Social Media To Blame For Donald Trump

Unfortunately, it’s our fault. We allowed the news media to pivot from a public trust to a series of troubled public companies, having their economic underpinning chewed away by social media platforms and digital distractions. The result, a tacit agreement that we could all watch a “Reality TV Host” bark terrible racist and sexist rhetoric and tell ourselves he was just performing for the cameras. A despicable public ploy to draw in the outcast, disenfranchised, and angry.

While the media (both ‘old’ and ‘new’) ignored basic journalistic principals and didn’t ask the questions that are now coming to light. Trump as a business person isn’t a success; he’s a media creation. His taxes would make that starkly evident. But we allow him to run as a business leader — without any evidence that his claims are based on facts. And the mess we find ourselves in won’t be sorted until we find a way to fund a free and open press without being forced to have them scramble for clicks and an increasingly smaller piece of the digital pie.

We’ve seen candidates before embracing new forms of communication. FDR was able to connect with radio. JFK was a president who embraced TV. For Trump, it’s social media. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. Trump is built for the 140 character universe. His ceaseless creating of controversial sound bites feeds the micro-media machine sucking up every news cycle with stunts, attacks, and political jabs.

And the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump by conventional media has fed the Trump base.

Les Moonves of chairman of CBS told the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom conference in February that Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. 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.”

As CNN media reporter Brian Stelter explains it: “Trump is the media’s addiction. When he speaks, he’s given something no other candidate gets. That’s wall-to-wall coverage… He sucks up all the oxygen.” But Trump’s massive lead in old media hardly explains where we’ve ended up.

“We all know that social media can facilitate bullies and fortify the weak and cowardly, which can be mistaken for the authenticity of speaking your mind,” said Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society. “Trump is the decontextualize-in-chief. Social media — in fact, the Internet generally — have also recalibrated our focus by democratizing information; not the access to it, but the lack of discrimination among bits of information. The Internet is a great disinformation machine where anyone can say anything.”

As Gabler explains it, the atomization of information into short, unrelated, digital ’snacks’ has a clear result. “Politically, this fragmentation has major ramifications. Context is reason. Context is what enables us to weigh and judge. Context removes impulse. And this is really why you cannot conduct a serious campaign on social media. Context disappears”

While critics and media pundits have tried to explain away Trumps rise during the primaries, they seemed taken by surprise when he continued to win elections and then win the nomination and become the GOP candidate. But Gabler says it’s easy to see in retrospect how the changing nature of media synced with Trump’s style and rapid-fire short-form output. “Donald Trump is the candidate of impulse running against candidates of calculation,” said Gabler. “He is the king of the one-liner, the insult, the proudly politically incorrect slur. And that is a central reason why disaffected Republicans have rallied to him. He is nothing but bites.”

We’ve ended up facing the consequences of the trivialization of public discourse. Words matter. Language matters. Ideas matter. And when we replace a campaign of ideas with a battle waged in 140 character zingers, we end up facing a crisis that can only be described as a challenge to our democracy. Democrats and Republicans find themselves in a rare moment of alignment. No matter what your party or your politics, you can’t stand idly by when conversations about the future direction of our republic devolve into a stream of insults, demeaning phrases, and schoolyard bully tactics.

It’s time to stop holding politics up to entertainment standards. The ideas and issues of our nation deserve better.