After 3 years of nonstop campaigning President Trump is in dire straits in this summer of 2020. Unlike any of his predecessors, he launched his official reelect campaign the day after his inauguration, which allows his grifter Parscale to claim the title of longest-serving campaign head. The millions spent, the untold barrels of digital ink of the right-wing echo chamber extolling his virtues should have helped the supposed GOP campaign veterans build a bulletproof case for why the American electorate should give Trump a second term.
Alas, Trump’s intellectual laziness, general cluelessness beyond regurgitating Fox News fed talking points and a tense transactional relationship with the GOP have wounded his campaign. His latest combative interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace punctured his media invincibility and the unending negative coverage has finally convinced him 2020 is not 2016.
Nonetheless, major American media, still burned by 2016, have resorted to treating 2020 as its copycat sequel. The most egregious example remains The New York Times, whose Dean Baquet will surely be remembered as its worst editor. He has infused this world-class institution into a faux “both side-ism”. Inexplicably Baquet manages to inflict constant harm to his paper’s reputation by openly advocating for a “légitimiste” stance in the coverage of Trump that European media has called out repeatedly.
It’s no secret that American political media cannot and will not address Trump’s huge failures because their entire “game” is linked to access journalism. Dan Gillmor is one of the few learned voices calling out Big Media’s conscious failings and warning that its reputation, already in tatters, is in mortal danger. Their profit imperative can only explain so much for 1200+ days of feeble attempts by DC media to normalize Trump’s behaviour.
The 2020 media narrative is shaping up to be that of a president on the verge of losing due to his epic mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis. More than most US Presidents and more than his counterparts on the world stage Donald Trump is a pure media creation, a carnival barker plucked out of central casting in the go-go NYC media of the 80s-90s and the reality tv craze of the 00s. His entire worldview is media-based, nothing exists outside of his insatiable media appetite and his own advisers are said to speak to him through Fox News and its minions.
The last 100 days and the next 90+ days will see the story of a media Frankenstein realizing he is a prisoner of his media “friends”, deathly afraid he will become the next GOP casualty (remember Bush 41, 43, McCain, Palin, Romney) and trying to break free. Trump’s uncanny ability to leverage US media’ ‘légitimiste” underpinnings has been the source of astonishment overseas yet the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated its limits.
This week it seems that key members of the echo chamber such as Fox News and the Wall St Journal Editorial page are dipping their toes into the uncharted waters of full-on Trump throwing under the bus.
The post mortem of the 2020 campaign will no doubt feature these conservative Johnny Come Latelys as prominently as the French Résistance fighters who saw the light in June 1944. Yet US media has largely contributed to the Trump circus, even harsh critics like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, all in the name of ratings and “feeding the beast”. Self-analysis is a rare quality anywhere, but the media is especially reticent to concede an ounce of responsibility in the international nightmare of the past 5 years.
As August beckons, the only thing left to do is retreat into cautious optimism, paired with a dose of sceptical realism. The next question to ponder is: what happens to US media post-Trump, in an era where a President Biden will draw less clicks and less hyperbole.