to their questions when he fires anyone else who disagrees with him?

Early on in his first campaign, a friendly reporter asked him why he seemed to hate the media so much?

“I don’t hate them at all, he said, I need them. I call them fake so that when I do something wrong, and they report it, no one will believe them.”  Does that sound dumb to you?

The political challenge in 2020 is that Trump understands his followers better than anyone else running for office or hating him understands them. Dismissing them as stupid fools is not understanding them, it is feeding them – and him –  more fuel.

This morning, his followers had yet another reason to hate the media and the doctors and bureaucrats and governors telling them what to do, calling them dumb and irresponsible, taking away their jobs, and threatening their families.

Outside the convenience store this morning, the men in trucks were already on it: he’s just trying to come up with a cure, he didn’t tell people to drink Bleach, he just asked if they were testing the idea,  look at how they jump all over his ass because he’s trying to help people. They’ll do anything to destroy him.

That is the genius of Trump right there if you wish to understand what’s happening.

You take people who have been lied to and left behind for generations now, and come along and say I will take this system and set it on fire. It’s the perfect storm of the Demagogue.

Every outrageous thing he says or does or that shocks or goes against the grain, becomes a part of the revolution they so badly want, and believe is at hand.

Every criticism becomes part of the vast conspiracy to make him fail.

Being outraged with and to one another doesn’t accomplish much but tear us to pieces. People will have to put it somewhere, that means something if it is to matter politically.

The shrinks always talk about accepting death, and they might also suggest accepting Trump, and not turning every stupid thing he says into Watergate. He’s not getting into my head in that way, I promise.

Trump, or somebody in his orbit, is a student of George Orwell, and especially of his landmark book,1984.

In a righteous world, the networks would not cover his press conferences. There is no real news in them, and they are thinly disguised and re-furbished political rallies, the kinds he could go outside for before the coronavirus.

Why should the networks give him so much political rallying time when they admit every day that he is spouting lies and misinformation?

Producers know the only reason they air them at all is so that they can either defend him or attack him the next morning, and make even more money—our political structure as a circus.

It’s like the Weather Channel has a record-breaking blizzard to report on every single day. Their ratings and their revenues would go through the roof.

To understand  Trump, I believe, I must appreciate him as a Media Creature, from beginning to end. He spends most of his time watching TV in his bedroom or office, and projecting and experimenting with his image and surviving one catastrophe after another, including four separate bankruptcies, after which he published a best-selling book about his business genius.

I can’t speak to his business skills, but I can testify to his media genius. Politicians will be studying his methods for generations.

The challenge for the polis – for the body politic is different. I don’t ask whether Donald Trump is right or wrong, or accurate or dishonest, or crazy or sane.

The coronavirus may be too much even for doublethink; what we see and feel might be too powerful for even a genius to manipulate.

Trump has set his outrageous bar so high that it may be impossible for him to maintain it without blowing up the country altogether. If it’s a mistake to glory the common man and woman, it would be a mistake to underestimate them.

I keep thinking of the Greek playwrights – the hero always goes too far and sets himself on fire. Hubris is his real enemy, not the millions of people fussing or fuming over him every day. They are all, to a one, his greatest allies, and enablers.

When I saw the headlines this morning, I reminded myself not to waste a minute of time or peace of mind wondering why he would tell such irresponsible lies yesterday.

The challenge is not to argue that what he says is true, or succumb to hatred,  but to understand why he is saying it and why so many people might believe it.

As Orwell argued, you really can’t fight doublethink with rational argument, but with comprehension and understanding.

Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else.

I’m a betting man, and if I had to bet, that’s what I would bet on. What I won’t be doing is taking his bait every single day. I want to keep the pieces of my mind together, and in one place.

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