In August, for about two weeks, there was a storyline that Donald Trump was going to “soften” his stance on immigration.
A long, long runway was set up by many in the media, gobbling up the thought that Trump was going to become a bit more normal. His campaign leaking the idea of a “softening” was enough to get reporters and pundits to roll with the idea, flooding the public consciousness with stories that Trump might not be as bad as we all thought. Here’s a headline from the time:
That “softening” came to a conclusion with a spitfire speech with a 10-point plan that was as hardline on immigration as ever. You can watch that speech, which all the media promised us was going to be a softening, here.
I thought of that when I saw this New York Times headline, today, regarding Trump’s interview on 60 Minutes last night:
Here we go again.
I know the media doesn’t like to be called “the media,” but until they do not largely march in step, falling for the same tricks again and again, I do not know what else to call them.
On a day when Trump named an anti-Semite, white nationalist a senior adviser, political media largely focused on how he named Reince Priebus his Chief of Staff. As they asserted, it was some kind of signal that Trump won’t be an alt-right president, but a responsible one.
On a day when his campaign manager threatened jail for any dissenters, the media reported on his more palatable statement that gay marriage was already ruled on by the Supreme Court, and he sees no reason to change that.
This is how we got here.
Maybe it is human condition to grasp for any kind of normalization in a moment of extreme peril, and the media are just humans like anyone else. Maybe they retreat to their comfort zones when it looks like shit is about to go down.
Maybe that’s why instead of focusing on the extremely scary fact that a white nationalist is now advising the new President, pundits like Chris Cillizza retreat to focusing on the palace intrigue aspect of it. That is certainly more familiar territory for Cillizza and other pundits, than the very scary implications of what this might mean for non-white, non-male Americans.
Maybe the media simply cannot process threats, and cling to their security-blanket of so-called “process stories” that examine the inside-baseball political aspect of everything.
That being the case, Trump and his handlers are amazing puppet masters, dribbling out little tiny gumdrops of hope and normalcy and insider politics for the media to nibble on, to dilute their reporting on the regime change that is about to happen, which will dangerously and adversely affect millions upon millions of people.
It’s been done before. This is the New York Times, in 1922:
Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
I don’t doubt there were indeed several sources telling the paper that. Handing out those little gumdrops of hope, that an all-too-compliant media eagerly grabbed at, as they reported that Hitler might not be so bad in the end.
From there, it is not so hard to present the monster as a human. Again, the New York Times. This time in 1937, in a piece titled, “Where Hitler Dreams and Plans.”
Germany is administered from Berlin, capital of the Third Reich. It is inspired and spurred onward from Munich, capital of the National Socialist movement. But it is ruled from a mountain top — the mountain on which Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler has built himself a lofty country residence where he spends the larger part of his time and to which he always retires to ponder events and to make those fateful decisions that so often startle the world.
Here is the New York Times, this weekend:
President-elect Donald J. Trump won the White House with an outsider’s populist promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington. Now, as he prepares to assume the presidency, an open question remains about the capital he repeatedly spurned: Just how much is he willing to become a part of it?
... Mr. Trump has spent the last three decades, for the most part, cosseted within Trump Tower. His apartment is on the 58th floor, and a designated elevator takes him from there to his office on the 26th floor. He wakes at 5 o’clock most mornings, reads The New York Post, The New York Times and a handful of other newspapers, and tunes into the morning television news shows...
In the final months of the campaign, he would hang around his apartment until about 10 a.m., joining his aides in the office later. Mr. Trump’s affection for his penthouse apartment runs deep, as his biographer, Michael D’Antonio, learned when Mr. Trump invited him inside the three-story unit in 2014 for an extended interview.
The media, as it has done before in history, is grasping for the normal, grasping for the familiar, and grasping for hope.
It is trying, as it did during the campaign, to take a monster and place it in the box of the familiar – where naming a white nationalist to a post isn’t scary and dangerous, it is about normal decisions and setting up power structures in the White House. It’s a reality where plans being unhatched to target immigrants for a mass round-up aren’t so bad, because, hey, he’s doing it from a really neato apartment where he eats breakfast, just like us!
Here’s the good news, though. It doesn’t have to be this way. If one famous and respected reporter stands up to the madness, refuses to cooperate and reports on the unfolding horror show, as it is really is, the rest of the media may follow. It just takes one.
But who — if anyone ―- will step up?