Donald Trump and the Two-Hour News Cycle


Monday morning, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called President Barack Obama a terrorist sympathizer. Remember that? Probably not; it didn’t get a lot of coverage. But in one of his regular call-in appearances to his fan club at Fox and Friends, Trump said of Obama’s response to this weekend’s massacre in Orlando, “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it… There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.” He put it another way for Today: “There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it.”

This is not subtle messaging; as MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin put it, these winking statements are less dog whistles than foghorns. He’s implying, to the audience who wants to hear it (i.e., the kind of people who support the presidential campaign of a gibberish-gushing jackass like Donald Trump), the long-standing conspiracy theory among a certain segment of fringe tinfoil-hat connoisseurs that Obama is a Manchurian president, in cahoots with radical Islamists to take over the US government. (If that were his endgame, jeez, you’d think he’d have gotten around to it by now. Oh, and not ordered the execution of Osama bin Laden. But there I go again, with my liberal east coast elitist logic.) It’s all tied in to the loathsome, racist “Birther” movement, insisting Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim, a movement headed up by – hey, look at that, Donald Trump, who surmised Obama didn’t want to release his birth certificate because “maybe it says he’s a Muslim.”

Anyway, one of the two major presidential candidates implied that the sitting president was complicit in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, and the consensus response, among news outlets and the punditocracy, was an exhausted ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Now, bounce this up against a name you probably haven’t heard in a while: Jeremiah Wright. Remember him? If you were paying even the slightest attention to the 2008 presidential race, you probably do; he became the focal point of the Democratic primary campaign in March of that year, when excerpts surfaced from a pair of sermons from 2001 and 2003, in which Obama’s pastor called 9/11 “American’s chickens… coming home to roost” and dismissed the patriot fever following that tragedy and accompanying the kickoff of Operation Iraqi Freedom thus: “No, no, no, not God Bless America – God damn America.”

The blowback was staggering. Television news outlets wore out their clips from the Wright sermons. Editorial writers questioned Wright’s influence on Obama’s views. The right-wing blogosphere and Fox News went apeshit. The Wright controversy dominated the news cycle, the uproar so intense that Obama had to give a 37-minute speech contextualizing Wright’s views within the discussion of race and American in the black community, and later explicitly disavowed Wright’s comments and left his church. It lingered past the primary – which Obama barely won – and into the general election.

Now, let’s do a little thought exercise: Imagine that instead of Obama’s preacher, spouting off during a sermon that the candidate presumably did even not attend, it was Obama himself. Oh, and imagine that instead of calling 9/11 “chickens coming home to roost,” he announced that 9/11 was an inside job. Imagine that shit-storm. Just try.

Instead, Trump’s implications of “something else in mind” were all but forgotten by Monday afternoon, when the presumptive Republican candidate (Jesus, it still hurts to type that) announced he was “hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post” – a move to which, as many have noted, not even the Nixon White House stooped during the Post’s Watergate investigation. Later that day, he tweeted a story from the New York Post asserting the Orlando shooter “cheered” the 9/11 attacks, taking the opportunity to insist “I was right” when making his widely repeated, widely discredited assertion that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in Jersey City on 9/11. (His childlike compulsion for claiming this kind of credit also resulted in his spectacularly tone-deaf “appreciate the congrats for being right” tweet Sunday.)

Then on Tuesday, he gave a stunningly ignorant and frequently erroneous foreign policy speech, in which he claimed the Orlando shooter was born “an Afghan” (he was born, like Trump, in Queens, New York) and insisted his Democratic opponent is set on “abolishing the Second Amendment” (she’s merely called for a reinstatement of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which would again ban high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15 and the Sig Sauer MCX, the weapon of choice in Orlando). He also insisted he is “the better friend” to the LGBT community, promising, “someday I believe that will be proven out bigly” (and Jesus Christ, diagram that phrase, I dare you), which is pretty rich coming from a candidate who would “strongly consider” appointing SCOTUS justices who would overturn that court’s ruling on marriage equality. Oh, and then he closed out the day by insisting soldiers stationed in Iraq were “living very well” off the “millions and millions of dollars” spent on that nation’s recovery.

That was two days of gaffes, fabrications, lies, and fuck-ups. Hell, in the space between the writing of this piece and its publication he’ll probably have had a couple more. But the sheer volume of his mistakes, the non-stop barrage of spoiled garbage pouring from his orange pie-hole and his stubby fingers, goes a long way towards explaining why his comments Monday morning — or Tuesday, or last week, or last month — haven’t blown up into full-scale controversies. There are so many, such a torrent of ignorance, fabulism, offensiveness, and deliberate misinformation, that it’s impossible to keep up; by the time you’ve wrapped your head around one asinine pronouncement, you’ve got two more to wrestle with. And thus, all of the deranged nonsense he’s spouted over the past year, “They’re rapists,” “I like people who weren’t captured,” “Blood coming out of her wherever,” entry bans and identification programs for Muslims, tying Ted Cruz’s father to the goddamn JFK assassination, statements and assertions and proposals that would’ve sunk any other candidate, spark for a moment and fizzle out. For rational people, they accumulate into a profile of borderline sociopathic behavior. For Trump and his cult, they merely become part of his “tellin’ it like it is” brand.

The decades-long discussion of the “24-hour news cycle” is usually interpreted as despair over the possibility – and thus desire – for constant news and updates, for getting it first rather than getting it right. But the 24-hour news cycle also means there’s a constant influx of new information and new distractions, and thus a feeling that public figures can survive campaign gaffes and PR nightmares if they can merely wait them out. Trump changes all that, collapses it; in spite of the assertion (or, to put a finer point on it, wishful thinking) among Republican establishment circles that Trump would “pivot” into a more “Presidential” mode, it’s become clear that this is the Trump we’re going to get for the next five months, a cravenly narcissistic, proudly ignorant, gleefully unprepared, blithering idiot whose depressingly painless glide to victory in his party primary was harmed not one bit by his toddler-like eagerness to say (or Tweet) whatever damn fool thing blows into his empty fucking head — it’s all worth saying and all unimpeachable, because he’s like, a really smart person. His steady stream of rancid bullshit only further endears him to his equally moronic followers; if, on the other hand, you’re already panicked by his unique brand of dimwitted political “thought,” three more reasons to jeer and fear him per day won’t make much difference. It’s the folks in between that he’s got to convince, and if there’s an upside to his slow-motion, full-volume implosion, at least we can take some comfort in the fact that seven in ten of them aren’t hearing it. Not that we should expect those numbers to change his behavior; if we know one thing about Donald Trump, it’s that he’s not bloody likely to admit he’s doing something wrong.