In which my subscription to the New York Times becomes a (tiny) act of protest
My subscription to the New York Times was my first spite-subscription. This was in mid 2016, before the elections, after another highlight reel from one of Trump’s rallies. Again, he was going after the media. He went on and on, complaining of how unfairly he was being treated.
I’ve heard Donald Trump make this claim before — that he is treated unfairly by the media. It’s startling, to hear a grown white man complain so profusely of being treated unfairly. Especially a man who so frequently claims to be a tough-guy businessman, a law-of-the-jungle, kill-or-be-killed, businessman.
Before announcing his candidacy for president, I only knew Donald Trump as a notorious snowflake who would sue into obscurity anyone who dared malign him or his empire — which is fine, I guess. I, too, often fantasize about leveling the same revenge against my own enemies, so I can imagine how a lifetime of over-frequent litigation could easily become habit-forming. And that’s all well and good, for the private sector. But there was no way, I thought, this thin-skinned wimp was capable of weathering the rigors of high politics.
So, along with most everyone else, I first considered his run for presidency an elaborate joke. Of course, he turned out to be dead serious, in which case I expected Mr. Trump’s transition to the public sector was going to be, at best, a clunky affair.
His rallies fulfilled my expectations, and then some.
Trump’s growing pains were fantastic spectacles — maybe because there was no growing, only pain. Perhaps the grim prospect of being held accountable to the press was the catalyst for his lengthy and pronounced tantrums. That and having to give up his old litigious ways. At any rate, his tantrums were incredibly revealing, especially for a man who brags of playing strategy so expertly close to the chest.
Normally, I’d relish the opportunity to watch a man of entitlements and privilege squirm in the throes of such an existential crisis. But this was just too weird — even I found it hard to watch the whole rally.
For starters, his very presence at the podium was an orgy of make-believe.
He claimed the media, not he, was the common denominator in the slew of bad news that persistently dogged his campaign. That he, a swaggering plutocrat, who literally has a gold toilet in his Manhattan high-rise penthouse, gave a rats-ass what became of coal miners and their families. That a twice-divorced man with three failed marriages gave a shit about the institution of family. That an unrepentant philanderer cared for sanctity of life or that a sexual predator who routinely grabs women by the crotch could be a champion for women’s rights.
Here was a man whose inherited fortune was barely kept afloat only through sheer fuckery and caucasian luck (his inheritance would have fared better as a Roth IRA), yet he expects to be revered as a savvy businessman.
He told us he was a powerful and compassionate man with regular-sized hands — a capable man of influence and wealth — as opposed to what we could clearly see with our own eyes, which was a basted Easter ham, garnished with a taxidermy wig and squeezed into a too-tight collar to suffer, quite publicly, the pangs of an inferiority complex so robust, it would have made Mussolini blush.
George Orwell described this tactic much more elegantly: that Donald Trump “…told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was [his] final, most essential command.”
Later, Trump would put this into his own words: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
I thought this was a tall order. To suspend reason to the point we’d fall for any of this just seemed like a big ask. And after we’d swallowed all that, we were invited to join him in discrediting our own media.
When Donald Trump called out the New York Times in particular, it caught my attention.
He wasn’t pleased with something they’d recently printed about him. Or, anything they’ve printed of him. He said their paper was a rag. It was worthless. He said nobody reads the New York Times and it was hemorrhaging capital and would soon fail. He said the New York Times, along with the rest of mainstream media, was fake news. The journalists were misleading the American people, and propagating a false narrative to undermine Trump, his campaign and, most importantly, to further shame the ‘silent majority’ with the supposed moral superiority of facts.
All through Trump’s rally, the vilified journalists stuck it out, recording the events. That took guts! I thought that was very brave indeed — to press on — in a seething crowd who would have, at the slightest instigation, turned on them and picked their bones clean.
As Donald Trump continued to berate the media, I felt as if he was (finally) speaking directly to me.
“Go Nate,” Donald J. Trump said to me. “Purchase a subscription to the New York Times!”
For once, he was making some real sense.
My credit card lept from my wallet like a goddamned trout.
It was an immensely satisfying purchase, even if it was puny and insignificant. I like to think it helps, to push back against the wave of make-believe and depraved misinformation overwhelming my country.
Small as it is, my subscription to the Times is a vote for sanity, clarity and high quality, investigative journalism.
Even after assuming the Presidency, Donald Trump still can’t let the media thing go. Never mind that countless damning stories have surfaced and circulated without consequence — a phenomenon that even has Donald Trump bewildered.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” he famously bragged. “And shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
And he’s right. He’s wildly popular with his base. Even centrist republicans, who bemoan his tweets and roll their eyes at his stupidity still tow the line.
In spite of this, Donald Trump continues his campaign against the media. But the old talking points of ‘fake news’ and ‘liberal bias’ have long since lost their impact. In order to keep the conversation zesty, Trump has had to ratchet up the rhetoric. Anyone who hasn’t been tracking Trump’s one-upmanship might be shocked to check in to his most recent updates, wherein our president actually said, out loud, ‘The news media is the enemy of the people.’
The escalating attacks on our media have been hard to watch — for a number of obvious reasons. Until Trump dropped that last bomb, taking notes was the media’s only job. Beyond citing their sources, journalists are not supposed to defend themselves. And so it was exhilarating (if depressing) that the media would finally take a stand in its defense.
In a rare and profound move, 300 newspapers across the country just published an op-ed declaring their solidarity and reaffirmation of a free press. It is titled ‘Journalists are not the enemy.’ The title is perhaps a response to Trump’s most recent attack.
In any other context, I would have thought this article was entirely redundant. Of course a free press is essential to our country! Who the hell could suggest otherwise?!
But this administration has exhumed a variety of questions I thought were put to bed long ago:
Should we fuck with the Judiciary?
Should our National Parks be?
Is Facebook relevant?
Do we need a free press? And so on.
It’s a stunning rewind for our country, a return to the days when not only the answers to these questions had yet to be nailed-down, but the great American experiment itself was up for grabs — a question, rather than an ideal.