In Ovid’s account of Perseus’ rather maculate conception, King Acrisius, on learning that his grandson was destined to kill him, imprisons his daughter in a brazen tower. And just like every mythological figure who doesn’t understand that oracles are oracular, the king obliviously underestimates the weather as Jupiter impregnates the captive princess in a shower of gold. Besides teaching to never google “golden showers,” the myth reminds us of how the many in the media haven’t caught on to Trump’s look-over-here MO. Drapes and dimensions (be they inaugural or otherwise) serve as the trivial and alt-factitious glitter that engenders the results the President wants: a discredited press and a blackout of substance. In fact, to borrow from the myth of King Midas, the press often gilds otherwise useless material and starves themselves of actual substance.
Trump often deploys the distraction pre-emptively. I was never a Twitter truther, believing that the then-candidate would purposefully plant grammatical errors in his tweets to increase circulation. But the great bigly v. big league debate of 2016 illustrates the point. Commentators then channeled their inner schoolmarm and flashed their snobbery like a slovenly shown slip. When they were proven wrong and/or pedantic, he and other anti-elitists claimed vindication and documented yet another example of media bias.
Similarly, Trump often seems to viscerally react in hyperbole to defend his ego, hence the illegal voting allegation. Here the press has instinctually rushed to the other end of the polemical spectrum and garrisoned themselves in a world where practically no one has ever voted illegally. However, the press has already created a prejudicial precedent: only one wrong need irrevocably poison the well. Just as they maintain Trump can’t be grossly exaggerating but must be waging war against the truth, so now many hold that the media can’t just occasionally succumb to shoddy journalism, but they must be instead an army of inveterate liars. Of course, the president is over-trumping the problem. But so long as he can cite a few illegal votes, he and his supporters can say that certain outlets pedaled fake news.
Fact-checking the president’s hyperbole also turns off the public. When he describes Chicago as a war zone and journalists cite—however accurately—the city’s relative peace in comparison to Afghanistan, we can be sure that many Chicagoans don’t appreciate the insight. N.B., nor did ISIS victims appreciate the comparison to bathtub casualties. Also, did the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act feature pieces that compared our healthcare system to that of Sierra Leone’s? And as I recall, no one claimed, “Well, our healthcare system isn’t ‘broken’ because intangible systems can’t literally be in pieces.” Calling it as it is, whatever your definition of the word “it” may be, appeals to the majority of Americans who do believe terrorists are sneaky rats even if the jihadis don’t actually inhabit those journalists’ Brooklyn sewers.
The press, like their academic counterparts, instead attacks the perceived symptom of their objection. So if Trump really is delusional, can we honestly address the number of people detained at JFK rather than those who attended the inauguration? A commentator recently said Trump’s hyperbolic comments veer into the territory of Eisenhower’s U-2 incident. To her and all those suffering from a 1960s-complex, your grandchildren will not ask you where you were when Donald Trump said he had a larger crowd size than President Obama’s.
Still, many in the press need no baiting and sensationalize issues at the expense of public opinion. After the executive order on immigration, many news outlets gilded the order as “unprecedented” and “hateful.” Meanwhile, little coverage addresses the plurality of Americans who support the ban and want more measures taken. While the order has caused undue restrictions on many, they demonstrate just how estranged they are from those of us who have been similarly “detained” for no other reason than a bureaucratic protocol or whim.
Furthermore, many compound their mistake by tossing it back to their celebrity friends for comment. And naturally, their ivory tower has suffered from the same de-veneration. To make the same appeal for cooler heads in a way that the protesting thespians should understand, even if he’s some deteriorating megalomaniac harboring incestuous desires for his daughter, be thankful this year features a decent King Lear adaptation. But seriously, they’ve been crying “tyrant” for too long. Just as we can only fall so long for media’s overuse of “poised” and “stunning” before we realize that they actually mean “there’s a possibility” and “eh,” we know that the content of famous shrieks would stick to the same script for any Republican administration. It is only the volume that has changed.
It seems that their collective aim at his ego reflects their own insecurities. As if so offended by the vitriol the president and others have nurtured against them, much of the opinion seeping closer to the front pages resembles petty attempts at humiliating him rather than challenging him. Appearing to enlist in the unfollow campaign waging on Twitter, they remind us of the Prom King runner-up who susurrates to voters that the crown is not technically gold, but only golden.
Then as if to bring up the football team who’s none too happy with the star’s Friday night performance, the press highlights all conservatives who criticize Trump, not to address the principles of their objection, but to cite his unpopularity in the party. While harkening back to another era which journalists wish they’d covered, they eagerly equate the wording of the White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day to the Nazi regime. While the explanation offered by Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks causes concern, its faultiness is common to both Trump’s and Obama’s administrations: the eagerness to don inclusivity at all costs. And yet the crux of the argument was never addressed.
The popular vote and his string of insecurities may very well be the albatross around the president’s neck, but as in that wedding scene poeticized by Coleridge, it is all anyone is talking about. Throughout these spurts of non-news, nothing substantively damaging to the president sees daylight. In the aftermath of this week’s executive orders, I can’t recall seeing the decennial case study about the detriments of the Mexico City Policy or the characteristically deceptive phrase “forbid the discuss abortion.” And rather than discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline and eminent domain, do we really need to know if a Russian hooker’s urine is sterile?
Who’s to say if Trump is strategizing at all? But these detours into his psyche also serve only as distractions. These Republican administrations should relieve us conservatives, who appreciate the otherwise foreign concept of accountability by the media. So let’s discuss the legality of the immigration restrictions—before Trump calls the Mexican President “Enrique Pequeño” or “a Little Rick” and the AP feels compelled to fact check with an infographic comparing Peña’s height to Putin’s.
During one of the inaugural protests, Michael Moore heralded that the emperor has no clothes. Better still, the clothes have no emperor—at least so long as the media devotes themselves to these shiny distractions that they believe will chafe the president’s thin skin.