Donald Trump talks. A lot. And he tweets incessantly — mostly about nothing. The pattern is becoming increasing familiar: Trump creates outrage, the media and the public fixate on it, and he gets stronger and stronger.
It is a tactic only possible in the post truth era we now live in, where facts mean nothing and reality is determined by the media outlets you follow on Facebook. When Trump tweets that the US election was rigged because millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally, he knows full well there will be no repercussions for the egregious lie. Why? Because enough of the country believes him and the political establishment is too weak to do anything about it. Trump lies and changes his position so often that what he says means absolutely nothing. Within weeks of winning the election, he reversed his position on prosecuting Hillary Clinton, ending Obamacare, global warming and waterboarding. What this means is anyone’s guess — he may have been lying to his supporters all along, or he may be lying to the press in order to appease the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.
The confusion Trump creates is deliberate and effective, and it serves to make his real agenda all the more feasible. This tactic is a favorite of dictators and strongmen around the world, and Trump’s rise to power mimics that of those who have come before him. Trump’s favorite politician, Wladimir Putin, is notorious for his constantly shifting political positions and ability to thrive in the chaos he creates. It is a mad dog approach to politics that keeps opponents on the back foot and the population in a constant state of anxiety.
Unfortunately, the US political system and media has never seen anything like this, so it is completely unaccustomed to dealing with it. However, as the chaos of the election dies down, the media would do well to reflect on the mistakes it made in the past and attempt to figure out what Trump is actually doing. So rather than engaging in his madness, the media must focus relentlessly on what he actually does.
Given Trump isn’t in office yet, we should be focusing on the people he is appointing to cabinet positions and any concrete evidence of political intent.
We know that Trump is surrounding himself with a truly horrendous coalition of bigoted, corrupt hacks who have extensive histories of wrecking the lives of poor people, minorities and LGBT people. We know that Trump has an astonishing number of business ventures that create conflicts of interest all around the world. We also know that highly unqualified members of his family have been given access to high level meetings they should not have been in. Rampant corruption isn’t just a part of Trump’s emerging office, it quite literally defines it. The media must focus on this and every verifiable action he takes if there is any hope of limiting the enormous damage he promises to create.
The evidence thus far points to an administration that will be completely incapable of dealing with the complexity of a 21st century global economy, and completely incapable of governing a modern, diverse America. When Trump takes office, we will most likely see an unprecedented breakdown in government and a complete lack of meaningful leadership. The real world consequences will be catastrophic, and the public must be made aware of them in no uncertain terms.
If the media decides instead to engage in the games Trump plays with them, he will continue to retain enough support to legitimize his presidency. If this happens, we will be a witness to the end of American democracy as we know it.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.