Now that the United States has been through 4 of the Five Stages of Donald Trump - amused, concerned, aghast, and dumbfounded - it's time to decide whether the 5th stage will be acceptance or rejection.
The now-familiar litany of Donald Trump's various disqualifying behaviors is sufficient cause for any thinking person to run, shrieking and aflame, from the possibility that this man might ever reside in the Oval Office. Yet his candidacy is flourishing.
With each passing day, Mr. Trump further refines his skill at manipulating major media in ways that result in abundant coverage for him, and, simultaneously, less oxygen left in the public debate for focusing on consequential issues. Just last night, for example, Trump made reference in the GOP debate to the size of his penis.
This served two purposes; it deflected attention from policy, and guaranteed that this morning's coverage, from the lowliest WND-type site to the Grey Lady herself, would provide, ahem, significant column inches to the candidate. It's difficult not to imagine Trump laughing, before the debate even began, knowing he'd already "won" the news cycle.
That Trump has a symbiotic relationship with the corporate media has been covered in some depth. He has been a rainmaker for them, no doubt. Primary debates, for example, that in the past functioned as dull, droning backdrops to the early campaign have broken viewership records, and 30-second advertising spots are reported to currently command $100,000 or more.
This past Monday, Les Moonves, the head of CBS, said in regard to Trump's candidacy, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." He added, as if for emphasis, "The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."
Keep going, indeed.
Here's the thing. Donald Trump is a preening, boorish, deeply insecure nightmare of a human being. And many of his supporters acknowledge as much, though they blithely gloss over it in a fit of ecstatic gratification that someone, at long last, is "telling it like it is" and "saying what everyone else is knows is true but is afraid to say." It appears to be of little consequence to his followers that small, predictable beans lie behind his bombast. His policy proposals - when they aren't clearly fantastical, as in the Mexican-sponsored border wall or the forced deportation of eleven-million people - are more likely to be standard Republican boilerplate, as in his just-released alternative to Obamacare.
These are not difficult things to point out. So why is the media largely giving Trump a pass and not repeatedly confronting him on outright lies, vulgarity, obfuscation, and, in an example last night, not just advocating war crimes but providing assurances that the military would absolutely follow his illegal orders?
It would be reasonable to expect that this morning's headlines on The New York Times, ABC, CNN and NBC would have blared, "Trump Advocates War Crimes, Will Force Unwilling Military To Act In Contradiction To International Law." Why didn't this happen? In the past, mis-steps as ephemeral as an audible sigh or an ill-timed glance at a watch were deemed major gaffes worthy of front-page, in-depth coverage. Now, beyond-the-pale comments barely register. Like the frog unaware of the slowly heating water that surrounds it, the media (and the public along with it) now seems utterly inured to the Trump-dictated toxic discourse we find ourselves consumed by.
A candidate who advocates war crimes and makes dick jokes must prompt the media to look closely at its rules of engagement. They are understandably loathe to outright call a candidate a liar and a fraud, but they now find themselves faced with just such a candidate, who lies at will and has been credibly accused of fraud. And they must begin to say so - clearly, repeatedly and with the largest megaphone they can muster.
As of now, though, networks like CNN employ campaign surrogates masquerading as analysts. In one instance, Jeffrey Lord, a Trump mouthpiece, attacked Van Jones - an African-American - after he made the case that Donald Trump should not be playing footsie with the Ku Klux Klan. Lord's through-the-looking-glass response was to claim that the Klan is a progressive, leftist organization. We face an uphill battle.
In deciding whether the 5th Stage of Trump will be acceptance or rejection, the public must be able to rely on media whose primary aim is to fearlessly uncover the truth of Donald Trump's record, and not just to line their own pockets. It is a sad commentary on the direction of media generally that this even needs to be said.
Projecting into a dystopian future where a President Trump leads the country into disastrous parts unknown, people will ask - how did this happen? The media, in a cynical play for eyeballs and profits, will share ample blame with the misguided electorate who would see fit to elect such a monster.